Author Archives: cfuwadvocacy

Why International Day Against Victim-Blaming Matters

by Allegra Morgado

Today marks the fourth annual International Day Against Victim-Blaming. Since the topic of rape culture has become such a forefront issue in the media and on college campuses in recent years, the issue of victim blaming has been more widely discussed. Although the thought of blaming a victim for an action taken against them may sound ludicrous – the video “If we treat robbery like rape” shows you just how ridiculous it seems in other contexts – almost all sexual assault victims have to deal with it at some point in their lives. It is one of the reasons that the majority of victims never report an assault. So why do we victim blame? What is gained from this practice that is clearly harmful to all victims of sexual assault?

Although there is no concrete answer or reasoning behind victim blaming, there are a lot of different reasons why people do it. In order to figure out the answer we need to talk about three contributing factors – our assumptions of why women get sexually assaulted, how we talk about sexual assault to young people, and why people commit sexual assault. Although it is important to recognize that men are sexually assaulted, because over 80% of sexual assault victims are women, this post will mostly focus on women.

The view of women’s and men’s sexuality is the first thing that needs to change. In an interview about her book The Purity Myth: How America’s Obsession With Virginity is Hurting Young Women on NBC’s “The Today Show”, Jessica Valenti explains that “the ‘purity myth’ is the lie that women’s sexuality has some bearing on who we are and how good we are.” This view is not unique to the United States – all over the world, including in Canada, women are harshly judged on their decisions about their own personal sexuality. This judgement is often ingrained, be it from religion, media, or just cultural norms, and affects how women who are open about their sexuality are viewed. While men are often praised for their “sexual conquests” women have historically been judged and shamed. The connotation behind the word “slut” is one clear example. These views are centuries old and mostly comes from the patriarchal societies that we live in, where women’s rights have only really been a topic of conversation for the past 125 or so years.

When women are constantly judged for their sexuality, people are scared and skeptical about anything that has to do with it. This judgment is where the “what was she wearing?” and “why was she out so late?” questions often stem from. As Dr. Juliana Breines says in her article “Why Do We Blame Victims?” on the University of California, Berkley’s Greater Good Science Center website says “victims threaten our sense that the world is a safe and moral place, where good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people”. This is why we try to find a reason to blame the victim; if it is their fault, then those of us who dress in certain ways or take all possible precautions to prevent rape must be safe.

Rape is preventable, but first we have to change the way talk about rape and sexual assault. Although it is beginning to change, for far too long the conversation has been focused around telling women not to get raped, rather than telling men not to rape. When a victim is blamed or we suggest she could have prevented it in some way, we are sending the message that an assailant’s behaviour is in part excusable. There also needs to be a change in the conversation about consent. By changing the statement to “Yes Means Yes” from “No Means No,” we change the requirement for consent to an explicit yes, rather than the absence of a no. Although it may not seem “sexy” to stop during an intimate moment to ask for consent, it is necessary to have open communication and dialogue to ensure that both parties are happily consenting to the activity at hand, and that consent is ongoing. The Ontario government’s new sex-education curriculum, which includes consent based lessons, is a very positive step in that direction.

In order to stop sexual assault, it is essential to continue the conversation about consent and the fight for women to be truly equal. Because as long as there are cases like those of Rehtaeh Parsons and Amanda Todd, there is a need for an International Day Against Victim-Blaming. For more information on the day and what you can do to help out, check out the Facebook event, hosted by SlutWalk, here: https://www.facebook.com/events/1390690721209922/

Remembering on the 25th Anniversary of the École Polytechnique Massacre

Tomorrow is the 25th Anniversary of the massacre at Universite du Montreal’s Ecole polytechnique of 14 women. Today and tomorrow, across the country, there are vigils and sunrise services being held to remember. There is talk that some of the families of the women who were murdered have asked that we move on; so that they can move on as well. I am not sure we can ‘move on’.

There are articles in remembering the incident that use the headline “the day that forever changed Canada” – but that claim rings hollow in light of the events of the past few months.

Gun control – which seemed to be a just response to the horror of Montreal – is dead. We have parliamentarians saying that the best response to the unthinkable violence that was exhibited at that massacre is to support female engineering students – which seems to miss the entire point.

I remember that day – I suggested immediately that we lower the flag on the Manitoba legislative building and was told we didn’t do that – only did it for Manitobans unless it was for a national figure of outstanding importance. Later that afternoon, when it was realized that these 14 women had become figures of outstanding national importance, the flag was lowered.

I remember standing in the Chamber of the Black Star of the Legislative Building of Manitoba, where women, in a most unusual move of protocol, had been allowed in to have a time of remembrance.

