“It’s amazing to meet so many feminists. I’m definitely learning about community building.” — Shantelle Moreno | photo: Sarah Ghabrial
by November 24, 2008|
They came from every province and every territory of Canada. Close to 600 young feminists, aged 14–35, gathered in Montreal on Thanksgiving weekend for an historic event: Toujours RebELLES/Waves of Resistance.
For conference organizers, the idea was to attract feminists with as many different political views, identities, cultures and languages as possible. Then they wanted to discuss ways to reinforce the young feminists’ movement in Canada. As a result, participants could establish their priorities in areas ranging from work to health. Throughout the weekend, there were thematic workshops covering topics from the feminization of poverty to violence against women. Feminists were taught creative ways to resist through things like drumming and radical cheerleading. The pièce de résistance was the creation of a manifesto of the gathering. This document is meant to take them into the future.
Organizers first recognized the need for this type of event in 2003, following a successful gathering of young feminists from across Quebec. Five years later, the need is greater than ever according to one of the conference organizers, Jessyka Boulanger: “The right and conservative values are steadily gaining ground. This trend threatens equality and the advancement of women’s rights.”
Why aim the event at young women?
“All of the things that we are still fighting for in terms of being equal and in terms of having fair services or fair anything, we need a movement and a generation to carry it on,” said Jessica Yee of Toronto. She’s the founder and director of the Native Youth Sexual Health Network and also a conference organizer.
It was a chance for young women from across the country to network, share for the first time, and determine their common concerns and priorities. “We recognize that poverty for example, is a huge factor for women. Women represent something like 40% of those who live under the poverty line, and when you’re a woman of colour or a newcomer, that will be even higher,” said Yee. Violence against women still figures prominently. For Yee, it’s more acute in her community, the aboriginal community. “We have 80% of our young women under the age of 18 who have experienced an act of sexual violence at some point in their lives.”
Shantelle Moreno travelled from Victoria, British Columbia for the conference. The 22 year old – who is with the women’s studies department of the University of Victoria – said it was well worth the fund raising she had to do to make it to the event. “It’s amazing to meet so many feminists. I’m definitely learning about community building. Building community across linguistic barriers and across regional borders is really important.”
Reproductive choice is a major concern for her. “And with Bill C-484, it could definitely jeopardize women’s rights to choose whether or not and how to control their own reproductive capacity.” C-484 was the private member’s bill that passed second reading in the House of Commons last session. The election ended the progress of C-484, which would have made it “an offence to injure, cause the death of or attempt to cause the death of a child before or during its birth while committing or attempting to commit an offence against the mother.” However, many fear that a similar bill will be introduced again in Parliament. And that such a law would be a backdoor measure to control choice.
Jordan Leichnitz of Ottawa saw the conference as an exciting opportunity to network. The 23 year old is coordinator of a Women’s Resource Centre at the University of Ottawa. “We spend a lot of time as feminists, activists, fighting for the relevance of feminism and working on very pressing urgent issues like the epidemic of violence against women and, particularly this year, attacks on reproductive freedom. So I think that in the day-to-day struggle it’s rare that we have the opportunity to actually get together, talk about what we view, what are our different strategies and actually pick up energy from each other.”
Indeed they did energize and strategize. As the weekend wound down, 12 young women worked together to put into words what the young feminists shared in that historical time. The result? The Manifesto of the Pan-Canadian Young Feminist Gathering. A comprehensive document outlining their shared vision of what they challenge in society and what needs to be done improve it.
For Leichnitz the manifesto represents “Having political articulation of what young feminists want out of their country. It’s going to give us a tool we can use to hold our elected leaders to account and call with one voice, and that’s something that’s really powerful.”
Yee – who worked on the document – agrees. “This is something that we need to make happen in each of our communities. The goal of the manifesto was to make it realistic and doable so that we have this framework now for all of Canada to see and be a part of and know that we’re not backing down and we need to stand up.”