Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Andree Boucher - A Canadian Legacy...

The Gazette declares Boucher, 'An exceptional woman' and indeed they are right on target. Andree Boucher was the mayor of Ste. Foy from 1985-2001 and later the mayor of Quebec City. This icon died last Friday at age 70 from a heart attack. She will be sorely missed. For those of you who do not know her legacy in Canadian politics, please read the article below. She was a trailblazer in municipal politics in Quebec. She will be missed.

In the typical political obituary, the successful completion of prestigious projects is trotted out as proof of the deceased's abilities.

Boucher's political resumé was the polar opposite of the stereotype. Prestige for its own sake didn't interest her. She campaigned against the building of a new hockey arena for the Quebec Nordiques before they left town to become the Colorado Avalanche in 1995. And she opposed the 2002 Winter Olympics bid, which went to Salt Lake City and became mired in a bribery scandal before finally turning a profit.

Boucher's legacy is in the realm of the spirit. Everyone from the citizens who elected her to political leaders like Premier Jean Charest and France's External Affairs minister Bernard Kouchner reacted to her sudden death by praising her honesty, her verve. Kouchner described her as a "woman of conviction and engagement." Charest called her an "exceptional woman."

Being true to who you are and letting other people see the real you should not be an extraordinary thing in a politician. But it is. Our prime minister is seen as "controlling" and "partisan," a man few Canadians have warmed up to.

Boucher, on the other hand, raised strong emotions. Many voters adored her. When she invited them into her home to talk about issues, they went. When she refused in 2005 to spend more than $5,000 running for the mayoralty, they were all the happier to vote for her, making her the first female mayor of Quebec City. They liked her authenticity, her frankness, her take-me-or-leave-me personality.

A teacher by training, Boucher first began attending Ste. Foy council meetings as an ordinary citizen in the late 1960s, a time when a male councillor felt free to say to her, "Go home to your pots and pans, you're better off there."

In a radio interview last year on Radio-Canada, Boucher said no man would dare say such a thing today. In the interview, done two days before International Women's Day, Boucher said it had become politically correct for political parties to field female candidates. But, to her, the presence of women as candidates was not enough. "What is important" for women, she said, "is to reach the top, where you are the boss, you call the shots."

Boucher said even though women still are blocked by a glass ceiling, she believed eventually women would accede to the highest political posts, including the premiership of Quebec and the prime ministry Canada.

The approach that worked for her, Boucher told interviewer Marie-France Bazzo, was to appeal to the intelligence of the voters. "It's the best tactic," she said, adding when voters are convinced of the rightness of a position, they will get on board "because they find that it's in their interests to do that."

The loss of Boucher comes at a low ebb in the fortunes of women in politics in Canada. In a survey this year, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities found 86 per cent of municipal councils in the country had more men than women on council and 14 per cent had no women on council.

The federation wants to correct the situation and will hold a series of workshops to encourage women's participation in municipal politics. Its aim is to to reach 30 per cent female representation on municipal councils by 2026, up from the current 21.7 per cent.

How much easier that goal would be with a woman like Andrée Boucher still in power, with her Yves St. Laurent dresses, red lipstick and white, punk hair.
Instead of a new hockey arena, she left behind a far more precious legacy: An example of what it is like to live free. And succeed.

She will be missed.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Men Working to End Violence Against Women!

The Bangkok Post published a great article about how men are getting involved in the fight against violence against women! There are a great many movements throughout the world where men are coming together to call for an end to violence against women and this article highlights them and the problems that women currently face around the world... a great read!

Three decades after the first UN World Conference on Women in Mexico in 1975, the signs of progress in addressing violence against women are many. An array of international human rights instruments promoting gender equality and women's empowerment have been endorsed and ratified by governments worldwide.

For example, all 10 Asian countries have ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Several countries in East and Southeast Asia have legislation and national action plans to address domestic violence, sexual abuse, trafficking, etc.

This is the result of the tireless efforts of gender equality and women's empowerment advocates, who have striven to promote gender-sensitive policies; strengthen the capacity of the law enforcement system and service providers, as well as build women's capacity to say "no" to violence and to claim their rights and entitlements.

