Tina Pretty, Women’s Coordinator
The annual International Bread and Roses Brunch was a sold out affair once again this year. Over 300 women from various walks of life gathered at the Holiday Inn in St. John’s on Sunday, March 6thto celebrate IWD and to take stock of the challenges ahead in 2016.
Keynote speaker, Executive Director of the St. John’s Status of Women’s Council, Jenny Wright, delivered a riveting address entitled: Reclaiming Newfoundland and Labrador Feminism. She told the group, “I believe in this province it has long been about doing feminism instead of wearing feminism”, with the emphasis on the act, not the label, telling women it’s, “Rolling up your sleeves, not because you wanted to, but because you had to because something wasn’t right”, and “It often meant the exhausting work of organizing for change while being a mother, working in the fishery, in the shops, in the home and on the streets.”
For many activists in the room, she hit the nail on the head. She went on to tell the story of fisher woman Rosanne Doyle of Witless Bay who successfully challenged the Unemployment Insurance program because it discriminated against the spouses of fishermen who fished beside their men but were denied benefits.
Other highlights of her speech included:
- Suffragettes and winning the right to vote 100 years ago;
- Women’s work during the war effort;
- The march by 500 people during the depression on the Colonial Building led by Julia Salter Earle;
- The work of the St. John’s Status of Women Council and their fights and victories in the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s.
- The lack of supports for immigrant women;
- Victories to celebrate in recent times;
- The status of women in the province.
She also spoke of the mistakes made in the rights and history of our Indigenous women and their fight for basic rights white women take for granted. She quoted Aboriginal speaker, Amelia Reimer, “While you are still fighting for wage parity we are still fighting not to be killed.”
In her address, Wright commended women in the labour movement and the work of union women in elevating the status of women in the province, adding that, “this is a fact that can often get lost in our current time of anti-union rhetoric. Working conditions that are the norm for so many of us, was not always so – from simply being allowed in the workforce, to parental leave, to fair wages. It is to our unionized sisters that we owe a great debt.”
Of particular interest were her comments on violence against women in our rural communities and how outport women, “experience twice the amount of family violence than their urban sisters, and do so with minimal or no services at all.” She asked that we always remember that safety is a human right and to not abandon these women in our activism.
Wright also gave her thoughts on how, with a newly elected provincial government, we were heading into four years of austerity budgets. She told the group that, “governments seem to conveniently forget that women are always adversely and negatively affected by austerity budgets.” And how right she was on that. A recent report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, released in May, outlined all the areas in which this budget negatively affected and let women down in this province.
In closing, Wright also reminded women to, “Remember that the history of feminism in this province was not achieved just by formal organizations, but that much of the change came about because one woman stood up and said, ‘This is not right.’”
The 2016 IWD Bread and Roses Brunch concluded with the singing of the women’s anthem, Bread and Roses, which in addition to being about living wages and a decent standard of living, is very much about individual women coming together, collectively speaking out against injustice, and marching for a better day.