Monthly Archives: October 2010

Dian Cohen Discusses Financial Literacy with CFUW

Says nearly half of population can’t balance cheque book

By Sylvia Bullard                                                           

CFUW Quebec Provincial Council Fall Meeting was held at the North Hatley Golf Club on Saturday, October 23, 2010.  Dian Cohen, who is a noted political economist, journalist, and broadcaster, was the featured guest speaker. Ms. Cohen has had a long career as an economics commentator on television and radio, first with the CBC and then with CTV. Additionally she is also a recipient of the Order of Canada and other awards for economic communications excellence. She is a recognized commentator on economic change and globalization and their implications for personal financial, business and community strategies.Financial Literacy in Canada” was the subject of her tremendously, thought – provoking speech on Saturday.

Having recognized for some time that interest in financial literacy has been growing in Canada,  members of  the Provincial Council who were also in attendance had suggested this subject to be featured for the fall meeting with CFUW.  The ability to make informed financial decisions is essential for basic functioning in Canadian society, as in all countries with complex financial systems. These decisions range from simple daily spending and budgeting, to choices of insurance, banking or investment products, to saving for major life events like retirement and education or purchases like a home. These individual and household decisions and behaviours have profound impacts on the financial security, well-being of individuals and families. In the 2009 budget, the Minister of Finance announced his intention to establish a national task force dedicated to the issue of financial literacy. Appointed in June 2009, the Task Force on Financial Literacy provide advice and recommendations to the Minister of Finance on a national strategy to strengthen the financial literacy of Canadians.

Ms. Cohen explained that, surprisingly this Task Force found that even though we as a group of Canadians are more educated than we have ever been, in general 48 percent of us cannot balance a cheque book, fill out an order form, or figure out what the interest rate is — for example when buying a car — and this illiteracy percentage is much higher for older than younger people. “The government has mounted programs to improve our financial literacy. Yet, with all of this education, why is financial literacy still a problem? The fact is, it’s a global problem. Some of us have not mastered the art of making budgets. We live in a consumer society; all of our surroundings encourage us to buy now and work it out later. Many do not think about retirement or the consequences of what we are doing now”, she said.

After having emphasized the thought that we must do something about financial literacy she turned the meeting over to a member of the University Women’s Club of Montreal (UWC), Judith Kashul, who explained that UWC of Montreal felt that people really needed to start talking about this.  “However, we wondered how we would we get people to start talking, how could we advocate for this?” she said.  A member in their group suggested starting conversations through case study around financial literacy, focusing on women’s groups.  Judith explained, “We have to start with small bites by starting out with small groups then fanning them out across the county. We applied for a grant to develop and publish a series of case studies to be used with women’s groups across Canada focusing on women in the 45 plus age group.”  She then asked all in the audience to participate in a case study and then evaluate the session, and give their feedback on how it may work in other settings. The particular case study that was featured certainly did serve to make one aware of important financial issues that a woman might face in the event of becoming newly widowed.

At the end of the session, questions were handed out to each participant to help them reflect on the relevance of the activity to their own financial situation.  The deep appreciation for the event that was felt by one and all in attendance was very evident as the meeting adjourned.

Red Tents! Support C-304 for Affordable Housing Now!

Today was the National Day of Action for Affordable Housing! In cities across Canada people demanded safe and affordable housing: rallies were held in Halifax, Ottawa, Toronto, Kitchener-Waterloo, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Regina, Surrey, Vancouver and Victoria.

CFUW attended and joined hundreds of supporters on the hill. Members of Parliament, John McCallum, and the bill’s sponsor Libby Davies, gave speeches about the work that has been done on Bill C-304. The rally ended with a march, while carrying single person red tents (which we carried on our heads down Wellington!) to the Human Rights Monument. (To learn more about the significance of the Red Tents click here.)

The support for Bill C-304 is growing; it is now time for our politicians to sign on to supporting the bill.

Adequate and affordable housing is a women’s issue. Women in abusive situations face greater challenges when leaving violence if there is no hope of securing affordable and safe housing for themselves and their children. Increasing access to affordable housing would help many women out of violent situations, and work to reduce the hardship housing costs place on low income women.

Addressing the homelessness problem in this country would not only help millions of Canadians out of poverty, but it would save tax payers the $6 billion it costs to improperly deal with the housing crisis via emergency responses like police, shelters, and hospital visits. Between 1993 and 2004, Canadian taxpayers spent an estimated $49.5 billion maintaining the status quo on the homeless problem in Canada. It costs $48,000 a year to leave someone out on the street. It costs $28,000 a year to house them. Without the knowledge of the human cost to this crisis, the economic one speaks for itself.

