History: Introduction

The Canadian Women's March Committee (CWMC) was borne out of several ad-hoc gathering of representatives from a variety of national organizations during the fall of 1998. Formal meetings of this committee began in January of 1999, and have continued on a regular basis since then. Currently, the CWMC is comprised of 35 women representing 24 national organizations that work directly on issues pertaining to women's equality, justice and rights. A complete committee list is attached.

Wanting to see Canadian women participate in the World March of Women 2000 in a significant and meaningful way, the CWMC is committed to bridging geographic and organizational gaps within the Canadian women's movement in order to generate as broad a participation base as possible. The CWMC will work actively with individuals and groups across Canada to develop and present a set of demands to the federal government pertaining to the overarching themes of poverty and violence, while also linking Canadian women to the international activities of the March, including the global support card campaign.

Structure

The CWMC is a group representing a broad range of organizations. The make-up of the committee is diverse and representative.

There are various sub-committees within the CWMC with specific responsibilities. Tasks are distributed equally among committee members. When appropriate, input is sought from the collective on most decisions. Each CWMC member has great opportunity for involvement, input and contribution.

The CWMC is in frequent communication with a variety of national, provincial and local groups in order to democratically approach its own mandate as well as the goals of the March. Most of the organizations represented on the CWMC are membership-based, therefore, providing direct access to a large number of member groups and individuals in every corner of the country.

The CWMC is directly involved with groups working with the following sectors of the Canadian women's movement: Aboriginal women, Francophone women, immigrant/refugee women, women of colour, poor women, victims of violence, students, disabled women, working women and lesbians. Further, the CWMC encompasses advocacy, justice, research and political organizations that pursue women's issues.

We are working in cooperation with many organizations committed to the goals of the March in order to expand the base of participation. In addition, we are in direct communication with over 600 Canadian groups that have endorsed the March via the international web site. We are affiliated with national March coordinating bodies around the world and have two representatives on the International Liaison Committee for the March.

Our ties with sectors that are presently working on the issues addressed in the goals of the World March are nothing short of direct. Representatives from national organizations in Canada that deal first-hand with issues of poverty and violence against women have been at the CWMC table since its inception. In addition, the CWMC includes women who work daily in areas spanning from front-end advocacy all the way to research and policy development. To that end, the expertise level of the CWMC in the highlighted areas of the World March is second to none.

Beyond the skill and background of CWMC members, we, as a committee, are working in close affiliation with other national organizations, as well as provincial and local groups and agencies who are devoted to issues of poverty and violence against women.

Strategy

The coordination, education and mobilization strategy of the CWMC will raise awareness with regards to women's status in Canadian society and the need to work collectively in order to eliminate systemic violence against women and the girl-child. Statistics constantly confirm that women are the prime targets of violence. Indeed, one out of every four women is or has been abused by a spouse in Canada, according to the 1993 Statistics Canada Violence Against Women survey. In 1997-1998, 90,792 women and children were admitted to a shelter for battered women. On an average day, there are 6,115 women and children in Canadian shelters. According to the Canadian government's own calculations, it costs 4 billion dollars each year to cover the related medical costs of wife assault. In the last twenty years, 1,485 women were killed by their spouses.

The ultimate goal of the CWMC is achieving social justice and eliminating discriminatory attitudes towards women, particularly those facing multiple barriers, through collective efforts with national, provincial, regional and local organizations across Canada. The systemic discrimination to which we refer exists at many levels in Canada.

Statistics demonstrate that in all spheres of Canadian society, men have been allowed to shamelessly discriminate, oppress and exploit women. Sexual harassment has been the unspoken norm of our working conditions. Public and professional institutions have collaborated in the subordination of women, allowing doctors, clergy and teachers to abuse positions of power and sexually assault women and girls. Women with disabilities have been particularly vulnerable to sexual assault and abuse within families and public institutions. Racism has intensified the oppression of Black women, women of colour and Aboriginal women. Racist biases in public services and in the justice system wind up protecting abusers and further punishing victims. Achieving social justice and the elimination of discrimination will ensure women's access to, and equitable treatment within, Canada's judicial system. It will also enable women to access appropriate health and social services, and to lead in the restoration and reform of valued social programs. This would also include the participation of Aboriginal women in the self-government process.

