Status of Women in SK

Spring has sprung and the regina mom has been busy offline.

Imagine my surprise, when gathered with a few others, I learned that Premier Wall believes that women in Saskatchewan have equality! I’ve been working for women’s equality for more than twenty years now, so I’m totally amazed!  A brief scan of his Cabinet confirms it, however.  There is no Minister Responsible for the Status of Women.

I mean, really, we should have seen it coming, what with his buddy-buddy-ness with PM Harper.  For some reason, however, I believed that Wall really was going to be different.  But in fact he is more like the NDP than ever.  He is more of the same-old, same-old graduate Saskatchewan Old Boys’ Club in which the Saskatchewan NDP’s old boys held memberships.

And that’s terrible news for the women of Saskatchewan, women who will be even further marginalized by uncaring white men with power.


RBE runs with an axe

The Racist Regina Public School Board of Education (RBE) let the axe fly and proceeded with school and program closures outlined in their foolhardy plan of renewal.

It seems that the regina mom’s last post on the racist and classist tones of the 10-year plan for renewal upset a few of the board members.

Garry Schenher saw fit to blather on and on about the great policies the RBE has developed around aboriginal education. What a yawner he is to listen to! You’ll get no argument from me that the policies are good. They are, and that’s great! But policies are entirely useless when they’re implemented in ways that do not serve the best interests of the students for whom they are intended. Herchmer School, for example, offers one of the most “instructionally innovative” – if not the most instructionally innovative – array of programming and delivery in the entire school division, but Mr. Schenher voted to close the school. He entirely misses the point, that the RBE contravenes its own policy by implementing the closure of schools in catchment areas which contain neighbourhoods where the aboriginal population is higher than average. But he surely loved clinging to that policy to to as he spoke. Too bad for the kids at Herchmer that he does not see his own hypocrisy.

Dale West practically shouted his anger that Bernadette Wagner (that’s me, hahaha) had publicly stated that the RBE’s plan was racist and classist. Well, duh. If the shoe fits, Mr. West, it’s yours. I can only surmise that he doesn’t understand the meanings of the words. He used to be a school teacher, but he clearly doesn’t get the gist of my commentary. It is really too bad he doesn’t have a better grasp of those concepts, because it would certainly have benefitted the kids whose schools he voted to close tonight. It’s sad that the kids he taught likely learned nothing about racism and classism from him. It’s worse than sad. It’s shameful. So, I suggest he and any of the students he taught visit and look at the definitions for racism and classism. And then he may want to do a google search for institutional racism in education. One of the documents he will find there contains this nugget:

Institutional racism or systemic racism describes forms of racism which are structured into political and social institutions. It occurs when organisations, institutions or governments discriminate, either deliberately or indirectly, against certain groups of people to limit their rights.

This form of racism reflects the cultural assumptions of the dominant group, so that the practices of that group are seen as the norm to which other cultural practices should conform. It regularly and systematically advantages some ethnic and cultural groups and disadvantages and marginalises others.

Institutional racism is often the most difficult to recognise and counter, particularly when it is perpetrated by institutions and governments who do not view themselves as racist. When present in a range of social contexts, this form of racism reinforces the disadvantage already experienced by some members of the community.

Dr. Barbara Young, for all her fancy education, also knows nothing about institutional racism. But she sure knows how to use false logic. I had to leave the meeting room so that I wouldn’t get kicked out for disrupting it. Oh, she had absolutely nothing but her calm, white privilege to add to the discussion.

Mr. Marchuk, however, appeared to be entirely riled up! Wow! He let out a lot of hot air, most particularly to defend himself as a former teacher and as a former principal of Herchmer School, which makes his vote to close it all the more shameful. His show of righteous indignation was almost convincing! And he was so full of arrogance I again had to leave the room. Apparently, just because he can’t see the classist and racist overtones in the 10-year plan for renewal, they simply aren’t there. It seems poor Mr. Marchuk needs also to study up on a few things, too. (Perhaps he and Mr. West could be study-buddies.) It was clear that he’s all about “sound processes” and keeping the “house in order” and his fear that local school boards may lose their authority if they don’t toe some kind of imaginary line that no one will publicly define. Anyway, it’s entirely too clear that he is not about what is best for the children and the communities in which they live.

And furthermore, why does he think that just because folks oppose this foolish, old-school and backwards plan that folks are all right with the status quo? His black-and-white, dualistic thinking makes me wonder where these privileged white folks find the blinders they wear.

