Basis of Political Unity

As amended at the Annual General Meeting, June 2016

L’R des Centres de Femmes du Québec

The Basis of political unity (BPU) is a reference tool which orients the practices and actions of women’s centres and of all the women involved in them, in order to achieve the feminist project of a just and equal society. 

Definitions for the underlined words in the text can be found in the Lexicon.

Table of Contents

Foreword
1. Women’s centres: Their Orientation, Their Feminist Project
1.1. The Feminist Orientation
1.2. A Global and Non-Compartmentalized Approach To Problems That Concern Women
1.3. An approach to autonomous, feminist popular education (AFPE)
1.4. A fight against prejudice based on sex, ethnic background, sexual orientation, social standing, etc.
1.5. The development of concrete solidarity around problems in common and collective projects
2. The Mandate of Women’s Centres
2.1. Services
2.2. Educational Activities
2.3. Collective Action
3. Community Life
4. Belonging to L’R
5. Adhering to the BPU
LES MOTS DÉFINIS DANS LE LEXIQUE SONT SOUSLIGNÉS EN TURQUOISE.

Foreword

The women’s centres that are members of L’R all adhere to the Basis of political unity (BPU) and to its values.The BPU is a reference tool which orients the practices and actions of women’s centres and of all the women involved in them, in order to achieve the feminist project of a just and equal society.

When we talk about all the women involved in women’s centres, we include:

  • Volunteers,
  • Members,
  • Activists,
  • Participants,
  • Paid and unpaid workers.

The women’s centres of Quebec form an important network that is significant for thousands of women. They are open to all women. Rooted in rural and urban communities, they are able to understand the needs, problems and demands of women.

These centres know that the political, economic and social standing of women remains problematic. In Quebec, as in the rest of the world, women are underrepresented in politics. Even worse, many women are overrepresented in the poorest parts of society.

What characterizes their exclusion or oppression? Some examples are:

  • Violence in all its forms and all its effects;
  • Discrimination and inequity in work, which can be seen in the concentration of women in certain employment sectors, or in precarious, underpaid work without benefits;
  • Accessibility to daycare services, in terms of available spots, hours of availability and costs;
  • Single parenthood, which often leads to poverty and social exclusion;
  • Alimony and child support, and their related issues;
  • Sexual exploitation of women’s bodies (pornography, prostitution, etc.);
  • The overmedication of women;
  • The inequity in sharing family responsibilities, including childcare and care of loved ones.

The poverty that affects women is linked to, among other things, traditional female roles such as responsibility for child care, as well as to the fact that they do not earn a decent income and do not have much or any capital. Poverty affects women’s physical and mental health. Poverty is worsened by the policies of today’s governments, which prefer to reduce social spending rather than redistributing wealth and creating stable jobs. Female poverty is also linked to the absence of women’s voices and the ignorance of their realities in regional and local development policies.

The difficulty many women have in participating in political life and the precarity of their situations increases for many women due to other factors of systemic discrimination due to their disability, sexual orientation, ethnic origin, culture of origin, et cetera.

This form of discrimination results in attitudes, behaviours and practices which do not favour specific groups and, even if they represent unconscious bias, are present in the job market, in schools, financial institutions, and establishments offering health care and social services. This creates obstacles to the social, economic, political and cultural inclusion of women who are disabled, who come from diverse backgrounds, who are Indigenous, lesbian, or otherwise marginalized, as their needs and rights are not respected.

Isolation, low self-esteem, poverty, and marginalization affect many of the women who use the services of women’s centres. This is why women’s centres, while respecting the autonomy of users, work with other women’s groups and community organizations to change laws, policies, institutions and mentalities.

This is why women’s centres need to fight several battles at once :

  • Changing laws that discriminate against women;
  • Promoting pay equity;
  • Promoting freedom of a woman’s right to choose what is best for her in terms of sexuality and reproduction;
  • Denouncing violence in all its forms;
  • Promoting equality between women and men;
  • Reminding the state that it has a social and economic role to guarantee the well-being of Quebec society and to redistribute wealth;
  • Developing resources to favour and support women’s socio-economic autonomy;
  • Supporting the demands of Indigenous women and women of diverse origins;
  • Showing solidarity with women all over the world who fight to get out of poverty, to be respected for their whole selves and for their dignity;
  • And many more!
Women’s centres contribute to defining a new society that must consider feminist aspirations and values. They intervene not only on a political level, but also on personal attitudes. In doing so, they call into question sexist ideology and patriarchal organization (structures, institutions and how our society functions), both of which maintain inequality between men and women.

