Holding our space

Nettie Wiebe* was the guest speaker at the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF) Person’s Day Breakfast in Regina. She spoke about war, federal cuts and her garden.  Read on for a rough paraphrase of how she fit it all together.

Current Context


In our daily news, we are inundated with war, death, destruction. It’s a grim diet. Yet, we are told we are engaged in Afghanistan for the equality of women and the education of girls. Since when has the Canadian military been a mainline feminist organization?

Militarism and violence have proven to be “very dangerous for women and girls.” We should be “very worried about that agenda.” Fear is very often a pretext for the suppression of rights and freedoms. “Militarism is the patriarchy reinforcing itself.” If it is creating fear here in North America, we can be sure it’s doing likewise elsewhere on the globe.

Federal cuts

With regard to Status of Women Canada (SWC) and the Court Challenges Program, Nettie said, “Stephen Harper says not to worry. But I find that — only moderately reassuring.” If the SWC is no longer funding research then how will we, and more importantly, our government, know how its policies and programs are impacting the status of women in this country? She says she finds a “curious lack of curiousity” coming from the Harper government. She wondered if to the Conservatives, as Stephen Colbert has said, “reality has a liberal bias.”

She wondered who it is that sees equality as a problem and it took her to the REAL Women’s website, whose motto is women’s rights, but not at the expense of human rights. “I thought,” Nettie said, “we had established that we were, in fact, full-fleged humans with the Person’s Case!” Spending time at the REAL Women’s website took some time, because she had to think about what they were saying. “The whole undercurrent which has surfaced in this policy regime is that they are unhappy with SWC and to to get rid of its ministerial mandate.” And, she added that there is also a movement to get rid of Human Rights tribunals because they get in the way of traditional Judeo-Christian marriage.

She said she was not surprised to find anti-abortion rhetoric, but was surprised to find their disagreement with human rights and divorce. Apparently, people do not try hard enough in their bad relationships. So, she implied, are women supposed to try harder when they are being abused in a relationship?

Federal language change

The language of equality has been removed and replaced with participation. Participation is good, she said, especially in the House of Commons and in the Legislatures, etc. But, women can be in a room, participating, and still be marginalized. Participation isn’t enough to hold our place. Full participation for women is hooked into equality in such a way that we’re moving forward. We’ll know we’ve reached equality when the language of equality is not questioned. We need to reject the shrinking of our space.

Nettie’s garden

Nettie grew a great garden this spring because there’d been rain. And then one day a hail storm came through. Everything was smashed to the ground. Then, a few weeks later, as she looked out her upstairs window, toward the garden, she noticed green in the garden, so she hurried down to it. The plants she’d written off were coming back; their roots had been strong enough to withstand the storm, to be able to come back.

“This new regime in Ottawa is a bit of a hail storm,” she said, “And our feminist roots are planted deeply enough to withstand it. We will hold our space.”


Nettie Wiebe farms with her husband at Laura, Saskatchewan, growing organic grains and pulse crops as well as raising cattle. In addition to caring for their four children, she served as Women’s President of the National Farmers Union (NFU) from 1989-1994. She was elected President of the NFU in January 1995, the first woman to lead a national farm organization in Canada, a position she held for four years. She is currently the Professor of Church and Society, lecturing on ethics and social and economic justice at St. Andrew’s College, University of Saskatchewan.

A writer, panelist and speaker on agriculture, environment, public policy and trade issues, Dr. Wiebe has been an advocate for farm families and rural communities in many forums in Canada and abroad. She is a coordinating member of the Via Campesina, a global movement of peasants and small-scale farmers. She was presented with the Distinguished Canadian Award by the Council of Canadians in November, 1999.


One thought on “Holding our space

  1. Pingback: Reproductive rights Blog Digest - Holding our space

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