Rhonda Parisian, on the other hand, stole my heart. She was absolutely sick about her decisions to support those closures she did support. And she knew she voted incorrectly on them; her body language gave her away. But the Chamber of Commerce and the Taxpayers Federation must have got to her enough that she sided with their Friedmanesque logic instead of her heart. I hope she finds the courage to stand up for her heart. She has the potential to be an excellent member of the board.

I have to say that Barb Saylor almost impressed me. But she still buys into that ridiculous Friedman mind-set, too, believing that money matters more than kids (or libraries, for that matter) and can cure social ills. She has a long way to go to fully impress me after her escapades on the Library Board a few years ago (when they tried to close inner city libraries). Saskboy reports on the chat he had with her after the meeting.

I introduced myself to Mr. West after the meeting, and assured him that he ensured he would fail the test at the school board elections in the fall of 2009. Those who would like to assist in ensuring the defeat of West, Marchuk, Young and Schenher, please email me. We have work to do!

Oh, and just before I left that room full of very sad people, I thanked Dr. John Conway for his steadfast belief in doing what is best for our kids. We are very fortunate to have a voice for the children serving on our public school board.

Now, before I sign off, can someone please explain to me why the RBE website has a link to the Regina Chamber of Commerce and the Regional Economic Development Authority? Do they provide some kind of guiding principles for the RBE? Are they the culprits drawing that imaginary line that the Chair of the Board believes he must toe? I mean, what on earth do they have to do with the education of our children, except to express support for school closures? Good grief! They’re the types who would probably like to privatize schools so they can make more money!

Happy International Women’s Day

In celebration of the IWD, Canadian Dimension magazine featured several feminist articles and art in the current issue.  Happily, the editor has uploaded my article to their website.  An excerpt:

Eco-feminist action in the 21st century

Bernadette L. Wagner

Canadian Dimension magazine, March/April 2008

In early June, 2007, I was one of seven Saskatchewan women who made their way to Boston to record the vocal tracks for an ecofeminist recording project, My Heart Is Moved. In all, 85 women from ten different bio-regions of North America — many of whom had never before met — gathered to sing songs based on the Earth Charter, a global peoples’ document on sustainable living. All who traveled to Boston brought with them the breath and life of their local communities, the voices of all those in their singing circles, the amazing preparation and intention of the local group into the focused work of rehearsals and recording. The experience was profound and continues to shape me, much as the songs continue to take shape in community.

The Roots of Ecofeminism

Attempting to trace the origin of the word “ecofeminism” yields confusion. There are those who consider Francois d’Eaubonne, a French feminist and author of Le Feminisme ou la Mort (Feminism or Death), published in 1974 and translated into English in 1989, the originator. Others credit Susan Griffin’s Women and Nature or Mary Daly’s Gyn/Ecology: The MetaEthics of Radical Feminism, both published in 1978, as laying significant groundwork for ecofeminism, even though neither woman used the term in those works. Still others suggest that it could have been used by indigenous peoples or Black Americans working in their communities. What becomes clear in sorting through the literature is that no one woman can be crowned as originator, especially when the intricacies of oral cultures and realities of class are brought into the discussion.

Still, all ecofeminists can point to the work of Rachel Carson and her studies of birds and lakes as a significant root of ecofeminism. “Chemicals are the sinister and little-recognized partners of radiation in changing the very nature of the world — the very nature of life,” she said in her 1962 book, Silent Spring. That book rocked all of North America and much of the world, resulting in a backlash from the chemical industry and the scientific community.

Read the full article.

Incremental attack on women’s rights

On March 5, Parliament passed the Second Reading of Bill C-484, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (injuring or causing the death of an unborn child while committing an offence) aka the Unborn Victims of Crime Act. Bill C-484 is a very dangerous piece of legislation for women. Should it become law, personhood will be granted to a fetus and that would provide solid groundwork for the re-criminalization of abortion in Canada. And, according to Joyce Arthur of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada / Coaltion pour le droit a l’avortement au Canada, “it could also criminalize pregnant women for behaviours perceived to harm their fetuses.”

When Harper and his nationalist Stand Up for Canada campaign landed the Conservatives with only a minority government in the 2006 election many, including me, breathed a sigh of relief. At least they didn’t get a majority, we all said. But Harper had done his homework. He knew he would have to work differently from any minority government in Canada’s history. And he did. His study of Stalin helped him to maintain extreme control over his caucus, to exert some control over the already right-wing bias in the media and to govern by stealth. The attempt to censor film arts confirmed for me that his ideology is what I would call a soft fascism. As a writer, I go to the dictionary to help me decide language use. The American Heritage Dictionary‘s definition of fascism is the one I mean when I say it is a soft fascism that Harper has brought into Canada.

