Local feminist organizations work to improve women’s rights

From Vancouver’s Women’s March on Washington on January 21, 2017. (Photo by Sally T. Buck via Flickr)


Local women’s rights and feminist organizations are working to make an impact in Vancouver and in B.C. as a whole.

“Feminist movements have a really long history. I guess we would see it as something that has been happening over many decades. We see incremental change, but it is an ongoing struggle of progressive change along with setbacks and challenges,” said Alana Prochuk, Manager of Public Legal Education at West Coast LEAF (Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund).

The organization provides women and community members with educational and legal tools in the hope of reaching equality and improving women’s rights. Youth workshops addressing sexual assault and consent are an important part of the West Coast LEAF mission and “contribute to youth coming away with a greater responsibility to get consent.” 

“We are doing the education piece to let people know what their rights are, and at the same time we are trying to shift the law to better protect equality rights and the rights of sexual assault survivors,” said Prochuk.

West Coast LEAF has been involved in several legal cases to remove “rape myth and sexist stereotypes about sexual assault” from the criminal justice system and does work beyond public legal education.

“We were one of the organizations, a part of a coalition of feminist organizations, that intervened in the inquiry into the conduct of former judge Robin Camp,” said Prochuk. “It actually resulted in a recommendation for him to be removed as a judge, and he has since resigned.”

Some of the other major areas West Coast LEAF is currently focused on are violence against women and sexual assault, the rights of criminalized and incarcerated women, access to justice, women’s health and reproductive rights, the right to parent and affordable childcare, and women achieving economic security.

“Our vision of feminism is feminism that recognizes that women are different from one another. In order to be advancing women’s equality, we also need to be challenging racism, colonialism, systemic poverty, transphobia, homophobia, discrimination based on disability, and the overall intersectionality [of feminism],” said Prochuk.

Women’s rights and feminist issues have been in the forefront of current media conversations because of sexual harassment allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, events surrounding the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, and President Donald Trump’s sexist history.

“There are spikes in the frequency and intensity of the conversation, one of which we are having right now because of what is going on in Hollywood,” said Janice Abbott, the Chief Executive Officer of Atira Women’s Resource Centre.

Atira is also a “no-barrier organization” and provides resources to “all women who have experienced violence, including trans-women, women who identify as gender queer, or gender non-binary,” said Abbott.

“The goal is to provide housing and shelter and support when women need it. To hold their hands through the court process if they need that from us, to help them navigate it, figure out what their rights are, and what avenues they have to pursue their rights,” said Abbott.

According to a Statistics Canada report released Oct. 3, “Some victims voiced concerns regarding the justice system process, including not wanting the hassle of dealing with police (45 per cent), the perception that police would have not considered the sexual assault important enough (43 per cent), or that the offender would not be convicted or adequately punished (40 per cent).”

The resources, workshops and the public legal education these organizations provide allow victims to come forward, seek help and learn about their options. However, the majority of sexual harassment and assault cases are still underreported.

“We’ve not been believed before. We see women not being believed in the news, we have our own personal experiences of not being believed when we tell our story,” said Abbott. “We have lived experience that tells us we won’t be believed. It is important women know someone will believe them.”


Yaunna is a fourth-year journalism student with a passion for story, feminist issues and photojournalism. Although I live in Canada, I was born in Portland and was raised up and down the west coast of North America. Everyone has a story and I believe it's important to tell those stories.

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