While considerable progress has been made at policy level, progress on implementation and accountability have been slower. This is attributable to complex interacting factors - economic and political structures and processes that further marginalise the vulnerable, more so women; individual and institutional consciousness, cultures and practice that fight change; and a lack of political will to bring erring duty bearers, perpetrators of violence and their abettors to account.

Violence against women in "normal times" is exacerbated during social change or crisis. Current trends in globalisation have created economic opportunities for more privileged women, while drawing large numbers of poor women into the burgeoning unprotected informal manufacturing and service sector, in their own countries and across national boundaries as overseas migrants.

This has resulted in some renegotiation of roles and power balances between men and women that challenge male identity. The stress generated is violently vented on women. In certain contexts modernisation has drawn women out of sex-segregated settings to play more public roles that have often been rejected outright with violence against women to ensure their conformity to tradition.

In conflict zones, women's bodies become "war sites" as men use rape and other forms of violence as a strategy to assert power over, to conquer and annihilate the other side.

Finally, women who have said "no" to discrimination and violence become targets of more violence as a punitive and silencing mechanism.

Ending violence against women needs a transforming of mainstream economic, political and socio-cultural structures and processes. Guided by the Beijing Platform for Action that calls for the engagement of men as partners to end violence against women, Unifem has worked with governments and civil society and with men in different sectors.

With a view to begin engaging men in a co-ordinated way as advocates with women to end violence against them, men from across East and Southeast Asia and Australia will congregate at a regional conference co-organised by Unifem and the government of Thailand in Bangkok on Sept 3-4, to share how in their individual and institutional capacities they have struggled to end violence against women.

Among these partners is:

- Chhay Kim Sore who established the Cambodian Men's Network that seeks to educate Cambodian men to respect women's rights and create a violence-free society. His father, a farmer who he describes as kind and gentle, is his role model.

- Acehnese film director Muhammad Zulfan has been involved in several documentary film projects on women and violence, including a film supported by Unifem on women's political participation.

- In East Timor, father Francisco Jose Baeza of the Tilomar Parish is actively impressing a key message on youth groups in his parish - that real men do not bully girls and women.

- Focusing on women alone leaves male consciousness and practice unaddressed, thwarting the move toward relationships of equality, partnership and mutuality.

Sensitive men who have developed a new gender consciousness, either through engagement with women advocates, witnessing violence against women, understanding oppression through their own experience of class, race, ethnic oppression or inability to conform to dominant male stereotypes, can be effective role models.

With an understanding of the male ethos, they can develop a persuasive language as advocates to demonstrate how as men violently guard narrow male privilege, they seriously compromise their humanity as they perpetuate a culture of violence.

Anecdotalizing Hillary

Sorry for the hiatus.

I've just been reading yet another article on the likelihood of female support for a Clinton administration. I find it interesting that Hillary's success, according to analysts, hinges on her ability to pull in the female vote. This to me implies one of two things: that she is either pandering to the female vote, or still not quite a candidate in the eyes of men. Either way, both of these hypotheses are somewhat unsettling. Whether or not Hillary is indeed pandering to female vote is a less pressing issue. Her inability to sway other voters is more troubling. Why is this? She is certainly no longer "the doe in the headlights." In fact, she is, as this article notes perceived as an insider to the political "game." Perhaps she was a piece of furniture in the boardroom before she became a candidate?
I don't get it. Yes, Mrs. Clinton has been privy to much of the political game during her tenure as first lady and as a result of her own political career, but does this make her any more of an old hand than the next woman? Or for that matter the next political minority? (And I use "political" in the sense of elected official). Chances are Clinton had about as much political clout in her early days as the the furniture in the above boardrooms.
Is she blurring the gender lens? Does this even matter? Should there be a gender lens when we speak of candidates? Not really. Certainly candidates can and should address issues as they pertain equally to the sexes. But to ask them to dial in on either gender is tantamount to campaigning solely on behalf of a special interest group.
Though, I do find it frightening that Clinton has yet to address women's issues in her campaign, which SHOULD be a part of any candidate's campaign; however, that she should be obliged to view her campaign through the lens of gender annoys me.
Furthermore, do we now castrate Margaret Thatcher for her so-called "iron fist." Criticizing Hillary for her experience and knowledge, or perhaps adaption to, the working environment of US politics would be to return to such a debate. I for one find it irritating that Thatcher is given "male" characteristics. This is gendering politics as male. And since we all know politics is an insiders' game, the game then becomes a gendered one with gender rules.
However, gender should not rule. We all know this. As any feminist from the 1980s would remind you, the personal is political and, as Antigone argues, vice-versa. So, to bring in such "lenswork" and generalist assumptions complicates Hillary's task immensely. Not only does she have to work through her own personal experience, pejoratively counter intuitive (according to some), but she also must consider the distortions of glasses she doesn't need.