Given the current climate of economic globalization, international trade, and transcontinental treaties, women are facing a new set of obstacles in our struggle for equality and social justice. To counteract this powerful global tide, all levels of government in Canada must live up to commitments that have been made at the national and international levels to protect human, workers' and women's rights. Women in Canada and elsewhere have a difficult road ahead to achieving true equality. There is a strong desire amongst women in Canada to work more closely with one another and with women around the world on issues of relevance in today's society. To that end, the CWMC, as part of its coordination, education, and mobilization strategy, is working to ensure the participation of mainstream women in all the March initiatives. The CWMC is committed to the broadening of the collective voice, having prioritized an outreach initiative to facilitate the participation of all women, including Aboriginal, Black, immigrant, refugee, disabled, and rural women; women of colour, young and older women. The CWMC has, as one of its foremost goals, the full participation of women from all walks of life, all regions of Canada, and all sectors of society.

The main vehicle for educational discussion will be "It's Time For Change" - a political document developed by the CWMC. We hope to encourage women to plan and develop local educational activities such as workshops, teach-ins and forums as part of their March participation. In addition, we plan to provide opportunities for women to gather nationally and regionally to discuss "It's Time For Change" and strategize about the issues of poverty and violence against women. We will focus on capacity-building of local, grassroots community-based collectives and the facilitation of paths to participation for geographically isolated women.

Benefits

All women in Canada will benefit from this initiative, in a wide range of ways.

Within Canada, progress has been somewhat uneven within the women's community with regards to equality. While some women have progressed, other key communities of women remain on the margins. The long term goal of uniting women from all sectors of society will benefit mainstream women while also bringing in women from traditionally disadvantaged groups for whom conditions are absolutely unacceptable. For instance, statistics show that while the overall poverty rate for women in Canada is almost 20%, for some groups of Aboriginal women, especially those on reserves, and those in some urban centers, it is as high as 80%. Research shows that the chance of "an aboriginal child growing up without a single first-hand experience of abuse or alcohol is tiny. Violence may have begun while at residential school ... Violence continues into adulthood, ranging from 48% to up to 90% of Aboriginal women being assaulted at the hands of their partners, depending on the community in which they live. Aboriginal women also experience racially-motivated attacks and are harassed on the streets by the public and police more so than non-aboriginal women."

Young, single women between the ages of 18-24 face a poverty rate of 72% while single mothers with children under 18 face a poverty rate of 2%, as previously stated. In terms of violence, research indicates that girls are more likely than boys to be physically and sexually assaulted by family members. " "In 1997, persons under 18 were 24% of the population but represented 60% of all sexual assault victims and one fifth (19%) of physical assault victims." For women with disabilities and women of colour, the story is similar. Both face poverty rates above the national average. There are no definitive statistics for lesbians, but due to the face that same sex couples have less or no access to a partner's benefits and other tax benefits, their economic health is impacted. Poverty is an exacerbating factor for women who deal with male violence. Poor women have fewer options to escape violent situations, limited access to legal remedies or good legal representation; they often face job loss, homelessness and food insecurity. For Inuit women and others, "the virtual absence of alternative housing often forces women and children to remain in dangerous and potentially deadly situations&quot. Black women and women who are of minority racial, ethno-cultural or linguistic groups also suffer violence at the hands or their intimate partners. However, their access to the justice system and other services are unequal. Women who have difficulty speaking the official language in their area face enormous barriers in accessing services and the justice system .

World March Idea

WHERE DID THE IDEA FOR A WORLD MARCH OF WOMEN COME FROM?

The concept came from Quebec feminists who launched the appeal for women's solidarity worldwide. Today more than 140 countries are involved and over 2000 groups have signed up. Close to forty national coordinating bodies have been established.

The idea to hold a World March of Women in the Year 2000 was borne out of the Women's March Against Poverty, which took place in Québec in 1995. That march, initiated by the Fédération des femmes du Québec, was hugely successful. Three contingents of 850 women marched for ten days to win nine demands related to economic justice. Fifteen thousand people greeted them at the end of their ten-day walk. The entire women's movement mobilized for that march as did many other segments of the population.

The presence during the 1995 March of twenty women from countries of the South reminded organizers of the importance of global solidarity-building. The Beijing Conference proved that women everywhere are struggling for equality, development and peace more than ever before. It was there that FFQ made its first proposal to organize an international women's march.

The World March resolutely opposes poverty and all forms of violence against women. The demands suggest a basic program that is necessary for years to come. The world rally at the UN on October 17, 2000 will be both a crowning point as well as a beginning.

This March is inclusive and respectful of women's diversity, and it gives rise to the development of alliances.

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