CAW Women's Conference Inspires and Challenges

August 19, 2011, 8:45 AM EST

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The 2011 CAW Women's Conference, "Women, Power and Politics - the Personal Really is Political" promised to be bigger and better than ever.

More than 187 sisters - delegates, discussion leaders, and invited guests - from coast-to-coast-to-coast joined together at the CAW Family Education Centre in Port Elgin, Ontario from August 7 to 10 to participate in a combination of workshops and plenary sessions, in what would become a political call to action.

Julie White, Director of the CAW Women's Department, opened the conference by promising delegates a "challenging, exciting and empowering agenda: three days of feminist organizing, mobilizing and strategizing all with the goal of building political capacity for the future."

White spoke about the conference's theme, reminding delegates that "the personal really is political."

"The personal is political' became the slogan for the women's movement in the 1970's, as women demanded equality at all levels of society - at work, in the home, and legislatively," she said. "In the decades that followed, women fought for and won important gains that signalled real progress for women in Canada. But right wing governments, both here and around the world, have been systematically eroding the gains of progressive movements, including the women's movement, making the struggles of the past our continuing challenges moving forward."

This year's conference gave delegates the opportunity to engage with women leaders and activists in the union and in the broader movement to strategize and organize around those challenges moving forward and also for the political fight ahead.

Delegates heard from keynote speaker Patty Ducharme, Executive Vice President of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, who outlined the bigger political picture in Canada, but also international issues. She inspired delegates as she spoke of the reality of the current political landscape, challenging women to "take risks, to flex our political muscle, and to step up to the plate."

Delegates then heard from a panel of women - Mary Shortall, CLC National Representative; Jenny Ahn, CAW director of membership mobilization and political action; and Andrea Calver, Ontario Child Care Coalition - as they described the federal, provincial and municipal political picture. Women heard about the many challenges ahead; the need to mobilize to protect gains already made, the need to build capacity around the upcoming provincial elections, and ultimately, to look towards the next federal election.

With those tasks in mind, delegates moved into a curriculum based program discussing the phases of a campaign and the skills necessary to organize and/or participate in a campaign. A skills assessment led participants into the following full day of self-selected skills building workshops. These workshops ranged from traditional based public speaking, writing, lobbying and effective campaigns to newer technology based workshops such as social media for activists, photostories, flashmobs, podcasts and videography.

In an inspiring call to action following the workshops, former assistant to the CAW president, Peggy Nash, who is now NDP MP Parkdale High Park, addressed conference delegates and challenged them to use what they had learned.

Delegates left this year's CAW Women's Conference understanding they have the political power to create change - the challenge is to use what they learned to build a movement.

To view the video from the conference please click here.

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