1. WOMEN’S CENTRES : THEIR ORIENTATION, THEIR FEMINIST PROJECT

Women’s centres are resources offering women a space of belonging and of transition, an alternative to their isolation, and a network of education and action. Women’s centres are multi-faceted. They do not intervene in one problem in particular, but in all aspects of women’s lives.

Open to diversity, women’s centres seek to be accessible to all women in their area. However, some centres may choose to respond primarily, although not exclusively, to women who are members of groups that experience discrimination: disabled women, Indigenous women, women of different ethnic backgrounds, lesbians, etc.

Women’s centres are founded and managed exclusively by women. The women who frequent these centres are considered participants, rather than users. Workers, whether or not they are paid for their work, are women who are engaged for and with other women to achieve feminist goals. Women’s centres are characterized by :

1.1 – Their feminist orientation

What do we mean by that?

  • They encourage women to recognize sexist stereotypes;
  • They encourage women to recognize the sociopolitical causes of individual problems they face, which leads women to not feel guilty for their problems;
  • They have confidence in the potential of every woman, they value the knowledge women have and the experiences that women have lived through;
  • They define the roles of the women who work in these centres, in order to develop an egalitarian rapport between them and the users of women’s centres;
  • They support women who seek more autonomy, allowing them to gain more power in their lives; they respect women’s personal trajectories and their choices;
  • They encourage mutual aid, support and solidarity among women;
  • They seek collective solutions to the needs and interests of women;
  • They encourage women’s participation in democratic life and in social movements.

1.2 – A global, non-compartmentalized approach to problems that affect women

Women’s centres do not divide women’s experiences into a thousand and one problems that are isolated from one another. This is an approach that encourages intervention in all facets of women’s lives, based on what they perceive of their situation and their experiences as individuals and as a group.

1.3 – An approach of autonomous and feminist popular education (AFPE)

Through their services, educational activities, collective action and community life, women’s centres encourage learning and critical reflection, which leads women to recognize the conditions of their lives both individually and collectively. These processes give them the means to have more power in their daily lives, to improve and transform the social, economic, political and cultural conditions they experience. As a result, women’s centres allow women to see themselves as change agents and active citizens who participate in democratic life and in social movements.

1.4 – A fight against prejudice, whether on the basis of sex, ethnic backgroud, orientation, social standing, or anything else.

Women’s centres promote attitudes and behaviours that fight sexism, exclusion and discrimination.

1.5 – Developing solidarity concerning common problems and collective projects.

Women’s centres work in solidarity to collaborate with women’s groups and other groups to improve and transform women’s living conditions and the communities they live in.

2. THE MANDATE OF WOMEN’S CENTRES

Women’s centres have three mandates: providing services, educating through activities, and organizing collective action. Their services and activities are offered free of charge or at a small cost.

2.1 – Services

Services may include help given on an individual or group basis (active listening, accompanying women, providing information, or support groups), child care, an area with informational pamphlets, etc. They support women who are trying to be independent.

2.1.1 – In women’s centres, women are full participants, not clients.
2.1.2 – Individual help :

Women’s centres do not diagnose symptoms of physical or mental health. They do not open files and they do not provide therapy.

Women in difficult situations who visit women’s centres are welcomed by workers who can listen to them, provide support and information, and accompany them – in strict confidentiality. This support is offered as needed, not as part of a formalized process.

This means that:

  • Women can show up without appointments, anonymously, when they need help;
  • Employees do not need to determine the nature of the issues that women are experiencing. Instead, they support women through their lived experiences and affirm their needs and desires; they help women find solutions to the problems that they themselves have identified.

As a result, the nature of the help provided at women’s centres does not require files that will be used to collect information about the women seeking help.

In offering individualized support to women, employees encourage them to participate in the activities available at the centre. Women’s centres encourage group intervention, which they consider to be the best way to combat isolation, to reinforce self-esteem and independence among women. When they encourage participants to take part in group activities, women’s centres allow them to meet other women who may be experiencing problems similar to their own. This often leads to solidarity among participants, which lets them help one another make changes in their lives and work together to improve the conditions they live in.

2.2 – Educational activities

What do we mean by educational activities? Any activities focused on raising awareness, providing information or training on different subjects; cultural activities; action-based training; and participation in community life.