Let's not ruin Mrs. Clinton's Myopia shall we?


Monday, August 27, 2007

Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi Calls for Inquiry into Women's Rights in Iran...

Fredrik Dahl writes a great article about Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi and her recent call for the UN to investigate the status of women in Iran. I recently read Ebadi's autobiography called Iran Awakening: A Memoir of Revolution and Hope and was moved by Ebadi's story and her struggle for women's rights in Iran. A former judge, she was pushed out of the courts when the Iran's religious revolution took place.

TEHRAN – Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi said she had asked the United Nations to investigate the status of women in Iran and accused Iranian authorities of detaining activists demanding more women's rights.

Ebadi, speaking at a press conference on Monday marking the first anniversary of a campaign to gather 1 million signatures in favour of women's rights in the Islamic state, said she had contacted top U.N. human rights official Louise Arbour.

She said about 50 activists had been detained over the last 14 months for involvement in women's rights protests and some of them faced charges of acting against national security. She did not say how many – if any – were still being held.

Western diplomats and rights groups say Iran is taking a tougher line against dissent in general, possibly in response to increased international pressure over its disputed nuclear activities, which the West suspects is aimed at making bombs.

The Islamic Republic rejects allegations it discriminates against women, saying it follows sharia law.

Tehran usually reacts dismissively toward criticism from any foreign organisations, including the United Nations.

'I have written a letter to the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights and complained for the first time, and said this is the situation of women rights in Iran and these are our demands,' Ebadi said.

'Please send a special rapporteur to Iran to report on women, to investigate the conditions for women,' she said, describing her message to Arbour.

Ebadi won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003 for her work on women's and children's rights.


Campaigners say Iranian women face difficulties in getting a divorce. They also criticise inheritance laws they say are unjust and the fact that a woman's court testimony is worth half that of a man's.

Activists say scores of people were detained at protests for greater women rights in Tehran in June 2006 and in March this year, which authorities had declared illegal.

In April, an Iranian news agency said four campaigners were detained while collecting signatures for the petition demanding equal legal rights with men.

'Unfortunately, about 50 people involved in gatherings demanding equality ... had cases (against them) and were in prison for a while and some of them are waiting for their verdicts now,' Ebadi said.

U.S.-based Human Rights Watch earlier this year said six women were convicted after taking part in last year's protest.

Women's rights campaigners vowed to press on with the signature campaign, but did not say how many they had collected since it was launched in August last year.

Although women are legally entitled to hold most jobs in Iran, it remains a male-dominated society. Women cannot run for president or become judges but in recent years they have started to work in police and fire departments.

'Many women believe they are equal with men and they want to prove it,' said one campaigner. 'I believe men agree with us.'

Ebadi is a fabulous woman and is such a remarkable campaigner for women's rights! I recommend her book to anyone interested in better understanding Iran or women's rights there.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Weekend to End Breast Cancer!

Well, it was a long weekend but a wonderful one! The Weekend to End Breast Cancer raised $5.1 million for the BC Cancer Foundation! I had the privelege of meeting some fabulous women and men who came out to walk the 60km and even got a bouquet of beautiful orchids from one fabulous walker! All in all it was a fabulous experience! But an incredibly tiring experience as well!
Kaitlin and I are both currently recuperating... regular blogging to commence next week!

Monday, August 13, 2007

Weeklong Blogging Hiatus!

We will be back! Unfortunately, myself and my assistant editor Kaitlin both work for the BC Cancer Foundation's Weekend to End Breast Cancer which will be taking place this weekend August 17-19! This means we will be very, very busy and will not have time to post.