I remember being asked to repeat a simple phrase ‘I am a feminist’. It was a declaration that women would not be afraid. The monster who did the shooting was “fighting feminism” and calling the women “a bunch of feminists.”

If you go on to a number of websites today – you will shockingly find that fight is still going on – and not just by men.

I was incredibly heartened by Emma Watson’s recent UN initiative – He for She – in which she stated in a most straightforward manner – feminism is by definition the belief that men and women should have equal opportunities. Seems like a pretty easy thing to endorse.

Twenty five years ago, sitting in a classroom, living out their right to embrace that simple statement were fourteen women: see CTV News – http://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/the-14-women-who-were-killed-at-ecole-polytechnique-1.2134006#ixzz3L1p006pq

Doris Mae Oulton
President, CFUW-FCFDU
Dec 5, 2014 • Winnipeg

CFUW appeals to legislators, civil society, and individual citizens to mobilize, unite and act to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls

OTTAWA, 25 November 2014 – Today on International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, CFUW joins with our International affiliate, the International Federation of University Women (IFUW), in drawing attention to the ongoing, widespread and systemic culture of violence against women and girls in Canada and around the world.

Together, we call on governments to work with stakeholders, including, justice, health, education and social service sectors to develop, implement and enforce comprehensive and coordinated plans of action to end violence against women and girls.

Violence against women manifests itself in physical, sexual, psychological, and economic violence. It occurs in our homes, workplaces, schools and in public places, and can affect women and girls of all ages and background. Trafficking, forced and early child marriage, sexual harassment, female genital mutilation and rape as a weapon of war, and non-state actor torture are all specific forms of violence that disproportionately affect women and girls around the world.

Not only does violence jeopardize the security and wellbeing of women and girls, it also has a large economic impact on survivors and Canada as a whole. Statistics Canada and others have estimated the cost of intimate partner violence and sexual violence at $7.4 and $1.9 billion respectively, including the costs of social services, healthcare, the justice system, and lost productivity.

“Over the last several weeks, Canadians have been reminded again and again that violence against women and sexual harassment are still persistent problems in this country. Even Parliament Hill and our public broadcaster’s offices are not immune”, said Doris Mae Oulton, President of CFUW. “These high profile cases have helped shine a light on the complexities of gender-based violence and have sparked important discussions. But discussions must also lead to action. On any given day in Canada, over 8200 women and children are living in emergency shelters and transition houses to escape violent partners. Annually over 400,000 women and girls report sexually assaults, yet an approximate 90% of assaults go unreported. Nearly 1,200 Aboriginal women and girls have been murdered or gone missing over the last 30 years. We cannot let this continue to happen.”

President of IFUW, Catherine Bell, stated that: “Up to 70% of women will suffer violence in their lifetimes. Often, alarmingly, it is intimate partners or family members that carry out the attacks with devastating effects. What is more worrying is the extremely low rate of complaint in cases of violence against women, where only 13 -14% of the most serious cases are reported to the police. Many such reports do not result in legal proceedings and conviction. Law enforcement, health professionals, teachers and social workers need to be properly trained in treating and protecting survivors of violence so that girls and women feel safe and empowered to come forward and share their stories.”

CFUW is a non-partisan, voluntary, self-funded organization with over 100 CFUW Clubs, located in every province across Canada. Since its founding in 1919, CFUW has been working to improve the status of women, and to promote human rights, public education, social justice, and peace. CFUW is the largest affiliate of the International Federation of University Women (IFUW), the leading girls’ and women’s global organization run by and for women, advocating for women’s rights, equality and empowerment through access to quality education and training up to the highest levels.

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For more information, please contact: Tara Fischer, Advocacy Coordinator, advocacy@fcfdu.org, 613-234-8252 ext. 106.

CFUW Trailblazers: Women Who Knew How to Roar

To mark Women’s History Month in Canada, CFUW is honouring some of the trailblazers that were once members of our organization.

Dr. Alice E. Wilson

Dr. Alice E. Wilson

Dr. Ann Augusta Stowe-Gullen (1857 – 1943), one of the first members of the University Women’sClub Toronto, is known for being the first woman to graduate from a Canadian medical school (Faculty of Medicine at Victoria University, Toronto) in 1883. Her advocacy work led to the establishment of the Ontario Medical College for Women.

 Dr. Alice E. Wilson (1881 – 1964) was one of the first recipients of a CFUW scholarship at the age of 44, which opened the door to a long and distinguished career as the first woman to hold a professional position with the Geological Survey of Canada and to be appointed Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 1938.  Recognizing the importance of the CFUW scholarship/fellowship program, Dr. Wilson left a bequest to the organization in 1964, establishing the Dr. Alice E. Wilson Awards. The awards are given to four women annually.

