By Brooke Oliver
Dawn Ferris, vice-president of women’s issues for the Halifax-Dartmouth and District Labour Council, took International Women’s Day, this past Saturday, as an opportunity to point fingers at the Harper government regarding cuts to women’s programs.
“I would say [Harper’s cuts] affect me because I’m Canadian. Our rights are being eroded. One of the first things his government did when they won their majority was they cut 12 out of 16 offices across Canada for the Status of Women, because apparently, offices for the Status of Women weren’t that important to him,” Ferris said.
Additionally, in spring 2010, the Harper government cut funding for Match International, a Canadian organization that provides funding to women’s groups across the globe.
In a news release in honour of this year’s International Women’s Day, Match International says “the average women’s rights organization has an annual budget of $20,000 per year.”
Ferris is also worried that the current discussions on Omnibus Bill 525 surrounding occupational health and safety standards will take its toll on Canadian women. Currently, Canadians have the right to refuse and challenge any activity in the workplace that they believe may put them at risk.
“So if you say, ‘I am a pregnant woman, I have been told to go use those chemicals and clean up a spill, I don’t think that’s healthy for me,’ this most recent Bill, 525, actually takes that right away,” said Ferris.
Governmental changes affecting women are happening in Nova Scotia as well, Ferris said.
Homecare workers walked off the job Feb. 28, demanding pay equity to their counterparts in hospitals. The government responded by refusing to send the issue to arbitration. The workers, 85 per cent of whom are women, were legislated back to work.
Ferris said she believes that the Nova Scotia government, in doing this, “took away the right for these women to collectively bargain.”
These discussions were facilitated through events organized by Ferris, including a rally in downtown Halifax, as well as the screening of the film Made in Dagenham in Dalhousie University’s Ondaatje Hall. The film provides a depiction of British women pushing their government for equal pay.
Halifax resident Lynn Yetman chose to celebrate International Women’s Day by attending the screening, as well as connecting with the important women in her life.
“I did email my two daughters and remind them that they are strong, beautiful, wonderful smart women who could do anything they wanted to do,” Yetman said with a smile.
Local vocal ensemble, Women Next Door, performed at the screening. Their aim is to shed light on women’s issues, queer and lesbian rights, peace and love, and invoke change through song.