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From October 11–13, Montreal played host to the largest and most regionally and culturally diverse gathering of young feminists to take place in Canada in decades. | photo: Sarah Ghabrial

From October 11–13, Montreal played host to the largest and most regionally and culturally diverse gathering of young feminists to take place in Canada in decades. | photo: Sarah Ghabrial


Toujours RebELLES from the inside

by Sarah Ghabrial | November 19, 2008

Writer, student and Miss G___ activist Sarah Ghabrial reports from the floor of October’s Waves of Resistance conference in Quebec.

If the words feminism and radicalism have been given a bad rap lately, participants in the mid-October conference Toujours RebELLES / Waves of Resistance have been – and will be – working hard to remove the undue stigma from both, and inviting young Canadians to stand up against oppression in all its forms.

From October 11–13, Montreal played host to the largest and most regionally and culturally diverse gathering of young feminists to take place in Canada in decades. Some 550 participants answered the call issued by the conference organizers, joining plenaries, attending workshops, sharing ideas, making connections and, most of all, raising their voices for change.

Their voices are loud, they are determined; they are diverse but united.

Elsa Beaulieu, one member of the large and vibrant group of conference organizers, spent months preparing for this ground-breaking event, and is excited for the impending tide of anti-oppression actions that Toujours RebELLES is certain to give rise to.

One of those is a series of decentralized days of action. The first is to take place on International Women’s Day, March 8, 2008. On this day, “Young feminists throughout the country will raise awareness, organize workshops and discussion groups, and mobilize in various ways [to bring awareness to the] struggle against injustices and oppressions in general,” says Beaulieu. For some participants, the sense of urgency was too great to wait until March, and will also be staging actions on February 14.


The tone of the weekend was set with a profound opening by two Mohawk women – Kara Dawne Zemel, from Femmes Autochtones du Québec, and Jessica Yee, director of the Native Youth Sexual Health Network.

Other conference highlights included Saturday’s “creative resistance actions” – 30 theme-based workshops, in which participants took their energy and their messages out into the streets in the form of culture jamming, sidewalk art, public cheers, and other forms of protest and consciousness-raising.

On Sunday morning, participants heard speeches by guests from the World March of Women, who came from South Africa, Brazil and the Philippines to share their stories and ideas. By the end of the session, the audience was moved to an eruption of applause and a standing ovation. Beaulieu feels this strong collective display was a sign that “Our struggles and our solidarity are local, national, and global.”

In terms of where the Canadian feminist movement should be going, Beaulieu remarks that Toujours RebELLES – and, she hopes, other resistance collectives – will continue to recognize the ”different types of oppressions experienced by different women, including [oppressions related to] class, race, and sexual identity/orientation.” As for the successes of Waves of Resistance, “We are particularly happy with the participation and visibility of Aboriginal women, and, in general, with the workshops and plenaries devoted to raising awareness about racism. We will continue to strive to build an even more diverse and inclusive feminist movement. Our generation will keep the struggles going, both in continuity with past struggles, and through new contributions in terms of analysis and ways of organizing and acting.”

the manifesto

One of the major outcomes of the conference was the manifesto, a historical as well as “living” document that feminists across the country are encouraged to adopt and adapt to their own community building. The manifesto is a five-part statement explaining:

  • who we are
  • the oppressions Toujours RebELLES denounce (capitalism, colonialism, patriarchy)
  • who and what is responsible for the oppressions against which Toujours RebELLES stands
  • the vision of the world we want to build, and
  • what we will do to fight oppressions and bring this better world about – our actions

The manifesto was first drafted by a committee of 13 from 11 provinces and territories, aged between 17 and 29, the average age being 20. It was then presented to the entire conference, and a day was spent editing and approving it through a rigorous consensus-based decision-making process. In the plenary discussion, and throughout the day, lively discussions could be heard about different ways of getting out the manifesto’s message:

  • mailing it to political representatives
  • sharing it publicly through chalk-art, posters, and public readings
  • for use as educational material, both formally and informally
  • sharing it in radio broadcasts and blogging
  • incorporating aspects and phrases into art and poetry

For Beaulieu, the beauty of the manifesto is the way it captures the spirit and dynamism of the conference, letting the world know that “young feminists are quite radical in their critique of society. Feminism is hot, radicalism is hot!”

change on the horizon

Beaulieu believes that 2010 will be an important year for radical activism in Canada, as protesters prepare to stand against globalized economic injustice at the G8 conference in Huntsville, Ontario, and against the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, which are poised to wreak untold damage on unceded Aboriginal territory.

Indeed, there are many reasons to believe that, over the next few years, it is conservatism that will earn an ugly reputation, as Canada’s young feminist movement gains fresh momentum and brings greater attention to the ongoing impacts of patriarchy, racism, classism, homophobia, heteronormativity (the marginalization of non-heterosexual lifestyles and the view that heterosexuality is the “normal” sexual orientation), and colonization in the lives of all Canadians.

Toujours RebELLES is only the beginning.

“Our struggle is not over. We will be post-feminists when we have post-patriarchy.”

— Manifesto of the Pan-Canadian Young Feminist Gathering


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