Feminization of Poverty

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2021/04/16
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The Role of Gender and Feminism In The Abortion Caravan Movement

Part 1

The struggle to provide clear laws surrounding abortion is an ongoing issue not only in Canada, but all around the world. In Canada, the issue has shifted from whether or not abortion should be legal to whether or not women should be granted the freedom to choose the procedure for reasons other than medical necessity. What instigated this national debate in Canada was the Abortion Caravan movement by seventeen members of the Vancouver Women’s Caucus in 1970 (Rebick, 464). In 1969, when a new law was made to legalize abortion, access was still very restricted in terms of the conditions under which abortions were permissible. This caused women to become very upset, and therefore acted as the catalyst for the Vancouver Women’s Caucus to begin the abortion caravan movement, The movements goal was to change the abortion laws in Canada once again in hopes of all women gaining access to free, unrestricted abortion in Canada (Sethna, Hewitt, 463). Strategies of the movement began with peaceful marches, meetings, and speeches. The movement then progressed to more dynamic protesting efforts that included: Leaving a coffin on the doorstep of Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s residence to represent the number of women who had died from illegal abortions (Wells, 0:06-3:54) as well as “about 30 women [who] chained themselves to their chairs in the galleries in the House of Commons, in tribute of the British suffragettes who had chained themselves at Parliament to get the vote a century before” (Rebick, 465).

Part 2

‘Feminism’ is defined as “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes” as well as “organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests”. Feminism did much more than simply play a role in the visions, strategies, and goals of the movement. The abortion caravan movement seamlessly exemplifies the definition of feminism. The abortion caravan movement tackled an issue that relates to intersectional feminism brought on by the 1969 abortion laws in Canada that “brought inequality of access due to economic disparities among women to the forefront” (Sethna, 29). Gender played an important role in the strategy of the movement by including men in the march on parliament hill. This inclusion may have given women a better chance of achieving the goals of the movement. The feminization of poverty and the gender wage gap are problems that women continue to face which lead to economic disparity for women during the time of the abortion caravan movement.

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These gender targeted issues played a role in the visions, strategies and goals of the movement in that they caused the underlying intersectional issues that inspired movement as a whole.Although the Canadian government legalized abortion in 1969, access remained limited to poor women, especially to women who belonged to other minority groups. This caused a substantial divide between women of different backgrounds. In 1969, abortion became legal only to women who met the health criteria. If a woman did not meet the criteria for a legal abortion in Canada, she would have to find an alternative way to have an abortion. Wealthy women could travel out of Canada to access abortion, whereas less fortunate women did not have this luxury. This often meant that women of other minority groups such as aboriginal women, women of colour, and women with disabilities did not have access to abortion (Sethna, 30). If a woman wished to receive a legal abortion in Canada, A physician had to refer her to a Therapeutic Abortion Committee (tac) based in an accredited hospital.

The committee was composed of three to five doctors, and determined on a case-by-case basis whether the continuation of a woman’s pregnancy would be a threat to her life or to her health, and only after meeting the criteria of the tac could she receive a legal abortion. However, the dilemma was that only 20.1 per cent of hospitals had established tacs, and average wait times for tac approved abortions was eight weeks, making the process time consuming, and still difficult for women to access. This resulted in a major inequality of access by region as well as increased the medical risks associated with late-term abortions (Sethna, 33). Since access to abortion favored the rich, it became a classism issue. Classism is a term used by many theorists writing on intersectionality (Goldman, 43) and is defined as “prejustice against, or in favor of people belonging to a particular social class” (Oxford Dictionary).

The abortion Caravan was a successful movement because it addressed every aspect of the issue by taking into account the intersectional aspect that not all women are the same and cannot be lumped into one category. A woman’s membership of other groups played a crucial part in whether or not she had access to abortion. The Therapeutic abortion Committees would use a woman’s membership of other groups against her when it came to making a final decision as to whether or not she would qualify for an abortion. “A woman’s class, race, age, her marital status, and even the number of children she already had could affect the decision of a tac” (Sethna, 36). Based on this, it is clear how intersectional feminism played a large part in the Abortion caravan movement when the issue became entangled with the problem of classism as well as racism.

