Run, Sunera, Run Again

Article excerpt

Run, Sunera, Run Again.

Soon, Sunera Thobani will decide whether to weather a second term as president of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women. If she runs, and if she wins, it will be a sustained first for more than women of colour. A Vancourverite, Thobani is the only president of NAC to hail from beyond central Canada.

I shouldn't have to point that out in a country obsessed with regional representation. But for some reason-I believe they call it racism-the regional breakthrough of Thobani's presidency has been obscured by one question: Does NAC still represent 'mainstream' women?

We all remember the opening salvo of John MacDougall. After finding out about Thobani's brown skin from a brown envelope, the Conservative MP declared her an "illegal immigrant" on the floor of the House of Commons. He was swiftly proven wrong. A year later, and barely a minute's stroll from the site of MacDougall's attack, journalists grilled Thobani in tones that suggested she deserved to be skewered. 'Wasn't it just a gimmick, a stunt, a spectacle? They persisted referring to NAC's noisy but failed march on Parliament Hill to confront the Reform Party.

There was clear disapproval in the media questions, which all came from female journalists," noted feminist columnist Susan Riley. Even progressive pundits explicitly wondered who Canada's biggest feminist lobby now speaks for: the Ottawa Citizen's Janice Kennedy, an avowed feminist, pronounced hockey commentator and pucking chauvinist Don Cherry less embarrassing than NAC.

Hence the myth that NAC no longer matters to anybody but immigrant lesbians with a limp and a lisp. Such myth-making, Thobani acknowledges, is about more than raw racism. It's also about elites trying to reassert the control they lost to NAC during the last constitutional squabble.

In fighting back, they're feeding the myth that feminism's diversity amounts to disunity. Take Globe and Mail columnist Michael Valpy, a friend of Canadian liberalism and a charter member of the country's elite. In a recent article on the social policy debate, he charged that "the women's movement is fragmented." In particular, NAC "has become increasingly narrow in its representation."

Thobani grits her teeth. "I responded in a letter to the editor (which the Globe didn't print). I said, what do you mean we're fragmented? In the past year alone, our membership has increased from 550 to 600 groups. At our 1994 annual general meeting, we had the highest number of delegates in 10 years.

"We just finished co-sponsoring a national conference on social policy. …