I'm really looking forward to this weekend - as it has special meaning to me. My mother is a breast cancer survivor and just this year celebrated 10 years of being cancer free. This year my mom also found out that one of her friends' breast cancer has come back. Beth is an absolutely wonderful woman and even though I will be tired and not get much sleep this weekend, I will think of her and my mother and all the women who have had the disease and that will give me strength.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Powerful Poetry Slam about Reproductive Choice!

Wow. I must just say wow. This is such a powerful rant by a woman about choice and reproduction. It's by Sonya 'The Drama' Boom Renee and was performed at the 2006 International World Poetry Slam Finals. It's called 'What We Deserve'. Watch it and be moved by her words!

Via Feministing...

Thursday, August 9, 2007

First Nations Women Unfairly Discriminated

A Toronto Star acticle details how Indian women in Canada are widely discriminated against by the Indian Act, thanks to section 67 within the Canadian Human Rights Act. Section 67 was enacted in 1977 as a 'temporary' measure in order to enable consultation on how Indian women who marry non-Indians can maintain their Indian status. 40 years later... not much has happened and women and their families are still getting denied housing and other reserve resources in a system that relies on patriarchal lineages. As the Star writes...

In 2000, retired Supreme Court justice Gérard La Forest urged the government to remove section 67. In 2003, Bill C-7, the First Nations Governance Act, would have done so but an interpretive clause requiring the Human Rights Tribunal to consider the needs and aspirations of an aboriginal community affected by a complaint as well as gender equality, was challenged by First Nations. They demanded more consultation, expressing concerns about its effects on their collective rights and whether they had the resources to deal with a flood of new complaints.

Bands have a right to be concerned about the financial implications of any changes. In housing, to give just one example, band councils allocate lands by issuing certificates of possession. Most go to men. The Canadian Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination in the provision of residential accommodation, but it doesn't apply because of section 67. The courts can't help women discriminated against – they've held that section 67 "immunizes" even the intentional violation of human rights from judicial scrutiny. Indian women have no rights under provincial matrimonial property laws either, because Indian lands fall within federal, not provincial, jurisdiction.

Once section 67 is removed, Indian women could well have the right to stay in reserve housing following divorce or during separation. But housing is limited. Where will their husbands live? And what funding will be provided to bands to deal with additional demands for housing from off-reserve members who claim discrimination as well? Bands may discriminate now, but how can they not do so when housing is so limited?

So far, no one has challenged section 67 for being inconsistent with section 15 of the Charter, which makes equality a constitutional right. But recently, a B.C. court held that provisions of the Indian Act that discriminate against the grandchildren of Indian women who "married out" breach Charter rights because they do not apply to the grandchildren of Indian men. Some of those people will want housing on reserves, too.

The opposition parties claim more consultation is needed, but that was why section 67 was passed in the first place. Instead, for 30 years, Indians, and particularly Indian women, have had fewer human rights than other Canadians. We should all be concerned.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Women Who Don't Vote...

Why do some women not vote? Election Day, a documentary about the experiences of voters in the 2004 US Presidential election follows a pool of voters around to see the problems they experience. There are indeed many real factors that keep women from the polls. Here are the stats:

On Aug. 26 U.S. women mark the 87th anniversary of the 19th Amendment giving them the right to vote. By some measures there is plenty to celebrate.

Women have turned out to vote at a higher rate than men since the 1980s.

In the 2006 midterm election 2 million more young women voted than in the previous comparable cycle, according to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at the University of Maryland School of Public Policy, which credits the rise in part to the Feminist Majority Foundation's "Get Out Her Vote" effort aimed at college women.

Moreover,55 percent of female voters cast their ballots for Democrats in House races, while only 50 percent of male voters did. In fact, female voters were responsible for key Democratic victories in the House and the Senate.

However, those figures do not reflect the fact that many women's votes are missing from the count.

In the last presidential election, 8 million women registered but did not vote; another 36 million potential female voters were not registered at all, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Faith Winter, national field director of the New York-based White House Project, a nonpartisan group working to elect a female president, says the paucity of elected women is discouraging.

"When they don't see themselves or people that look like them in the process, it's a big barrier for participation. Not seeing yourself in power is something that's particular to women."