2.2.1 – The approach that women’s centres favour in all of their educational activities (AFPE) encourages finding common ground and valuing the knowledge and lived experience of participants. Participants at women’s centres are the authors of their own stories. They learn to make choices and identify solutions to the individual and collective issues they experience.
2.2.2 – Educational activities allow women to reinforce their self-esteem, their capacity to stand up for themselves and express their needs, so that they can develop independence.
2.2.3 – Educational activities are geared towards action, because together women can take action on the sociopolitical, economic and cultural causes that they experience.
2.2.4 – Women’s centres reflect women’s lived realities, no matter their social status, ethnic origin, cultural references, or their sexual orientation.
2.2.5 – Women’s centres work towards awareness of the political, social and economic realities which influence women’s lives both in Quebec and elsewhere in the world, in order to increase solidarity around common problems.
2.2.6 – Activities at women’s centres are led by women who share the centres’ feminist values.
2.3 – Collective Action

“Collective action” refers to all the strategies that seek to defend and promote the rights and interests of women in the context of social change. Women’s centres may lead and support actions on a local, regional, national, or worldwide scale.

2.3.1 – Collective action in women’s centres is a way to achieve the goal of being independent, both individually and collectively.
2.3.2 – The actions used are diverse and are based on women’s needs. They work together to decide on goals, strategies and tactics.
2.3.3 – These actions seek to promote equity, equality of rights for all women, and social justice.
2.3.4 – Participation in collective action allows women to be active in the community as citizens who are critical thinkers, who fight for their rights, and who act in solidarity with others.
2.3.5 – By participating in collective action, women’s centres play an active role in social and political transformations, which are necessary to fight injustice and discrimination.

3. COMMUNITY LIFE

Community life in women’s centres is democratic. It encourages all the women who make up the centres to share power. Together, they form a team that ensures that the centre’s feminist goals are put in place.

Collective management depends on women’s participation in the democratic process, in activities such as general meetings, the governing board or collective, working groups or action groups, etc. These structures are flexible and accessible to all women, allowing them to take part easily.

Women’s centres are looking for new models for organization and management that will introduce more egalitarian practices that will uphold their feminist orientation and their educational goals.

3.1 – All women who are involved with women’s centres can get involved in different decision-making processes at the centre, such as at general meetings, the governing board or collective, working groups or action groups, etc. according to the centre’s own policies.
3.2 – All paid employees, including those who are hired for specific projects, take part in the decisions that affect their work and delegate at least one representative of their choice to the governing board or collective.
3.3 – Women’s centres define their relationships with workers in an employment contract. This contract includes feminist demands concerning work conditions. Employees take part in drawing up the employment contract, which defines all of the working conditions, including:

  • The terms of employment,
  • A description of tasks,
  • A remuneration policy,
  • An evaluation process and a dismissal process,
  • How to access mediation in case of conflict,
  • etc.

4. BELONGING TO L’R

The “Regroupement provincial des centres de femmes” (Provincial coalition of women’s centres), called L’R, was founded in 1985. The participating centres gave the coalition the following objectives:

  • To develop and support the network of women’s centres;
  • To ensure cohesion and the introduction of new practices at centres based on the BPU;
  • To support the work of groups, associations and coalitions that work for autonomy, equal rights and equity for women, as well as the promotion of women’s interests and of social justice;
  • To develop collaborations between women’s centres;
  • To represent women’s centres in their shared demands.

4.1 – These objectives are still relevant and women’s centres affirm the importance of a provincial coalition that is dynamic and representative of their needs. Centres want to have inter-provincial collaboration and dialogue, develop solidarity, and work together to bring profound change concerning the improvement of women’s living conditions. In this way, L’R is essential not only to support women’s centres, but also to encourage sociopolitical action.
4.2 – Considering what is written above, women’s centres recognize the importance of participating in the provincial coalition, whether at regional associations, committees, or coordination committees (often abbreviated to “cocos”). Centres also participate in L’R’s annual general meeting and share their input on the positions and on work prospects.
4.3 – L’R’s coordination committee is committed to representing the needs, interests and opinions of women’s centres. To do so, it consults them on all questions which are judged important and which require their input.
4.4 – However, in urgent questions that require a rapid response, L’R’s executive can take a position, taking into consideration past decisions and a feminist point of view. When creating a long-term action plan, the executive and the coordination committee need to consult women’s centres.

5. ADHERING TO THE BPU

What is a basis of unity, if not the sum of the values that cement the bonds between women’s centres? It is the mirror in which each centre recognizes itself, as well as the ideological base of the movement in which the centre participates, develops solidarity, and mobilizes itself.

Our BPU is dynamic. Its use may evolve as time passes. However, each women’s centre commits to respecting its principles in all its activities.

5.1 – Each women’s centre which is a member of L’R adheres, in principle and in practice, to the objectives of the Coalition and to the BPU. As a result, the general rules of each centre reflect the BPU.

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