Ten Thousand Roses: The Making of a Feminist Revolution

Edited by Judy Rebick (Penguin Canada, 2005)

Reviewed by Shona Bracken

Ten Thousand Roses is a collection of feminist accounts of the women's movement from the sixties to the nineties through the eyes of some of the many women who helped build it. Judy Rebick, as editor, begins by introducing the story in Montreal, when women marched to Quebec City to demand the elimination of poverty in the nineties. A rose grower gave a rose to each of the 10,000 women marching. The theme of the march "bread and roses", became an important symbol for the women's movement. The history starts in the sixties with what Rebick calls "the seedbed". Women were more than ever fighting for peace and against the Vietnam War. Later, The National Action Committee on the Status of Women (NAC) came into existence. In the seventies women began to stand up against some of the sexism apparent in the trade union movement at the time, and some of them emerged as leading players in their unions. Many women who were in the frontlines of the struggle for LGBT equality are also interviewed, showing the (partially) victorious transformation of public opinion on the issue of LGBT rights. In the eighties, women won the right to have abortion clinics. But it was not all roses. Attacks by anti-feminist MPs meant the progressive cutting of funds to Canada's big women's coalition, NAC, eventually bringing it down.

The book provides a broad portrait of the internal debates and differences – but victories overall – experienced by the women's movement in Canada. The history of the women's movement does point to the need for revolutionary change. The Canadian women's movement fought for victories, which were a huge and important contribution to women's rights in Canada, won by a lot of public pressure, forcing reform demands on a parliament that, for the most part, did not want much to do with them. But the politicians also did not want to lose their credibility. In many cases, though, as soon as that pressure died down, these politicians were quick to roll the reforms back again. Only if women and workers hold economic power, and political power in parliament, can these hard-won rights be safeguarded.

In the seventies women began to enter the workforce in larger numbers. This led to a demand for accessible childcare which many women rallied behind. At the University of Toronto a group of women got together to start a daycare. They could not get any financial support for it, and their anger drove them to occupy the Administration building, Simcoe Hall, where the President's office was. The occupation created public pressure, and they did receive funding for the daycare centre. There also was a big demonstration when the Conservative government of Ontario released the Birch Proposals, which threatened non-profit daycare in favour of for-profit operations. An alliance of women successfully beat off that proposal, and women have shown again and again their desire for a public daycare program. Yet, with the Conservatives coming to power in Ottawa, the childcare funding that women have fought for and won is being cut back even more, illustrating again that the democratic rights women and men have struggled so hard to achieve can never be considered guaranteed.

However, the book does show that the women's movement in Canada is strong and determined. While sometimes there is disunity, at times when push has come to shove the women's movement has begun to learn to work together and defend themselves against each vicious backlash threatening our rights: and we have seen victories. While Rebick and some of the contributors pump up the significance of the NDP in the struggle, the inevitable conclusion is that the women's movement has won its victories through a united mass movement, not just the NDP alone.

The book leaves off unfinished – with a struggle that hasn't yet been won. But some very experienced women fighting for a better life have shared their stories up to this point, and future generations can learn from them. The important thing to take out of this is that the struggle isn't over and is just as relevant today as it was thirty years ago.

Spark #19, Summer 2007