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Liberals try to sink NAC.

The National Action Commit tee on the Status of Women is facing its most serious financial crisis in decades. The crisis is not due to internal divisions, careless spending or lack of member support. Nine months into its fiscal year, Status of Women Minister Hedy Fry's office is still holding up NAC's funding application. There is little question that the Liberal government's well-known intolerance of dissent has been translated into an attempt to starve the women's movement of funds. The transformation of core funding into project funding is being used to mould women's groups into the government's image. NAC has most strongly resisted these changes and is so being punished.

The situation is so critical that NAC was forced to layoff all but one of its staff before Christmas. A massive fundraising effort has begun, asking people to donate $100 to keep NAC afloat. This latest crisis is compounded by the fact that NAC has already been seriously cut back over the last two years. Before the funding crunch, NAC had a complement of seven staff, then reduced to a puny complement of three and a half.

An advocacy group without a direct service component, NAC always suffers from a decline of popular support when it is ignored by the media, as it has been for the last few years. If it weren't for financial support from individual donors and member groups, including some unions, NAC, which has received part of its budget from the federal government for two decades, would have shut its doors a long time ago. In addition to working with other women's groups to increase funding for women's groups in the Fair Share Campaign, NAC focussed on issues like women and poverty, Aboriginal women and pay equity. Resources are also being used to organize young women, such as a November conference which brought together young women in Ontario.

Nor has there been a decline of support from member groups. Last year's NAC annual general meeting was the most harmonious in decades.

Women's groups who make up NAC's membership never have much money and these days almost every one of them is struggling just to survive themselves because the federal women's program has been cut by nearly 40%, and most provincial governments have cut funding too. Those who do receive funding spend an increasing proportion of time fundraising, leaving less time for advocacy and service delivery.

Maybe feminism is alive and well, I've heard some argue, but NAC is irrelevant. Women are moving ahead in every field of endeavour and don't need NAC any more, say the middle class women who likely never had a use for feminism and its unruly personality anyway. More disturbing are activists who have told me that they don't think NAC is doing much these days and therefore don't see the point in defending it. And yet, over the last 10 years, NAC has moved to represent women who are the least marginalized in society, transforming itself so that women of colour, young women, lesbians and immigrant women and Aboriginal women have a stronger voice setting the NAC agenda.

The Right has won on the fiscal front. With its belief that balanced budgets are more important than balanced communities, the Liberals are continuing their assault against social policy. The right-wing Fraser Institute has already outlined a strategy to promote a `family values' agenda, read anti-feminist. A disturbing part of this agenda was seen in the ferocious attacks against wife abuse shelter workers experienced during the hearings of the Joint Senate Parliamentary Committee on Custody and Access, dominated by fathers' rights flack Senator Anne Cools and a handful of senators and MPs who scoffed at the numbers on violence and sexual abuse and demanded to know how many women who came to shelters were lying about being abused. In the face of this backlash, we have never needed a national women's voice more.

Fry suggests that NAC wants special treatment but this is not true. At first NAC did resist the new funding rules as a protest against the manipulative nature of project funding. But after a democratic discussion among its members, NAC decided to apply under the new rules last summer.

Even the Mulroney government, which detested NAC, gave the organization a five year warning before cutting its funding by 50%. By tying NAC up with endless questions, the Liberals are doing worse financial damage to the organization than the Tories ever did. Advocacy groups like NAC, by definition, exist to push the government beyond where the government wants to go. If NAC had stayed within the bounds set by government, we wouldn't have won a lot of the rights we take for granted today.

If you want to see NAC survive, fax Hedy Fry, Secretary of State for the Status of Women (613 995-0056) tell her to release NAC's funding, then call your MP and tell them the same thing. Then send NAC a cheque yourself. NAC's address is 234 Eglinton Ave. E, Toronto M4P 1K5. Your daughter's future may depend upon it.
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Author:Rebick, Judy
Date:Dec 1, 1998
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