[Documents menu] Documents menu

Bread and Roses—Women March Against Poverty

By Michelle Bonner, SEEDlinks, Nr.18, August 1995

Structural adjustment and neo-liberalism is nearing its breaking point. Cuts in social programmes, education and the number of available jobs have taken their toll worldwide. In Quebec, women have said, enough is enough, and are leading the way in a fight against poverty and the system that perpetuates it.

For ten days, more than 800 women marched through the hot sun and pouring rain from different regions of Quebec to the capital, Quebec city, demanding Bread and Roses - bread for jobs and better economic conditions, and roses for quality of life. Arriving in Quebec City on June 4, the women were greeted by 20-25,000 enthusiastic supporters on the lawns of the legislative buildings. Women, children and men waved bread, roses and purple ribbons as they sang songs of solidarity. The message was straightforward: women have had enough of poverty, inequality and injustice, and things have to begin to change now (du pain et des roses, pour changer les choses). Being one of the largest mobilizations of women in Quebec, many have claimed that the march was a turning point for feminism. Feminism is clearly not dead and women's demands are clearly not outdated.

Organized by the Quebec Federation of Women (Federation des femmes du Québec), the march held strong to its nine demands and achieved relative success. The nine demands included:

  1. A minimum wage above the poverty line of $8.15 - the government agreed to an increase of 45% from $6. The increase was not enough to please the crowd.
  2. The sponsorship of immigrant women by their husbands be decreased retroactively from ten to three years, thus decreasing immigrant women's dependence on their husbands. Moreover, access to social programmes was demanded for women who are victims of violence.
  3. The creation of at least 1500 new low-income housing units per year was not achieved. However, the government agreed to reserve 5% of the 1200 housing units created under an existing programme, to women.
  4. Social programmes accessible to women were demanded and the government responded by reserving 5 of 15 places in every non-traditional job training course offered by the Quebec government.
  5. Marchers demanded a tuition freeze for universities and an increase in available bursaries. A tuition freeze was put in place last December for 1995. However, there are no guarantees for upcoming years nor any change in the quantity of available bursaries.
  6. Child support was demanded to be taken automatically from the source of the spouse's revenue. A law instituting this change was passed on May 11, 1995.
  7. Pay equity was demanded and will be presented by the government to the Quebec National Assembly this coming fall.
  8. The protection of minimum work standards in government employment-welfare programmes will be considered by the National Assembly this fall.
  9. Marchers demanded a 'social infrastructure programme', to create jobs in the social sector that are of collective utility, e.g. taking care of the sick or elderly in the home, protecting the environment etc. - 25 million dollars will be provided in this direction.

Françoise David, the president of the Quebec Federation of Women evaluated that 70% of their demands were met and was proud to tell the cheering crowd, "The march was worth it, without the march we would not have had all that."

The women of Quebec were not alone June 4, but were joined in their fight against poverty by women from countries as diverse as Camaroon, Nicaragua and the Philippines. These women spoke of the universality of the problem of poverty, which transcends boarders, race and languages. The global trend of neo-liberalism emphasizes a need to eliminate fiscal deficits and debts at the cost of social conditions globally. Women are often the hardest hit by such policies. When hospitals, day care and other social programmes are cut, it is largely women who replace them and do the work for free in their homes. "Women must continue to demand to have jobs and stop labouring for free", said Jeannine Sutto speaking to the crowd in Quebec City. The United Nations has been campaigning for gender equality for the year 2000. The year 2000 is only five years away and the women of Quebec have taken, with this march, a historically important step in the fight for gender equality.

Global Alternative Media Association - GAMA is a division of Foundation for International Communication - FIC GAMA is a global co-operation of alternative media reaching a combined audience of more than 200.000 people. Media interested in joining the association should contact:
FIC (GAMA coordinator)
c/o AStA University of Hannover; Welfengarten 1;
30167 Hannover; Germany

tel: +49-(0)511-762 5063;
Fax: 717441
e-mail: asta.unih@oln.comlink.apc.org