We know we can do better, and we can do this through Bill C-304.

Happy Persons Day!

By: Robin Jackson, Executive Director CFUW National Office

81 years ago today women were finally declared to be “Persons.” The decision was in response to the work of five women, known as the “Famous Five,” Emilie Murphy, Nellie McClung, Louise McKinney, Irene Parlby and Henrietta  Muir Edwards, who petitioned the Supreme Court to define the word “persons” as inclusive of women.  Women had been elected to the House of Commons, but could not sit in the Senate because they were not considered “persons” under the law.

The Supreme Court ruled against them, but the women took the case to the final court of appeal, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. On October 18, 1929, the Council ruled that the word “persons” includes members of both the male and female sex, “and that women “are eligible to be summoned to and become members of the Senate of Canada.”

For the last 30 years, Status of Women Canada has presented Governor General’s Awards to five women who have contributed to women’s equality. This year was no exception and Governor General David Johnson, hosted a presentation in Commemoration of the Persons Case to  honour five women who were this year’s recipients. I was attended on behalf of CFUW. Marie Louise Fish, Lucille Harper, Kerline Joseph, Anne Michaud, and Barbara Mowat were awarded this year’s awards.

To learn more about click here.

Discussion with Sally Armstrong and CFUW Oakville

Sally Armstrong, Journalist and Human Rights Activist

On September 28, Sally Armstrong spoke to the CFUW Oakville Bloomsbury 1 Interest Group about her recent journey to the Democratic Republic of Congo and her observations and hopes for the place of women and children in today’s world.  She believes that women’s issues are coming into a bright, new light, from the zones of conflicts to the United Nations to the corporate world; women are the way forward and change is on its way.

She began her talk by reflecting on her first experiences in Sarajevo during the conflict there in 1992.  At that time, the rape camps and the killing of children were not looked on as a casualty of war but as punishment for women, and the news of the atrocities were not covered by the media and therefore no one knew what was happening to the most vulnerable. Most of the world looked the other way, and at the end of the conflict, women were not invited to the peace table.  One of the negotiators stated that women would not be included because “We are discussing serious matters”.

Since the conflict in Afghanistan began in 1999, women have bravely continued to fight for their rights, and when President Karzai tried the pass the law regarding Sharia’h, Afghan women marched in Kabul and the law was withdrawn.  The situation now seems to be at “the tipping point” moving in favour of women and she is hopeful that the women will be brought to the peace table in efforts to end the conflict in their country.  Afghan women have learned that the way out for them to the freedom to which they are entitled is through empowerment, and the power brokers are beginning to realize that bringing women to the table is critical to the economic health of the country and all its citizens.

Sally travelled to Congo this past summer because she had learned of the horrific acts of depravity and barbarism there – the mass raping by seven rogue militia groups in North and South Kivu provinces that forces the women to take their children and hide in the forests, because the men have been driven away.  She met with some of these women in the forests to listen to their stories and bring back a message to our world.  Five million are dead in this conflict and most of the world again is looking the other way.  The women of Congo have formed a campaign called Silence is Violence because they know that what has happened to them and what is still happening must be acknowledged and stopped.

The International Women’s Commission (IWC) for a just and sustainable Palestinian-Israeli Peace has been established and is made up of 20 Palestinian women, 20 Israeli women, and 10 international women.  The IWC begins meeting in Jericho, Israel, in October 2010, and Sally Armstrong is the only Canadian appointed to the Commission. She is hopeful that this group of women will be able to come up with solutions for this long-standing problem that has not been solved by any previous meetings and representatives, no matter how well-intentioned.  The Honorary Chairs are Tarja Halonen, President of Finland, and Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, President of Liberia, and Ines Alberdi of UNIFEM is the Chair of the meetings.

In conclusion, she reminded us of the changes that Canadian women have made in the laws of Canada which have changed our own culture with regard to women, reminding us of the days not-so-long ago when we had to promise to “obey” when we married, when we needed our husband’s signature to have a hospital procedure, when we could not open our own bank accounts, and when the laws on sexual assault looked the other way.  She reminded us that it requires at least 30% of women in government to change a culture and noted that even here at home, we have not quite reached that percentage in Parliament.

It was most encouraging to listen to Sally Armstrong who has a great deal of experience in war torn areas of the world and the extreme difficulties faced by women and children. Despite what she has witnessed she finds hope in the resistance and spirit of women across the world and believes that change is on the way.

