Statement at the Estates General on Feminism

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The Caucus of Women of diverse origins at the Estates General on Feminism, November 16, 2013. Montreal.

On the occasion of the Estates General of Feminist Action and Analysis, the March 8  Committee of Women of Diverse Origins would like to raise some important principles for the consideration of all participants at this event.

We welcome the initiative of bringing together activists from across Quebec to review feminist action and analysis.

It was after several discussions and admitedly, a good deal of hesitation, that some of us have decided to participate in this event . Not that we have nothing to say. Rather, the fears and disappointments, based on past and recent experiences made us doubt our desire to participate in the Estates General. Will we be heard? Will we have the energy to carry forward our demands, anticipating the response or lack thereof ? Upon reflection, we encouraged each other to be present in order to make visible the experiences, the demands, and the discomfort felt by many immigrant and racialized women in this society, but especially within the current Quebec feminist movement. We may come from elsewhere , but we live here , and our concerns are shared by large numbers of women, often invisible to the majority. Without wishing to create  an “us” and “you” we just want to remind you that we are also you.

Recent years have revealed a serious gap between feminist analysis and feminist … action! The most recent example is in the debate around the Quebec government’s Chartre des valeurs (Charter of Quebec Values)​​ and what it requires of the movement when some women, mostly immigrant women, are targeted and stigmatized. It is extremely unfortunate that a significant number of feminists have gone along with this project, obviously orchestrated for electoral purposes by the government and based on less noble feelings (fear of the other, if not overt racism) .

It is not so much the disagreement among feminists that is the problem. It is not only possible to have differences, but we can even be the better for it!  But to move forward, we must have discussions, explain our respective views and most importantly, take the time to listen. While the Charter specifically targets certain groups of women, if we take a broader outlook, what affects our sisters affects us too.

If a women’s movement can not base itself in real life issues like inclusion and protection of those who are most vulnerable, or defend them when they are attacked,  it can not claim to be the movement of all women. This debate is not futile. It reveals the gap that still exists beyond the principles, among immigrant and racialized women and the white, Quebec-born feminist movement.
This debate on the Charter also reveals the choices that we face as a movement, beyond the workshop discussions on the intersection of oppressions,  and well beyond the Charter. Do we know about the conditional residency requirement for some women on their arrival to Canada? Do we care about the phenomenon of migrant marriages? Do we understand the issues behind the claims for coverage by the CSST of temporary workers and caregivers ? Do we support the regularization of non-status women, a group that has nowhere to be heard? Do we actively encourage the recruitment of women of color in our organizations ? Will we be thinking in the coming days, about those who for reasons of language, finances, employment, family obligations, immigration status, fear, will not be among us … will we represent them? That is the true reality check that we want Quebec feminists to take. It is not just about defending the “other”, it is a question of appropriating these struggles collectively as our own.

If we fail to defend unequivocally the right of all women to decide, rather than the state that wants to do it for them – even when we do not agree with that choice – then the women’s movement in Québec will fail to go beyond pious wishes to practice solidarity for all, particularly in the case of the Charter, with Muslim women living here. It is in this spirit which seeks to align our principles with real action by the movement, that we call on the Estates-General to take a stand on this basic principle:  that it is up to the women, not the State, to decide whether or not we express our beliefs by wearing a headscarf.

This represents a great opportunity to show that the movement is what it claims to be, the movement of all women. Let us move forward! Such a movement recognizes and values the presence of all members within it, is truly interested and eager to better understand the multiple realities of immigrant women. It also recognizes the need to defend them, or rather to defend ourselves when we are all under attack.

Wishing all of us an inclusive and united Estates General.

The March 8 Committee of Women of Diverse Origins ( WDO )
November 16, 2013

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