A Fire of Unity - from Feminist Nationalism to Global Feminism in Quebec

By Schoenwandt, Jeanne | The World and I, May 2001 | Go to article overview

A Fire of Unity - from Feminist Nationalism to Global Feminism in Quebec


Schoenwandt, Jeanne, The World and I


The morning of last October 14 was overcast and damp. I had arranged to meet a friend midmorning. She and I would walk together to Montreal's Parc Lafontaine, the starting point for the march. En route, we stopped for a coffee at Cafe Rico, a store on Rachel Street. We couldn't be too long, our server told us. The store was closing, so that the employees could attend the march!

Parc Lafontaine is centrally located in Montreal's Plateau district just east of the downtown core. As we approached the park, we could see tent tops. In every corner of the park, women from various groups-- unions, community groups, and regional associations--were gathering for the 2000 World March of Women. Organized by the Federation des Femmes du Quebec (FFQ), the march was adopted by women in sixty-five countries and held on five continents. In Montreal, the crowd was thirty thousand strong, a number matching approximately one-tenth the population of the Montreal metropolitan area. Women of all ages and backgrounds, from the regions and urban centers, marched to a strong and singular message: No more poverty, no more violence against women.

Around the park, groups distributed literature on topics of interest to women. At the tents, spokespersons from various organizations, including the environmental group Greenpeace, spoke with members of the crowd. At one of them, an organizer took off a white scarf she was wearing--white for peace--and put it around my neck. My companion and I listened to speeches, signed support cards addressed to UN Secretary- General Kofi Annan (4,754,212 cards had been received as of December 1, 2000), and ate a bagged lunch--also distributed to us--before taking our places at the march's starting point.

Political solidarity took many forms along the route. On its first segment, west along Cherrier Street, one woman played electric guitar and another a cello in commemoration of the 1995 "Bread and Roses" march (also sponsored by FFQ and held to protest poverty). Marchers waved and clapped appreciatively. We turned onto Berri Street, which slopes away from the Plateau and runs south to the St. Lawrence River and Old Montreal. Hundreds of white ribbons commemorating victims of conjugal and other violence against women covered the concrete embankment bordering the street. Even the names of the streets were renamed and transformed: "Solidarity Street, Diversity Lane, Labor Boulevard."

We continued through Montreal's official Latin Quarter, where we were greeted by two choirs and a Latin American dance group. They continued to perform as the crowd streamed past. The march snaked its way to the bureaucratic center of Montreal on Rene Levesque Boulevard. Cries of "sol-i-dar-i-te" got louder as we passed Quebec government offices and the provincial utilities giant, Hydro Quebec. We reached our final destination, St. Catherine Street in front of Places des Arts, Montreal's commercial and cultural core. The square eventually swelled with all thirty thousand jubilant marchers. We were treated to more musical entertainment and speeches to close out a week of march-related activity and, for some, months of preparation and hard work.

A feminism of their own

It is too early to tell what effect the 2000 World March of Women might have on policies and legislation aimed at eliminating poverty and violence against women in Quebec. One effect, however, is certain. As a large-scale educational event, the march has inspired individual women participants to want to know and do more about the world in which they live. The march also marks a new phase in the Quebec women's movement, which is increasingly global in orientation yet tied more closely than ever to social, cultural, and political realities.

As I see it, feminism in Quebec has been framed, to a large extent, by understandings of feminist movements outside of the region. But the Quebec movement has not followed the same trajectory as the English- Canadian and American movements. …

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A Fire of Unity - from Feminist Nationalism to Global Feminism in Quebec
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