Unmarried women are actually the fastest growing demographic, but they are also one of the demographics that do not vote. The same can be said about elderly women and immigrant women, who are often discriminated against or marginalized in the voting process:

Unmarried women are the fastest growing major demographic group and represent the largest potential group of new voters, according to "The State of Unmarried America," an annual report released on June 29 by Washington-based Women's Voices Women Vote.

But many of their votes aren't there to be counted. Of the 49.5 million single, separated, divorced or widowed women in the United States, 18 million are unregistered and 5 million are registered but don't vote.

"What would make them most likely to participate is if they have more information from sources that they trust: nonbiased, nonpartisan information," said Joe Goode, executive director of Women's Voices Women Vote. "They don't have the same social network or are not as politically engaged as married couples. The second major thing holding them back is cynicism towards politicians and politics."

Goode says the women sitting out elections are hindered in general by a high degree of instability; 40 percent of young women move every three to four years and need to re-register.

Other women may be hindered more by everyday difficulties.

"Women are voting and women are voting in high numbers every year," said Kassidy Johnson, a campus organizer for the Feminist Majority Foundation in Arlington, Va., which has a variety of programs to increase female voting. "I really believe the things that hold us back are normal, everyday things. You forget, you can't find a babysitter or you don't want to stand in line all day."

Johnson points to recently married women who may not know they have to re-register if they change their names. "A woman's name does not change automatically and it costs money to change your name. You have to change your Social Security card, your voter registration card, then the roster or your license may be wrong and your name doesn't match up."

Frances Talbott-White, vice president of voter services for the League of Women Voters of Los Angeles, notes that among older people there are more frail women living in assisted living facilities or in hospitals.

"An abuse that can happen is that somebody can go to their nursing home and say, 'Let me help you with your absentee ballot,' and fill it in the way they think it ought to be filled in," Talbott-White said.

The National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum in Washington, D.C., has reported that Asian female voters face obstacles unique to their culture, as do many immigrant populations.

"For older women, a lot of it just comes from the cultural barrier, not really a stigma around voting," Priscilla Huang, the group's policy and program director, said. "Voting isn't really a part of what they did in their communities or their home countries, so it's not an ingrained process ... Women tend to rely on more English proficient family members to translate the news or tell them what is going on politically. I could imagine how this might sway or influence how they vote on things." Asian American Women Turnout Rising

However, among those Asian American women who were registered, 84 percent voted in the 2004 election and voted at a rate higher than men for the first time, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey.

"In the last 2006 election, two-thirds of all first-time voters were foreign born," said Huang. "Immigrant women take voting very seriously, and they are excited to do so. So it's problematic when all the tools are not available to them."

Monday, August 6, 2007

Kenyan Politician Defends Proposal to Increase Women in Politics

Justice and Constitutional Affairs minister Martha Karua of Kenya is stirring up some controversy! What could she have possibly done to create such controversy? Well, as this article suggests, apparently she supported a move to set aside 50 positions for women in a parliament where women only represent 2% of the ministers.

The minister said the proposal would push the representation of women to a mere 20 per cent and urged critics to stop reading mischief in the move.

"President Kibaki's Government supports more women representation in Parliament so they work alongside the male MPs," Karua said

So aside from the controversy that suggests that this is just a 'cheap' apppeal to women voters before an election, there is also the idea that it seems fundamentally unfair that women are given representation when other groups are not. In the below excerpt, Tom Aosa suggests that it is unfair that youth and the disabled are not given positions as well.
How do readers feel about programs that encourage an increase in female representation and ignore other marginalized groups? How do readers also feel about Mr. Aosa's contention that women should just go for the seats instead of waiting for them?

Meanwhile, Community Based Organisations are opposed to the creation of the proposed 50 parliamentary seats for women.

The organisations, through their national chairman, Mr Tom Aosa, questioned the move and said it would set a bad precedent.

Aosa wondered why it was the women that had to benefit from the seats and not other groups like the disabled or youth.

"At what stage was it decided that women had to get more seats in Parliament and not the marginalized?" he posed. Speaking to journalists in Naivasha, Aosa challenged women to go for the seats rather than sit back and wait for them.

He said that was a move by Government to get women votes come the General Election.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Tough Guise

Great Youtube video on men and aggression. Watch! Now!