Graduate Women International

(formerly International Federation Of University Women)

IFUW, now GWI, was founded in 1919 by a group of women from Britain, the USA and Canada with the intent to promote international peace after the Great War.

The Canadian women present returned to Canada and founded CFUW  so they could belong to IFUW. These idealistic women of vision realized that international problems required international solutions and that is why they put it in CFUW’s constitution that CFUW shall belong to IFUW. Note that these women financed their trip themselves at a time when international travel was much rarer and more expensive than today.

I have belonged to CFUW since the 1970s and followed the usual route as Club president, Director of Resolutions, Chair of the Education Committee of Ontario Council and two stints as what is now known as VP Education on the national board.

It was customary for many CFUW Board members to go on and serve in some capacity in IFUW.The attitude was always one of strong support for IFUW and so it was quite a reversal when Doris Mae got up in Quebec City’s AGM and asked “What do we get out of IFUW?” She stated that the clubs would do their own research and decide.

The national board claimed a position of neutrality which to me is more like an abdication of leadership since clubs look to the board for guidance. Most members are not well acquainted with CFUW’s historic relations as co-founder of IFUW and a great deal of confusion ensued.

I attended the IFUW conferences, which take place every three years, in Mexico City,2010, Istanbul, 2013 and Capetown, 2016 as part of the 20 member strong delegation of CFUW. I became a member of the IFUW Resolutions Committee in 2010 and after two terms as member I now chair that committee.

In Istanbul, there were two candidates for president. The Dutch candidate wanted the Geneva office to become virtual to save money. Catherine Bell from South Africa stated that since IFUW was slowly losing members and had an aging membership, she wanted to throw all IFUW’s resources at revitalizing IFUW, rather than continue in slow decline. She was elected on that platform. CFUW voted for her.

In Capetown, the first item on the agenda was finance. Catherine reported that she had done as she had promised and been mandated. She had spent all IFUW, now GWI’s money and now the assembly had to decide what to do Close GWI or put more money into it. There was sufficient money to continue till September.

In the ensuing discussion, there were many impassioned pleas from members from the developing world not to close. They needed GWI to be their voice, a voice they did not have in their own countries, either because women had no voice or because the governments were dictatorships. This echoed my experience as CFUW’s representative to the Canadian Commission for UNESCO, where there existed a woman’s caucus where the UNESCO rep from Europe made the same plea. Our job is to put pressure on our government to promote the equality of women worldwide. Projects are all very well but they do not lead to systemic change. For women in all countries to gain equality in fact, we need political pressure. GWI is dedicated to the education of women, has a voice at the UN and UNESCO and the Human Rights Council in Geneva. CFUW can not replicate this presence. All we can do is deal with our own government.

I mentioned that there were a number of misconceptions or alternate facts influencing clubs’ decisions about GWI.

The first is that of financial mismanagement. There is no question of mismanagement. Catherine Bell had a mandate to spend all GWI’s money. She hired excellent staff Daniele Castle ED, hired a development officer who won a prize for excellence among her peers in Geneva, organized a new website did webinars. She extended GWI’s reach. It is not every NGO that is welcomed by the Brookings institute.

In Switzerland NGOs below a certain threshold do not need official audits GWI fell into this category. Audits cost money.

The office in Geneva costs less than our office in Ottawa.

I could go on. Another factor which played into this situation is failed personal relationships. I attended the CSW meetings in NYNY in 2014,2015 and 2016. In 2015 when Doris Mae led the delegation and was laying out timelines for the week to the delegates, she did not mention that GWI hosts three breakfasts for GWI members from all countries. CFUW always attends these. Hally Siddons from Ottawa drew her attention to this fact. It was clear that the personal relations between ED Castle Pres Bell,VP International Hayles and CFUW president Oulton were bad. Some members tried to act as conciliator but the relationship did not improve and Catherine Bell, who wanted to come to Quebec’s AGM was not invited

In Capetown  I felt ashamed as a Canadian. We did not support the dues increase as proposed. A compromise suggestion was voted on and passed, supported by the Canadian delegation, to lower the total increase and spread it out over three years. Australia and New Zealand immediately stepped up and decided to pay the increased dues right then and there. I wish we could have been  as magnanimous. We are a rich country!

GWI continues to function.It has an ED who is cheaper,no development officer and reduced office staff. It continues to make presentations at UNESCO in Paris, in Geneva at the Human Rights Council and NYNY at CSW. The Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs which replaced the Millennial Development Goals are tailor made for GWI which is the only international NGO that focuses on Education. GWI has a rural teacher training program in Africa for example that has a donating spot on the Global Giving Fund. The Clinton proposal was quite doable over 4 years and work in kind with an increase in fees. Many African members of GWI are professors who would make excellent mentors. What makes GWI attractive to the Brookings Insitute and the Clinton Foundation is that GWI has members on the ground in all these recipient countries who can monitor programs.Regretfully that is no longer possible with our refusal to increase the dues..

GWI instituted a committee to study an acceptable dues increase last year with representatives of NFAs(National Federation Association).Canada had a representative on this committee which has now recommended an increase of 6 SF per member for Canada. The SF has been at $1.28 for weeks. Is C $7.50 a year too much to support our less fortunate sisters in their quest for the liberty we have been enjoying since our grandmother’s time? Our grandmothers fought hard for our freedom. Can we not do the same for the women of the world?

Submitted by: Marianne Singh-Waraich, CFUW Burlington