Dr. Elizabeth Bagshaw

Dr. Elizabeth Bagshaw

Dr. Elizabeth Bagshaw (1881 – 1982) was one of Canada’s first female doctors and the medical director of the first (illegal) birth control clinic in Canada despite intense criticism from the medical and religious communities. She served as the clinic’s medical director for over 30 years pioneering areas of family medicine that were not widely practiced at the time. Dr. Bagshaw was a member of the University Women’s Club of Hamilton.

Helen Alice Kinnear, Q.C. (1894 – 1970), a former member of the University Women’s Club of Toronto, was the first federally appointed woman judge in Canada.


Charlotte Elizabeth Whitton, O.C., C.B.E. (1896 – 1975)
was a member of the University Women’s Club in Ottawa, a feminist, and the first woman mayor of Ottawa (and a major city in Canada), serving from 1951 to 1956 and again from 1960 to 1964.

The Honourable Muriel McQueen Fergusson, P.C. O.C. Q.C. (1899 – 1997), a former member of CFUW Ottawa, was the first woman Speaker of the Senate from 1972 to 1974, and the first woman deputy mayor of Ottawa in 1953.

Phyllis Gregory RossO.C., C.B.E. (1903 – 1988) was a Canadian economist and the first woman to serve as a Chancellor in the Commonwealth of Nations. She was a member and President of the University Women’s Club in Ottawa. 

Winona Grace MacInnisO.C., O.B.C.  (1905 – 1991), a former member of University Women’s Clubs of Ottawa and Vancouver, was the first woman from British Columbia to be elected to the House of Commons.

Helen Battles Sawyer Hogg, C.C. (1905 – 1993), a former member of the University Women’s Club on Toronto, was an astronomer, the first female president of several astronomical organizations, and the first woman to be appointed to the physical sciences division of the Royal Society of Canada.

Dr. Jessie Gray

Dr. Jessie Gray

Dr. Jessie Gray (1910 – 1978) was known as Canada’s “first lady of surgery”, and one of the four leading cancer surgeons in North America at the time. She was a member of the University Women’s Club of Toronto, and earned a formidable succession of firsts: first woman gold medalist in medicine at U of T (1934); first woman to obtain the master of surgery degree (1939); first woman resident surgeon at the Toronto General Hospital; first woman fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons (Canada, 1941); first woman member of the Central Surgical Society of North America; and first woman elected to the Science Council of Canada (1966).


The Hon. Pauline Mills McGibbon, C.C., O. Ont, (1910 – 2001) was a member of the University Women’s Club of Toronto, and served as the 22nd Lieutenant Governor of Ontario from 1974 to 1980. In addition to being the first woman to occupy this position, she was the first woman to serve as a viceregal representative.

Blanche Margaret Meagher, O.C. (1911 – 1999) was a Canadian diplomat and in 1958 was appointed as Canada’s first woman ambassador. She was a member of the University Women’s Club of Halifax and served as Ambassador to Israel, Austria and Sweden.

Marie-Claire Kirkland-Casgrain, C.M., C.Q. is a Quebec lawyer, judge, politician and former member of CFUW Montreal. She was the first woman elected to the Legislative Assembly of Quebec, the first woman appointed a Cabinet minister in Quebec, the first woman appointed acting premier, and the first woman judge to serve in the Quebec Provincial Court.

500 Km Camino Trek Raises over $17,000 for Women’s Postgraduate Awards

L to R: Fiorenza Albert-Howard, Chair of the CFUW Charitable Trust,... , and Susan Murphy Immediate Past President of CFUW.

L to R: Fiorenza Albert-Howard, Chair of the CFUW Charitable Trust, Ann McElhinney, Treasurer , and Susan Murphy Immediate Past President of CFUW.

Susan Murphy, immediate Past President of CFUW, and her friend Monika Oepkes just completed a 22 day trek of  500 kilometres on the Camino de Santiago in northern Spain, and arrived in Santiago de Compostela on September 6th.   Their walk was a fundraiser for the CFUW Charitable Trust to raise $100,000 in celebration of the CFUW 100th Anniversary Project in 2019.    All funds raised will be used to help increase the number of National fellowships and awards presented in that year.

Susan presented Fiorenza Albert-Howard, Chair of the CFUW Charitable Trust, with donor cheques from many CFUW clubs and members, friends and family, on Thursday September 25th at the CT Annual Meeting in Toronto.   Murphy said, “The walk was beautiful, but long, hot and sometimes difficult. However, knowing that we had such strong backing often made our steps lighter. We were excited to walk and very grateful for the support.”   This was the pair’s third Camino experience and second as a fundraiser.