But it is the Unabridged definition that more clearly spells out the components of fascism. With the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) and the North American FTA already in place and the Security and Prosperity Partnership underway, corporatist control of economics is proceeding. Control of the media and the caucus as well as socioeconomic control have been key components in Harper’s soft brand of fascism. The incrementalist nature of his governing has been most evident in his measured and consistent attacks on women’s human rights. Within a few short months in office, Harper radically altered Status of Women Canada (SWC). Prior to the Harper attack, the SWC had played a key role within government and within Canadian society in securing such things as parental benefits and women’s reproductive freedom. But Harper’s removal of the word equality from the SWC mandate and the change to funding guidelines ended that kind of work. His attack meant that even the most broad-based, community-oriented and democratic women’s organization would be ineligible for funding if it engaged in any form of lobbying, whatsoever. Feminist blogger, April Reign, cited Tom Flanagan on the cuts to SWC:

Flanagan calls funding cuts to Status of Women Canada and the elimination of the Court Challenges Program a “nice step,” asserting without equivocation that Conservatives will “defund” all equality-seeking groups – with feminists at the top of the list. He goes further, clarifying that Conservatives also plan to choke-off these groups’ supposedly privileged access to government by, for example, denying “meetings with ministers.” But for strategic reasons, Flanagan notes, this will all happen incrementally. To avoid the perception of mean-spirited retribution, he says, “incrementalism is the way to go.”

Women’s groups such as the National Association of Women and the Law (NAWL) have closed their doors. Others have scaled back their operations to a bare minimum. Harper’s attack has effectively silenced the voices of feminism. With the media and society under control, the Opposition parties out of control, and Harper definitely in control, Bill C-484 found a most welcome environment. It is now much more unlikely that women’s organizations would be able to defeat C-484 if it becomes law.

Few saw it coming. But those who did acted as best they could to sound the trumpets. Before C-484 made it to Second Reading activity increased but it was not enough to stop the legislation from moving forward. Four brave Conservative MPs voted against their government while 27 Liberal MPs and 1 New Democratic MP voted with the government. 10 Liberals, including Stephane Dion and former Prime Minister Paul Martin, were not present for the vote. Nancy Karetak-Lindell was apparently caught in an Arctic storm. Martin was simply MIA. But Dion was at Stornoway for his wife’s International Women’s Day party! Apparently, his support for women’s rights only goes so far. As one wise blogger said, The Liberals failed to stand up against the Conservative agenda they warned us against.

There is still hope that Canadians can defeat this regressive bill. It now moves to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, where there is an even split of Committee members who voted for and voted against it. Once the Committee is done with it — if they don’t throw it out — it would go back to the House for Third Reading where, by then I would hope, enough Liberals have been brought into the House of Commons and onside to defeat it. Or, in the event that an election is called, C-484 will die on the Order Table.

Many fear that with the Liberals in shambles the Harperites would easily win a majority government. I disagree. I believe that Harper’s brand of fascism will not be tolerated by Canadians.

This post would not have been possible without the good work of the women and men at Bread and Roses, Birth Pangs, and the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, and dedicated activists too numerous to mention.

Classism and Racism at Regina Board of Education (RBE)

Others won’t name it outright. I will.

The Regina Public School Board of Education’s 10-year Renewal Plan is at best, stupid. At its worst, it is racist and classist. It goes against the RBE’s own shared values:

Our Shared Values transcend our differences and provide an equal opportunity to recognize and encourage the unique characteristics and contributions of students, parents/caregivers and staff.

Well, maybe they somewhat did until now. The RBE has chosen to ignore significant data revealed to them by citizens’ groups.

Independent studies have shown that the majority of the schools slated for closure are in areas of the city where the First Nations population is higher than average and where the socio-economic status of the citizens is lower than average. It has furthermore shown, given 2006 numbers and the RBE’s own data on closures, that as many as 45% of the RBE’s student population in K to Grade 8 will be bussed when the new plan takes effect.

So the 10-year plan is not only classist and racist, but it is also devised to create more greenhouse gases in our city!

And I will refrain from commenting on the Campbell Collegiate Community Council’s presentation to the Board except to say that it demonstrated exactly why the south end is deemed to be a place of white power and privilege in Regina. And it sickens me that my kids are enrolled there.

Then again, maybe they can make a difference…