This project explores the current climate and attitudes to  women, feminism, leadership and equality in Canadian unions through the  insights, voices and experiences of women union leaders, activists and  staff in Canadian unions.

In the first stage of our project on Leadership, Feminism and Equality in Unions in  Canada, we had conversations with almost 50 union women from across the country.  These discussions included women from seven provinces and territories;  retired and still active staff, leaders and activists, women of colour,  Aboriginal women, lesbians and young women and women from public and private sector unions and central labour bodies. Our findings do not address the situation in Québec.

One participant commented: “I was very struck by the beauty of  this conversation and how quickly the connections happened when we  started talking about what’s really important to us in a way that  there’s lots of listening, lots of respect. It’s kind of like a weaving  in and out. And you know this is part of our deep heritage. This is what  consciousness-raising was all about, moving from facts to voice and  telling the story.”

The discussions were wide-ranging, analytical and deeply-moving. What  emerged was a widespread consensus that there is a serious problem  within the labour movement in advancing women’s equality work and  supporting feminist activists at all levels. And yet union women still  share the optimistic belief that organized labour has played and can continue to play a critical role in challenging inequality. There is  ongoing commitment to strengthening our movement by ensuring that all  members are engaged and all our concerns are heard.

Our findings are grouped under six themes:

1.New and recurring resistance to feminism in the labour movement, or “Waking Up in the Men’s Room” (pdf)

2. Impact of the current economic and political climate on equality organizing (pdf)

3. Integrating the equality agenda into union structures and culture  (pdf)

4. Intersection between feminist and equality organizing (pdf)

5. Feminist organizing in the union movement  (pdf)