Organize, Support, Grow the Resistance

Community News & Features Mar 22, 2019 at 4:29 pm

3Y4A1533-group2Int’l Women’s Day March

By Althea Manasan
The Philippine Reporter

Thousands of people flooded the streets of downtown Toronto last Saturday (March 9), holding signs and waving flags with messages of support for issues affecting women — everything from pay equality to caregiver rights to class sizes in schools.

As the buzzing crowd marched down Yonge St., they chanted slogans like, “Black Lives, they matter here! Refugees, they matter here! Immigrants, they matter here! Indigenous women, they matter here!” Anthemic songs by Beyonce and Lady Gaga blasted from loud speakers mounted on the back of a pickup truck.

Loly Rico (left), of the FCJ Refugee Centre

Loly Rico (left), of the FCJ Refugee Centre

From the sidelines, onlookers watched, snapped photos and took videos, and even danced along to the beats, and the sun shone, adding some welcome warmth to a brisk day.

It was the International Women’s Day rally and march, held on Saturday, March 9. Organized by a coalition of community groups, students and labour groups, the annual event brings together women and their allies to highlight a variety of causes that affect women.

The theme this year was “We are Fearless: Organizing our Communities, Supporting Each Other, Growing the Resistance.”

Groups come together

The event kicked off at around 11 a.m. with an indoor rally at the University of Toronto’s OISE building on Bloor St. Hundreds were packed inside the auditorium, beyond capacity, while speakers took to the stage to share messages about causes from the Black Lives Matter movement to Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women to the pay gap between men and women.

Johnnale Haresco (right), Chairman of the Caregivers Steering Committee Caregivers in Transition, The Neighbourhood Organization (TNO); Perlita Juan (left), Settlement Counselor, TNO.

Johnnale Haresco (right), Chairman of the Caregivers Steering Committee Caregivers in Transition, The Neighbourhood Organization (TNO); Perlita Juan (left), Settlement Counselor, TNO.

After the rally, people gathered outside and began their march down Yonge St., before finishing at the Ryerson University campus.

“What’s so wonderful about International Women’s Day in Toronto, is that we all come together,” said Jan Borowy of the Equal Pay Coalition, a group advocating to close the gender pay gap. “The rally is a chance to hear everyone’s analysis, to feel our power, and see what we can do. It’s a real energy day where we can get recharged and say, ‘Yeah, we can make change.’”

One issue that seemed to unite the various factions was the spending cuts by the provincial Conservative government under Premier Doug Ford. Since taking power last year, it has slashed or frozen budgets for the Child Advocate’s Office, the College of Midwives of Ontario, the Indigenous Culture Fund and sexual assault centres.

“These cutbacks are very pointed at the marginalized community — marginalized in regard to gender, sexuality, age,” said Tina Garnett, an executive chair board member for CUPE Ontario’s Pink Triangle Committee. “[Ford] is very targeted in who his people are when he said, ‘Ontario is for the people.’ It’s not the people that look like you and I.”

Filipino issues represented

Filipino-Canadian groups also attended the march to highlight issues faced by Filipina women back home and here in Canada. Anakbayan Toronto, representing youth, Migrante Canada, representing migrants workers, and Gabriela-Ontario, representing women, all marched together under the umbrella of Bayan Canada.

“As a woman of colour and as a Filipina in this diaspora, I need to be a part of this larger collective,” said Aisha Kaalim, Anakbayan Toronto’s education discussion officer, who noted that the group would soon be launching a women’s committee.

“We want to let the people know that women are under attack right now, with Duterte’s misogynistic comments and transphobic and homophobic comments,” Kaalim said. “That fans the flame for the reactionary government, and also with the PNP and the AFP to also do the same. It normalizes and legitimizes women’s violence in the Philippines and also here.”

Mithi Esguerra (middle), of Gabriela-Ontario

Mithi Esguerra (middle), of Gabriela-Ontario

Mithi Esguerra, of Gabriela-Ontario, said that increasing economic hardships in the Philippines means that more women are bearing the brunt of not just housework and childrearing, but work outside the home as well.
“Often the women take a lot of that burden upon themselves,” Esguerra says. “So it’s heavy for women in the Philippines, and that’s one of the causes of migration. In Toronto, we have a huge Filipino community as a result of that migration…So today, we’re here to bring forward those issues of migrant women.”

Johnnale Haresco is one of those women. She has been a caregiver in Toronto for the last two years, and says she still has to wait another two until she can get permanent residency status. She was marching as chairman of the caregivers steering committee for The Neighbourhood Organization’s Caregivers in Transition program, which helps women in positions similar to hers.

“There’s a lot of issues that caregivers need for the government to pay attention to,” Haresco said. “We are demanding from the government for landed status and to eliminate some of those requirements that are not really necessary for our PR applications.”

This was her first time attending the march, and she said she was overwhelmed by the supportive atmosphere, from both women and men. “It was so nice that in this kind of gathering, all the women are uniting to voice out our rights.”
Uniting in solidarity

Kim Fry, Ontario teacher advocating against larger class sizes

Kim Fry, Ontario teacher advocating against larger class sizes

Despite the wide range of groups and causes represented at the march, the importance of unity and solidarity were common themes among the attendees.

Esguerra, who marched with Bayan Canada, said that they walked alongside another group that was representing Latino interests — and many of the struggles they were facing were very similar to their own.

“The same things that we’re experiencing in the Philippines — foreign mining, political prisoners, political repression — they are experiencing those things, too, in their own countries,” she said.

Those relationships and partnerships are valuable for everyone. “If we know about each other’s struggles, then we’re able to provide political support to each other,” Esguerra sad. “Also, it does a lot to boost the morale if the people in these movements see that we’re not alone. It’s not just Filipinos that are going through this.”

 

 

Jan Borowy, of Equal Pay Coalition

Jan Borowy, of Equal Pay Coalition

 

Tina Garnett, Executive Chair Board Member of CUPE Ontario’s Pink Triangle Committee.

Tina Garnett, Executive Chair Board Member of CUPE Ontario’s Pink Triangle Committee.

 

(Photos: A. Manasan)

(Photos: A. Manasan)