The CFUW Charitable Trust is a registered charity that accepts and invests donations, and provides funding for the CFUW Fellowship Program which awards over $80,000 annually to Canadian  women researchers. Over $30,000 has been committed to the 100th Anniversary Project to date, as well as many new local CFUW club initiatives.   For more information, www.cfuw.org/charitabletrust

CFUW Calls for Action to Address Growth in Low Literacy among Canadians

Nearly 50% of Canadians have Low Literacy According to Latest Assessment

OTTAWA, September 8, 2014 – On the occasion of International Literacy Day, CFUW calls on federal, provincial and territorial governments to address the troubling growth in low literacy among Canadians.

According to the latest Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) carried out by Statistics Canada on behalf of the OECD, 48% of the Canadian population has literacy skills below level 3, the internationally accepted level required to function in a modern society and to be fully component in many jobs. This represents a nearly 8% increase since the last assessment in 2003.

While the rates of low literacy are similar for both women and men in Canada, women with low literacy skills are more likely to be unemployed or employed in lower paying jobs than men with similar levels of literacy. Elevating the literacy skills of women and girls in particular, is therefore an important way to help reduce poverty and gender inequality.

“Low literacy affects the social, economic and political participation of Canadians, and its growing incidence should be a pressing concern for policy makers”, said Doris Mae Oulton. “It is imperative that federal, provincial and territorial governments work together to develop a national strategy to address this issue, with specific attention to gender differences and the groups most affected, including Aboriginal peoples and immigrants.”

CFUW questions the Government of Canada’s decision to cut core funding to national and provincial literacy organizations as of June 2014. Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) has instead assembled a pan-Canadian network focused on improving the labour market outcomes of Canadians. ESDC sought proposals from organizations to join the network, however many literacy groups were not selected and are therefore currently reducing their programs, services and staff, or closing all together.

 

Today, CFUW joins the International Federation of University Women (IFUW) and affiliates in over 60 countries to mark this important day to raise awareness about illiteracy and low literacy, particularly among women and girls, around the world. Together, CFUW and IFUW are pressing governments, as well as educational bodies to take all steps necessary to eradicate illiteracy and low literacy. Action must include drafting and implementing legislation and concrete policy frameworks that identify measurable goals and benchmarks to tackle the global literacy shortfall. All programs for action must recognize and make provision for the increased vulnerability of women and girls, who account for two-thirds of the 774 million illiterate people in the world.

CFUW is a non-partisan, voluntary, self-funded organization with over 100 CFUW Clubs, located in every province across Canada. Since its founding in 1919, CFUW has been working to improve the status of women, and to promote human rights, public education, social justice, and peace.

For more information, contact:      

Tara Fischer, Advocacy Coordinator, CFUW, advocacy@cfuw.org or 613-234-8252 ext. 106

CFUW Meets with Canada’s Ambassador to Afghanistan to Discuss Women’s Rights

Canada’s Ambassador to Afghanistan, Deborah Lyons, paid a visit the CFUW National Office on Tuesday to meet with representatives of the organization. The ongoing work of the Ottawa Club’s study group, University Women Helping Afghan Women (UWHAW), resonated with the Ambassador and prompted her to reach out to CFUW for a meeting.

Ambassador Lyons spoke passionately about her role as the first woman Ambassador in Afghanistan in 10 years. She commented that one of her major challenges as Ambassador has been trying to keep public attention on Afghanistan; something certainly that CFUW, with its network across Canada, can help support.

As she nears the end of her first year as Ambassador, she is enthusiastic about Canada’s new phase of involvement in Afghanistan; focused on development, human rights, security, and governance. There continues to be a lot of hard work ahead from her perspective, which must be carried out with as much vigour as Canada’s military involvement. This she believes is an important way to honour the military’s work, and to make Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan a constructive story; women’s rights being an essential part.

The task of supporting women’s rights in Afghanistan is enormous she says, but one that Canada and the international community remain committed to. Their progress is fragile, but also tangible, and symbolic of what can be accomplished collaboratively. She stressed that Afghanistan could become an important example of 21st Century Global cooperation if the international community and the Afghan government are able to achieve something workable for the Afghan people, particularly if women’s rights continue to improve, considering the past extremism they experienced.

So how can this be accomplished? There doesn’t seem to be an easy answer.  The Canadian government recognizes that women have an essential role to play in attaining durable, long-lasting peace, as research from the Institute on Inclusive Security, and others have shown. Ongoing funding for women’s rights, health and governance will certainly be important components, along with support for economic development to ensure sustainability.

CFUW, with its member Clubs, can support women’s rights in Afghanistan by continuing to keep these issues and Afghan women’s concerns in the public eye.

To find out more about the work of University Women Helping Afghan Women visit the CFUW Ottawa website or like the UWHAW Facebook page.