Women Elders in Action (WE*ACT) …
Giving senior women a voice in British Columbia
WE*ACT members have spoken up about a variety of issues over the past eight years stemming from our major focus of economic insecurity for senior women.
This common thread was determined by women who came together in the Income and Poverty Working Group established at the 1999 Senior Summit in Vancouver. At that time, we were surprised to learn how much better off men in general were then women when it came to retirement income. During the Summit, the women in this working group wrote the Vancouver Declaration of Older Women’s Rights which was presented at the 2000 World March of Women Tribunal, giving visibility to the concerns of older women.
Energized by our experiences at the Tribunal and intrigued by the income discrepancies discovered at the Summit, we formalized our existence as Women Elders in Action (WE*ACT). We continued to meet after the Summit attracting additional women over the following years who were also interested in better understanding this persistent inequity.
As a fledgling group, WE*ACT studied Canada’s pension system, the largest source of women’s retirement income. In the fall of 2001, we hosted a Women and Pensions Conference with feminist economist Monica Townson as keynote speaker. Recommendations from the conference were widely distributed to gain provincial support for a pension lobby. This provincial support has been stabilized into a network of senior women who track all levels of government for policy developments.
In the intervening years, WE*ACT has utilized diverse outreach tools to raise awareness about the impact of public policy on senior women. Street theatre highlighting the negative effects of cutbacks to provincial programs in the 2002 and frequent outreach tours around BC since then have served to both disseminate information and to gather insight into senior women’s shared experiences.
The culmination of research and discussion was the 2005 publication of our position paper on pension reform: Pensions in Canada: Policy Reform Because Women Matter. This paper was and continues to be a tool for public outreach and education reaching women in this province and right across the nation.
WE*ACT maintains a vital connection to our network through our member listserv and a monthly electronic bulletin. We are a clearinghouse for information to and from rural BC. We also access pension advocates across the country to circulate information regarding current pension policy developments.
A recently developed channel for our urban members to raise the profile of senior women and our issues is a monthly hour-long program on CJSF fm radio broadcasted from the SFU Burnaby campus. We have digitalized recording equipment previously available through the 411 Senior Centre radio studio so that our members can record and edit programs from that easily accessible location.
Multi-year funding from Status of Women Canada and generous support from 411 Seniors Centre in downtown Vancouver has allowed WE*ACT to spread our research findings further a field by frequently presenting at conferences and gatherings focused on income security for women. We also organize electoral forums so that we can educate candidates about our concerns. maintain a part time staff member to facilitate the volunteer contributions of approximately 100 active members province-wide.