A Women's Consultation Model
BY CONVERGENCE CONSULTANTS
The Autumn issue included an editorial on the process that led to an emergency consultation between representatives of groups receiving funds from the Women's Program and the Secretary of State. We also published a Preamble by Madeleine Parent, outlining the commitments of the Canadian government to women. This article will summarize the proceedings of the Consultation, and explain the consultation model used.
Most groups working to improve the status of women in Canada are heavily dependent on Federal Government funding. Government benefits from the information and services provided by Women's organizations, but provides dismally little money. The Women's Program, Secretary of State, funds over 700 groups working toward equality for women at the national, provincial and territorial levels. Yet it has a mere $12.3M - $1.00 per Canadian female - at its disposal.
This year funding delays and cuts in the budget of the Women's Program forced many groups to cut back on programs and activities, some had to lay off staff and close their offices. Work on such issues as childcare, health, training, education, pornography, violence against women, and sexual assault, was seriously hindered. Women feared that their funding would be further jeopardized by a lack of knowledge about women's groups among some new members of government, by a general austerity drive, and by the perception of some in Ottawa of Women's groups as anti-government lobbyists rather than service providers.
Several organizations -- CCLOW, la Fédération des femmes du Québec, the National Action Committee on the Status of Women, Relais-femmes, the Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women, the Women's Research Centre, and Women Health sharing -- took the lead in organizing an emergency Women's Consultation with the Secretary of State, government officials from that department, and Members of Parliament from all parties.
Three meetings were held between representatives of women's groups and government representatives. The first involved intense discussions with staff of the Women's Program. The objectives of this meeting were:
The second meeting, with the Secretary of State, had two overall objectives:
Ginette Busque, the President of the Fédération des femmes du Québec and Co-Chair of the meeting, best summed up the goal of the entire consultation:
"You see assembled here, to fight for their survival, women from all across Canada, anglophones and francophones, native women and immigrant women, visible minorities and disabled women The atmosphere which prevailed during our workday yesterday was a guarantee of enduring future solidarity. The power of this group is thus not to be ignored The situation into which we are now forced is a source of tension and enormous anxiety. This is why we have not hesitated to label this an emergency meeting You have expressed to us your intention to support us to the extent permitted by the budget of the Secretary of State. We would like today to go another step and obtain specific, significant commitments which will allow us to undertake the fundamental work in which we are engaged."
The Minister used the opportunity of the meetings to announce that the budget of the Women's Program for 1986-87 was going to be cut by 5% as part of the government's campaign to reduce the deficit.
The third component of the consultation was a reception with Members of Parliament. We provided, information on the depth and breadth of the activities of women's organizations, and attempted to convince MPs of the importance and value of our work.