President’s May Message

I hope you are staying healthy and coping with our increased digital and isolated existence with patience and humour. As a hugger, I am finding social distancing particularly disorienting. I have certainly learned a whole lot more about electronic communication than I ever wanted to know. I guess that means I have reluctantly entered the 21st century!

As you are aware, many of the usual spring events have been cancelled: the Regional Science Fair, House Tour, Spring Fling, and our Interest group activities. Two events, however, are still on track as virtual meetings, the Ontario AGM on May 23 and the CFUW National AGM on June 19 and 20. You have already given me approval to use my judgment regarding any amendments to the Resolutions, but other issues to be voted on include the election of Provincial and National Officers and Executives, and membership in GWI (Graduate Women International – our international arm). See our October 2018 newsletter for historical background.

This has been a topic of discussion for the past few years and I know, from my participation in the Preschat Zoom meetings, that two motions have been submitted by clubs for our consideration at the National AGM. One is to change the National Constitution and withdraw from membership in GWI, and the other is to remain a member and pay $5 more in dues. I need direction from you as to how to vote. I will forward the documents to you when I receive them. Whether you express your opinion with an electronic vote or a paper ballot still needs to be decided by your executive.

I have applied to be on a Mediation Team to help sort out the conflicting points of view and will notify you of the results, perhaps in May, if I am approved. In the meantime, here is the basis of my thinking:

In response to the rejection of an $8 increase in GWI dues, the GWI board streamlined its operations by moving to a less expensive office, employing only one paid staff member, the Executive Director, and mentoring eight volunteer interns to help maintain their many advocacy publications and programs. They have been so successful at downsizing that they have managed to end the last two years in the black, even with the expense of the 100th anniversary Triennial General Meeting in 2019. To keep costs down, the GWI Executive meetings are virtual, as the Officers and Committee members are all volunteers from far-flung countries: Netherlands (President and VP Membership), USA (VP Advocacy and Education), Turkey (VP Fundraising) and Switzerland (Treasurer). Committee members are from India, New Zealand, Egypt, Mexico, Nigeria, El Salvador, South Africa, and Canada (Assistant Treasurer). The UN has agencies in Vienna, Paris, and Geneva as well as New York, and every March, June and September, GWI is an active participant with the UN Commission on the Status of Women and the UN Human Rights Council where their committee members make regular oral statements and submit written briefs advocating for the elimination of myriad barriers girls face when trying to gain an education.

In addition to their substantial work in international forums raising awareness of gender issues, advertising opportunities and programs, and advocating for the rights of women worldwide, GWI committee members evaluate applications and award grants to locally developed and locally run projects of member NFAs (usually University Women Associations) through the Bina Roy Partners in Development Fund. The projects focus on a variety of critical issues ranging from vocational, literacy, and numeracy training for high school girls and developing livelihood skills for rural women, to raising awareness of sexual harassment and gender based violence in communities at large and mentoring families on the importance of supporting the continued attendance of their daughters in school. In 2019, such projects were approved in the Republic of Congo, El Salvador, Ghana, India, Mexico, and Turkey. Read more: Bina Roy Development Projects

Other GWI activities include administering the Hegg Hoffet Fund (HH Fund) which provides short term grants to graduate women who have been displaced by war, political upheaval, or other serious emergencies, running the Teachers for Rural Futures (Teachers) which provides scholarships and mentoring support for trainees in Uganda, five of whom just graduated in January, and helping the Girls’ Choices project (Choices) in which GWI has partnered with the Orange Device Group to develop an App to be tested first in Rwanda to give girls information that will inspire them to stay in school and help them overcome the many barriers to their continued education.

Ever since I was a member of the team that represented CFUW at the March 2018 UN Commission on the Status of Women in New York City, I have appreciated the work done by the impressive women volunteers in GWI. The desperate need of support and advocacy for women and girls in developing nations was front and centre in every presentation I attended. The loss of CFUW as a member of GWI would spell the end for GWI. Fortunately, negotiations between CFUW and GWI, which started In November 2018, resulted in a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) agreeing that CFUW would pay increases in dues with in-kind collaborated work and financial payments. Last August, at the CFUW 100th Anniversary AGM, 89% of members voted in favour of the Memorandum of Understanding, which represents a compromise on the dues problem and other issues between the two organizations. A proposed $10 dues increase, which did not pass, was based on previous motions and did not take into account how much the MOU decreased the amount owed by CFUW.

Given both the reduced GWI budget and the terms of the MOU, it appears that a dues increase of $5 is all that is needed to allow our International Grandmother to keep making a huge difference in the lives of women and girls worldwide.

Keep the faith…I predict that spring will soon be here physically as well on the calendar! And I am very much looking forward to the day when I can greet you with a hug!