“We need to be able to look at issues and say what does this mean for rural women too.”
– MARY SCOTT, PAST PRESIDENT PCWM
Their origins are rural; their founders were women who participated in turn-of-the-century farmers’ movements. So where did all their rural members go?
That’s what the Provincial Council of Women of Manitoba is asking as it marks its 60th anniversary this month.
“Somehow that connection has been lost,” says Mary Scott, a past PCWM president now serving as the National Council of Women of Canada’s vice-president. The PCWM now hopes to restore links with women living rurally in Manitoba, Scott said.
The PCWM is a federation of community-based groups and individuals that has acted as a women’s grassroots advocate since its formation in Manitoba in 1949. Its history actually dates back to the late 1880s when an international council was founded, including Canadian women, to push for better living conditions and a more just society for women.
RURAL VOICE LOST
The PCWM is made up of women committed to bettering the life of their communities – and that once included those participating in “local chapters” such as those once found in Brandon and Portage.
For the last few years, though, participation directly by individuals in the council has been mainly among Winnipeg-based women.
Scott says they’d like to find new ways for rural women to participate. “We really need that rural perspective,” she said.
It may take some time. Many women actively involved in community-based groups across rural Manitoba say they’ve never heard of the Provincial Council of Women.
That was Barb Toews’ experience. She’d taken part in another advisory council and was invited to join. She’d never heard of PCWM until then, says the Kanearea farm partner. “I didn’t really know what I was getting into,” she said. But today she says she’s more than glad she joined.
She’s now serving as co-vice-president and tries to bring a rural perspective to issues talked about on the board. Toews said she finds involvement in the council both informative and encouraging. A regular newsletter keeps her informed of emerging issues affecting women and families. Many of those issues aren’t just “urban” but are faced by rural women too. “It’s just that everything is more difficult if you’re a rural woman,” she said.
It’s good to connect to women all across the province too, she said adding that PCWM’s low profile in rural areas is likely because rural women simply haven’t heard much about it. She’s glad it’s trying to actively engage more rural participation.
MWI JOINS AS FEDERATE
“I’ve realized it’s such an important organization for women because it’s non-partisan,” she added.
Doreen Smith, another individual member from Morden also recalls knowing next to nothing about the PCWM when invited to join 10 years ago. Her first taste came after going to a meeting in Winnipeg when another woman in her local UCW (United Church Women), which is a federate member, could not go.
“I was very impressed with it,” she said. “I would like to see more women interested in it.”
The PCWM was very happy to hear the Manitoba Women’s Institute has decided to become a federate member, Scott said.
“We’re just thrilled to have them,” said Scott. “They were former members, as a matter of fact; they were one of our first members in 1950.”
MWI let its membership lapse with the PCWM for reasons unknown to serving MWI president Enid Clark. But the board reviewed the PCWM’s invitation this spring and decided to renew that link, Clark said. It’s something they feel should be good for both MWI and the council, Clark said.
“I think there’s a lot of areas that we are both concerned about and sort of approach from the same angle,” she said, adding that the council has offered MWI a position on the board.
PLACE AT THE TABLE
They take their place around a table representing a diverse number of women’s organizations. Close to 40 federate members now make up the council. Included among them would be groups representing a large range of women’s concerns and perspectives including the Immigrant Women’s Association of Manitoba, the United Church Women (UCW), the Women’s Enterprise Centre, the Elizabeth Fry Society of Manitoba, the Child Care Coalition of Manitoba, Ukrainian Women’s Association of Canada and Mother of Red Nations Women’s Council of Manitoba.
Over the years, the council has advocated variously on matters such as changes to the Dowers Act, establishment of the Elizabeth Fry Society and creation of regional libraries. The council presents briefs to all parties in government on resolutions passed through resolutions brought forward and voted on by individual and federate members.
More recently it’s been pre-par ing resolutions around issues such as minimum wage, the need for better mental health and child-care services, and community planning. It prepared a brief as its comment on proposed changes to the Provincial Land Use Policies this spring.
Scott said with more rural women involved, the organization will be better able to look at issues through a “rural lens.”
“We need to be able to look at issues and say what does this mean for rural women too,” she said.
The Provincial Council of Women of Manitoba can be contacted at: (204) 992-2751 or by mail at 204 -825 Sherbrook Street, Winnipeg, Man. R3A 1M5,e-mail at [email protected]
More information can also be found on the website at http://www.mts.net/~pcwm.