Alberta women are fighting for their rights in the tradition of the suffragists

Women in Canada are joining together in increasing numbers to oppose the ever-growing impacts of gender identity legislation, as gender ideology takes root in our country. There are now numerous feminist groups across Canada, advocating for women’s sex-based rights. On May 2, 2021, four of those groups — WHRC Alberta, Alberta Radical Feminists (ABRF), Alberta Women’s Advocacy Association (AWAA), and Canadian Women’s Sex-Based Rights (caWsbar) — gathered in Edmonton, on the steps of the Alberta legislature, to take a public stand in support of our sex-based rights and in protest of the wholesale dismissal of women as distinct group and the insistence that we should redefine “woman” to include men.

The attack on women’s rights is nothing new. Several bills have been passed or are in the process of passing which impede women’s rights and, more broadly, limit the ability of Canadians to question or challenge gender identity ideology and protect kids from dangerous, irreversible medical procedures.

Bill C-16, Canada’s gender identity legislation, passed in 2017, adding gender identity and gender expression to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination in the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code. The effect has been that males who identify as women now have unrestricted access to women’s spaces like rape shelters, change rooms, and prisons.

In 2020, David Lametti, the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, proposed amendments to the criminal code, which would criminalize “conversation therapy.” Bill C-6 is currently going into its third reading, and would prevent therapists, for example, from taking a moderate, exploratory approach to so-called “trans kids,” rather than immediately affirming a child’s self-declared gender and putting them on the path to medical transition.

More recently, the Liberal government proposed a removal of Section 4.1 of the Broadcasting Act, the clause excluding “user-generated content” from regulation by the CRTC, Canada’s public authority in charge of regulating and supervising broadcasting and telecommunications. The reforms, should Bill C-10 pass, will curtail free speech online, ensuring individuals who challenge government-sanctioned ideology cannot speak out about their criticisms and concerns on social media platforms like Facebook and YouTube, a form of censorship feminists are already experiencing in our attempts to remind the public, media, and politicians that human biological sex is important, real, dimorphic, and immutable. If Bill C-10 passes, the platforms women use to connect with each other and advocate for women’s sex-based rights will be forced to censor our words and content, under threat of fines from the CRTC.

Women who speak out about gender identity ideology are threatened with sexual assault, murder, beatings, job loss, social alienation, and silencing, and because trans activists have labelled us “TERFs,” and therefore “hateful,” “bigoted,” and even “Nazis,” this response is passed off as righteous and even progressive. Today in the West, this form of misogyny is accepted and supported. In the 20th century, suffragists faced similar attacks — slander, propaganda, violence. If you look at anti-suffragist imagery, you can see the parallels.

Criticism of trans activism and gender ideology has been labelled “hate speech,” but defences of women’s rights are not an attack on people who believe they are transgender. This response is revealing, though, in terms of the foundation and goals of trans rights activism. Women fought for decades to be considered persons under the law, for our right to sport, access to public toilets, the right to vote,  and have autonomy over our own reproductive choices. Many of these efforts are being undone by the work of trans activists who want women to set aside our safety and comfort in favour of the desires, fetishises, and demands of men.

The May 2 rally in Edmonton was not advertised, and for good reason: we were concerned about interference or assault from groups who oppose women’s rights advocacy. We wanted a safe place to peacefully meet up (in compliance with Covid restrictions), talk, and share. So we limited knowledge of the event to our own circles, opting to livestream it to the ABRF and AWAA Facebook pages, later uploading the video to the WHRC Alberta YouTube page. An hour before it started, we shared an event poster across social media.

We were really happy with the turnout, with women coming from Calgary, Cochrane, Lethbridge, and Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Some were afraid to attend in person, but watched online and sent us supportive messages. Some passersby stopped to listen to us speak. Just the opportunity to meet with one another in person was inspiring and galvanizing, as many of us had only known each other from social media and zoom meetings. There is power and energy in women gathering — especially for the purposes of feminist movement building or activism — that is hard to come by in mixed-sex groups. It may sound cliché or contrived, but it is invigorating — women can support and lift each other up in a space where we all know that womanhood is a shared experience of growing up female, not an identity one adopts.

I emceed the event and emphasized that this fight is not a partisan issue, saying:

“This isn’t about being a Liberal or a Conservative, it’s about being adult human females who have experienced oppression on the basis of our biological sex. This isn’t something we can just identify out of. This isn’t a magic trick that will cure the real issues we are faced with. Do not misunderstand: we are explicitly and exclusively pro-woman. Any insistence that we are hateful or bigots or fascist is a deliberate misrepresentation of what we are saying and our goals.”

Thousands of Canadian women have begun calling themselves “politically homeless,” because we are not represented by any party. We seem to be faced with voting against our own interests no matter who we choose.

I then introduced Charlotte Garrett, a teacher who spoke about children’s rights to a complete, accurate education. She said, “If a child is taught that five plus five equals whatever you feel it to be, you are destabilizing material reality; the very ground the child occupies.”

She also spoke about the female experience as an inherited birthright that goes “back and back and back.”

We then played a recording from Kathleen Lowrey, a University of Alberta anthropology professor who was punished for speaking out in defence of women’s rights, who encouraged us all to persevere, saying:

“Resistance to one mode of male aggression leads inexorably to other resistances. That’s why we face so much ferocious opposition for asserting common sense on gender identity ideology. But it’s also why we’re finding so many women swelling the ranks of feminist political action these days. They see what we see. They’re making the connections we’re making.”

Alline Cormier, WHRC Alberta coordinator, followed with a message in French, reiterating the message advocated in The Declaration on Women’s Sex-Based Rights: that women and girls’ sex-based rights exist, are important, and the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women and girls that result from replacing the category of “sex” with that of “gender identity” must be prevented.

The last speaker was Coach Linda Blade, who invoked the Famous Five in her call to courage:

“Like the Famous Five of old, we gather today in this new century to serve notice that we will not stop asking ‘why?’ until we reclaim our sex-based rights. Female persons of today, as well as future generations of Canadian women and girls, have the right to live in dignity and security.”

It is pivotal that we speak out loud about these issues, not just online, where powerful men can shut down our accounts, censor our content, or monitor what we’re saying in secret groups and private messages. We have to be able to talk about these things in public.

The feminist movement began because women talked to each other in person, and realized banding together and getting out in public to speak and fight could make a difference, and it will continue to grow the same way. We have to protect our free speech rights and our spaces. On June 13, we will be holding another rally — this time in Calgary, presented by organizations from across Canada, including Canadian Gender Report, LGB Alliance Canada, We The Females, Alberta Women’s Advocacy Association, Canadian Women’s Sex-Based Rights, Alberta Radical Feminists, and WHRC Alberta. The location and final list of speakers will be announced at a later date. I hope you can take the time to watch, be it online when it is live streamed to the ABRF and AWAA Facebook pages, or in person.

On May 2, I said:

“Today we stand in the footprints of the Canadian feminists who came before us, who demanded that we be acknowledged and protected on the basis of our sex, who fought tooth and nail for the rights that we have today, the same rights being undermined by a new cult-like religion that requires obedience and acceptance of medical experimentation without question and without complaint, under threat of social and professional alienation and blacklisting. We have to stop staying quiet, we have to stand up.”

Any woman who does is not alone. If you reach out, you will find someone. We’re here and there are so many of us. We aren’t the first women to do this and we won’t be the last.

Transcripts of all of the May 2 speeches are available on the AWAA website.

Raine McLeod is a project coordinator and editor based in Calgary and is president of Alberta Women’s Advocacy Association and the founder of Alberta Radical Feminists.

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