Note:  CFUW and its sister national affiliates in IFUW continue to work vigorously for the ratification of UN Resolutions 1326 and 1820.

For more information on the International Women’s Commission, “goggle” IWC – its website is being developed as the meetings begin.

Roberta A. Brooks
CFUW Oakville
IFUW Assistant Treasurer/
Convener, IFUW Finance Committee

October 14, 2010

Women’s Rights at the Crossroads

Hosted by: Sudan Inter-Agency Reference Group and Inter Pares
Attended by: Robin Jackson, Executive Director and Sam Spady, Advocacy Coordinator, on behalf of CFUW

Two Sudanese Women’s Rights Activists spoke about the challenges of civil society in Sudan, and their commitment to continue working with Sudanese women from the North and South through the upcoming referendum.

Sudan, which has endured over fifty years of intermittent civil wars, will come to an important crossroads this January. As a part of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed in 2005, Southern Sudan will vote in a January, 2011 referendum to decide if they should become an independent state.

The Sudanese activists, Fahima A. Hashim, Director of the Salmmah Women’s Resource Centre and Zaynab Elsawi, Program Coordinator for the Sudanese Women Empowerment for Peace (SuWEP) shared how their organizations have been working to build trust and consensus between Northern and Southern women’s groups and have been able to work together to address the repression they collectively face under the al-Bahsir regime.

Although Hashim and Elsawi were not cynical they were not hopeful for the situation in North Sudan following the referendum. While power imbalances and customary laws in the South work against women’s equality, Southern women’s rights are guaranteed in their constitution, and have been able to participate in negotiations. Women in the North do not have this legal tool to use in their efforts, which poses a more difficult situation.

Hashim and Elsawi work focuses on capacity building for women leaders and to advocate for changes to Sudanese laws. One legal area where they have made progress is rape law.  Confronted with the dire situation in Darfur, they worked to compile information on the sexual violence taking place in the Western region of Sudan, and bring clarity to the laws dealing with rape.

Their goal for the presentation was to raise awareness of both the situation for women created by the al-Bashir regime, and to show that there is a continuum of resistance from Sudanese women who are organizing and working to fight for their rights.

The discussion was both worrying and inspiring.  Northern and Southern Sudanese women, who have witnessed decades of civil war and conflict, have been able to build solidarity and a strong network to fight for equality and peace. In the face of a repressive government and violence they have continued their work bravely and patiently. There is a lot we can learn here in Canada from their commitment, strength and tenacity.

Support Wendy Cukier from the Coalition for Gun Control

Support the Globe and Mail’s nomination of Wendy Cukier, President of the Coalition for Gun Control to the Transformational Canadians Panel.

Dr. Wendy Cukier, associate dean of the Ted Rogers School of Management and founder of the Diversity Institute at Ryerson University is also the president and co-founder of the Coalition for Gun Control. She has been nominated by the Globe and Mail’s Transformational Canadians Panel  for her work over the past 20 years in helping shape gun control in Canada, a triumph for public health and safety. By reducing gun death, injury and crime through the Coalition for Gun Control, Dr. Cukier has been instrumental in raising Canada’s international standing thanks to progressive gun control measures.

Within a few hours of her nomination by the Transformational Canadian Panel, the gun lobby has already organized a letter/comment writing campaign to the Globe and Mail in an attempt to discredit her nomination and challenge her accomplishments.

Help support her nomination (and mobilize others to do so) by posting positive comments here:

CFUW calls for Government to address funding gaps for First Nations Students

CFUW, “Address the Education Gaps Now”

OTTAWA, October 1, 2010 – The Canadian Federation of University Women (CFUW) support the Assembly of First Nations in their campaign for quality education for First Nations children. As a national organization that promotes education and equality, CFUW urges the government of Canada to address the education funding gaps that disadvantage First Nations children. These gaps, calculated to be $3000 per student create unequal access and quality of education that have been a result of the federal government’s failure to act.

For First Nations children to reach their maximum potential the Government needs to uphold their responsibility and ensure that there is a commitment to early childhood education, school infrastructure and equipment, books, school libraries and information technology resources, student assessment facilities, skills development and a culturally sensitive curriculum.

“This is a matter of justice and responsibility; the government must address these gaps before another generation of First Nations children is denied access to quality education,” said Brenda Wallace, CFUW National President. “CFUW is committed to standing with the AFN and First Nations groups across the country on this issue.”


For more information contact:

Liette Michaud, CFUW Education Committee Chair, 450-465-3038