The goal of the abortion caravan movement was to ensure that women were made responsible for choosing abortion, not her physician, and to ensure that women of all races, ages and income had access to abortion in Canada. Although the issue directly affects women, “On Friday, May 9th1970, 300 women and men marched on parliament hill as part of the abortion caravan movement” (Rebick, 464). Men’s participation in the movement may have been a key ingredient in the strategy of the movement. Despite Sherene Razack theory that social inequalities are often described, narrated, and taught by the more powerful group, and that this inclusion of the powerful group often fosters more inequality in the end (Razack 23-34), the inclusion of the powerful group played a very important role in the strategy of the abortion caravan movement for many reasons. Women have fought for decades to be included in the socio-economic-political inner circle; they have fought and continue to fight for inclusion and acceptance. Perhaps the only way that women will ever be accepted into the inner circle alongside their male counterparts is to have men fight next to women for women’s rights. The strategy to include men was executed in a way that the men who took part in the movement did not overshadow the women; instead they simply acted as supporting actors next to the directly oppressed women. The strategy to include men in the movement may have benefited the outcome of the movement due to the fact that society is under the control of male-favoring capitalism. According to Goldman in ‘Quiet Rumors: An Anarcha-Feminist Reader’, “ the ultimate endpoint of feminism is anarchism” (Goldman, 14).

Unless capitalism is abolished, and anarchism takes over, the movement’s inclusion of the powerful group is essential in ensuring that the oppressed groups voices will be heard. Unfortunately, when most men hear the word ‘feminism’ they tend to fear it, and hold the belief that me have something to lose by women gaining equality. This misconception is similar to the idea that anarchism is associated with chaos and violence (Goldman, 13). Inclusion of men in the abortion caravan movement acted as a milestone for feminism in trying to breakdown the widespread misconception that feminism is something to fear by men. In addition to intersectional feminism, and the inclusion of men in the movement being key aspects of the movement which contributed to the goals, visions, and strategies of the abortion caravan movement, gender, specifically economic gender inequality played a substantial role in the movement as well. The gender income gap unfortunately caused women to be at a financial disadvantage over a single male of the same race, age, and socio-economic upbringing, which would make it extremely difficult for her to have enough money to travel to receive an abortion. This is especially the case for a woman who did not have financial support from the father of the unborn fetus.

Doris Power, an anti-poverty activist who was pregnant at the time of the abortion caravan movement, stated, ‘We, the poor of Canada, are the dirt shoved under the rug of a vicious economy. In obtaining abortions, we pay a price second to none, our lives. We can’t afford to fly off to England for a safe, legal abortion. We have to seek out the back street butchers” (Sethna, 36). Although Canada is getting closer to closing the gender wage gap, and more women are becoming present in the public sphere and male dominated fields of work than ever before, in 1970, only forty percent of women ages twenty-five to fifty-four worked in paid work, whereas the other sixty percent had no income of their own (Statistics Canada). In the United Stated during the 1960’s, the gender wage gap hovered at around sixty percent of what men made (Carnevale, Smith) and it would be safe to assume that the numbers were not too far off for Canada’s gender wage gap during the 1960’s as well. In addition to women earning less, it continues to be far more expensive to live as a woman than as a man. “After analyzing the prices of almost 800 products across 35 categories, researchers found that the so-called “pink tax” doesn’t just apply to shampoo and razors—women pay more for almost ever product over the course of their lives, from baby clothes to home health care items” (Alter). These are both causes for the feminization of poverty.

