Back in Winnipeg for the 2010 World Religious Leaders’ G8 Summit, I’m reminded of Nellie McClung. As Doug Martindale welcomed us here on behalf of the government of Manitoba, he told us about a new statue of Nellie that was just unveiled last week at the legislative buildings. (Doug and I first met years ago as members of this United Church family of ours, and he now serves faithfully in the provincial government.)
Having read Charlotte Gray’s biography of Nellie McClung, I’m freshly reminded of how much Canadian women owe to her. McClung was a product of her social context, so we would certainly not have agreed on everything. However, I’m very aware of how much I owe her when it comes to gaining the right to vote—and the right to be legally considered “a person”—neither of which women enjoyed in this country 100 years ago.
Given how much we’ve benefited from prophetic women before us, and given how fragile human rights are today, it’s time to make sure we don’t allow women’s freedoms to be eroded.
Religious leaders here from around the world are calling the G8 leaders’ attention to the United Nations Millennium Development Goals related to 1) the growing gap between rich and poor; 2) environmental sustainability and the need for eco-justice in light of climate and ocean change; and 3) the need to invest in peace and curtail costly militarism. Women’s rights to a healthy life for themselves and their children are intimately related to all three.
The Millennium Development Goals largely reflect women’s concerns, especially as women continue to be relatively powerless in most societies today. There’s reason to worry that women’s voices may be growing quieter in Canada as well. We must do everything we can to ensure that women have access to healthy choices for themselves and for their children.
Some of you have written me suggesting that it’s time to draw attention to the contribution that The United Church of Canada has made to the difficult and controversial subject of women’s reproductive rights. Our church’s often prophetic policy statement on contraception and abortion can be found on the United Church website. You can also see the church’s letter to the prime minister on access to abortion.
Last week I signed the Voices-Voix declaration. As Alex Neve, Secretary General Amnesty International Canada (English branch), says, government rules for Status of Women funding are among government funding frameworks that have changed, leaving groups advocating for protection of women’s human rights no longer supported. The impact has been dramatic, and will likely lead to the closure of the highly respected National Association of Women and the Law.
Funding decisions risk curtailing incredibly important advocacy and research work related to a number of vital issues effecting Aboriginal Canadians as well: the National Residential School Survivors Society, the Aboriginal Healing Foundation, and The Native Women’s Association of Canada’s Sisters in Spirit initiative all being troubling examples.
Nellie is famous for having said things like “I do not want to pull through life like a thread that has no knot. I want to leave something behind when I go, some small legacy of truth, some word that will shine in a dark place.”
Nellie left no small legacy of truth. What will be ours?