STATUS QUO? the Unfinished Business of Feminism in Canada

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The Unfinished Business of Feminism in Canada

Directed by Karen Cho


This NFB film is a wake-up call for anyone who thinks the politics of feminism are no longer needed in Canada. It is wellresearched, beautifully filmed and inspiringly scored with original music by former Parachute Club lead singer Lorraine Segato.

Status Quo? The Unfinished Business of Feminism in Canadatakes a sweeping look at the status of women in Canada by focusing on three significant issues: abortion, violence and child care. The film makes clear that, while significant strides have been made towards women's equality in this country, most women are still a long way from genuine freedom of choice or action. This is not news to many of us, but the film's skilful presentation of this fact through the voices of activists today and from 40-plus years ago is a powerful viewing experience.

Status Quo? director Karen Cho says she was "new to feminism" when she took on this film but had her eyes opened during the research: "I realized that many of the rights I took for granted were hard-fought battles at risk of being rolled back. I wanted to make a film that was not only a historical piece but something that could resonate with young women today."

Cho blends footage from the 1967 Royal Commission on the Status of Women (the first Canadian Royal Commission to be headed by a woman, journalist Florence Bird) with shots from the 201 1 Pan-Canadian Young Feminist Gathering in Winnipeg and intercuts interviews with activists and advocates. The spirit is the same across the generations, but the fashion sure isn't! It's great to see the images of the women from the '60s, many of them smoking and looking prim in their hats and skirt suits but saying, "Taking abortion out of the Criminal Code is a high priority." The young feminists, casually dressed, describe themselves as anti-capitalist, anti-colonialist and anti-patriarchy and say "Enough being nice! Our fight must be political."

The Bird Commission's top demands (there were 167 in all, arising from 468 briefs and individual women's testimony) were, according to a CBC news announcer, "abortion on demand and more daycare centres." That was in 1970 and we could pretty much say the same thing today.

Yes, abortion is no longer in the Criminal Code, thanks to the 1988 Supreme Court ruling. But today there are no abortion services in PEI, and in New Brunswick women must either pay $600 at the Morgentaler clinic in Fredericton or try their luck with the one hospital in the province that performs the procedure on the condition that two physicians give their permission and a gynecologist trained in the procedure is available.

The Royal Commission on the Status of Women had not one recommendation on violence against women; the seriousness or extent of the issue were not fully grasped. For example, one of the commission's examiners is shown asking a woman who had presented a brief on domestic violence, "On what authority would you have this man taken out of his home? The man says, 'Why was I arrested? Why was my freedom taken?' And we have to have an answer for him." As if the violence weren't answer enough.

A little over a decade later, in 1982, MP Margaret Mitchell was greeted with laughter from some Progressive Conservative and Liberal MPs in the House of Commons when, addressing a report on wife abuse, she noted that "one in ten husbands beat their wives. …