The feminization of poverty is the idea that women are more likely to be poor than men, especially in developing wealthy countries (Steven Pressman, 353). The feminization of poverty would have an affect on whether or not a woman could afford to travel out of Canada to receive a legal abortion. If a woman could not receive a legal abortion, as stated previously by Doris Power, her life would be on the line. Women would often “risk going to backstreet abortionists, who were rarely doctors, or… [Would try to] terminate the pregnancy themselves… some desperate women douched with Lysol, threw themselves down stairs, or in the methodology of the Pro-choice movement would insert a coat hanger into their vaginas” (Rebick, 464). These harmful, life-threatening practices were all caused by the feminization of poverty and the restricted access to legal safe abortion in Canada. Despite the success of the movement, laws surrounding abortion continue to be a worldwide political debate, Rebecca Solnit shows how there are individuals who argue against women’s access to abortion even in extreme cases such as rape when she uses the example of Todd Atkin’s famous statement made in 2012, where he stated that “even if a woman is raped, the female body has ways to try to shut the whole thing down” (Solnit, 15).

The abortion caravan movement was a major milestone in the history of women’s rights in Canada where both gender and feminism played key roles in accomplishing the goals, visions, and strategies of the movement. These goals, visions, and strategies were difficult to undertake due to the complexity of the intersectional feminism issues and the feminization of poverty which acted as underlying causes for women’s inability to access safe abortions. These underlying issues were what propelled the Vancouver Women’s Caucus begin the movement, and therefore played major roles in the movement itself. Regardless of the many underlying issues, the goals and visions of the movement were accomplished partially due to the inclusion of the powerful group alongside the women, and women addressing intersectional issues that women of minority groups must face.

Works Cited

  1. Alter, Charlotte. “Women Pay More for Everything Across a Lifetime, Study Sows.”Time, Time, 23 Dec. 2015, time.com/4159973/women-pay-more-everything/.
  2. Carnevale, Anthony, and Nicole Smith. “Gender Discrimination Is at Heart ofWage Gap.” Time, 19 May 2014, time.com/105292/gender-wage-gap/.
  3. “Classism | Definition of Classism in US English by Oxford Dictionaries.” OxfordDictionaries | English, Oxford Dictionaries, en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/us/classism.“Feminism.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster, www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/feminism
  4. Goldman, Emma. Quiet Rumours: An Anarcha-Feminist Reader. Edited by Dark starCollctive, New Edition ed., AK Press, 2012
  5. Wells, Karin. “The Women Are Coming.” YouTube, CBC/Radio Canada, 24 Mar. 2011,www.youtube.com/watch?v=pq_JZhLT5y8.
  6. Razack, Sherene. Looking White People in the Eye: Gender, Race, and Culture inCourtrooms and Classrooms. University of Toronto Press, 1998.
  7. Rebick, Judy. The Women Are Coming: The Abortion Caravan. Gender and women’s studies in Canada: Critical terrain. Canadian Scholars’ Press, 2013, pp. 464-472. 
  8. Sethna, Christabelle and Steve Hewitt. ‘Clandestine Operations: The Vancouver Women’s Caucus, the Abortion Caravan, and the RCMP.’ Canadian Historical Review, vol. 90, no. 3, Sept. 2009, pp. 463-495. EBSCOhost, ezproxy.okanagan.bc.ca/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=65410542&site=eds-live&scope=site.
  9. Sethna, Christabelle, et al. ‘Choice, Interrupted: Travel and Inequality of Access toAbortion Services since the 1960s.’Labour, no. 71, 2013, pp. 29-II, ProQuest, http://ezproxy.okanagan.bc.ca/login?url=https://search-proquest.com.ezproxy.okanagan.bc.ca/docview/1470885437?accountid=28352.
  10. Solnit, Rebecca. Men explain things to me. Haymarket Books, 2015.Statistics Canada. “Chart 1 Participation Rates of People Aged 25 to 54, Canada, 1950 to 2015 Chart 1 Participation Rates of People Aged 25 to 54, Canada, 1950 to 2015.” Government of Canada, Statistics Canada, 8 Mar. 2017, www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/89-503-x/2015001/article/14694/c-g/c-g01-eng.htm.
  11. Steven Pressman. ‘Feminist Explanations for the Feminization of Poverty.’Journal of Economic Issues, no. 2, 2003, p. 353. EBSCOhost, ezproxy.okanagan.bc.ca/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edsjsr&AN=edsjsr.4227898&site=eds-live&scope=site.
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Feminization of Poverty. (2021, Apr 16). Retrieved from https://papersowl.com/examples/feminization-of-poverty/