bout 2,000 people attended this year’s International Women’s Day march in Toronto, preceded by a series of speakers at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE). “Women, Life, Freedom” was chosen as the theme in solidarity with Iranian and Kurdish women’s liberation struggles in Iran.
The speakers at OISE began with Dr. Catherine Brooks, an Anishnawbe Kwe elder, followed by Yolanda McClean, Secretary-Treasurer of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Ontario. McClean’s speech included callbacks to working women’s strikes in the 20th century leading up to modern times and ended with a chant of “Woman, Life, Freedom” (Zan, Zindagi, Azadi) that the audience joined in for.
Other speakers included Iranian activist Minoo Derashan, student and Ontario Health Coalition member Chloe Tse, personal support worker and SEIU member Gloria Turney, president of Migrante Ontario Leny Rose, and Ontario School Board Council of Unions President Laura Walton.
Derashan spoke about the origins of the ongoing women-led liberation movement in Iran, describing how 22-year-old Jina Mahsa Amini was killed by Iranian morality police after she was forcibly detained for “improperly” wearing her hijab. She highlighted that, “Amini was a minority in Iran, a Kurdish and Sunni woman.” Her death on September 16, 2022 sparked widespread outrage in Iran among broad sectors of society.
Iranian people have protested for 150 days as part of this movement, which many observers expected to dissipate within a few weeks or months. Iranian state security forces have responded brutally by killing protestors (including children), executing prisoners, and recently poisoning Iranian school girls.
Chloe Tse, Gloria Turney, and Laura Walton all spoke about how Bill 124, a bill passed by the Ford government which caps public sector salary increases to 1 per cent, disproportionately harms women, especially women of colour. Women and femmes are overrepresented in public services like healthcare and education.
Walton highlighted CUPE-OSBCU’s November strike action of 55,000 education workers in response to the Ford government’s strikebreaking legislation, Bill 28. This action brought support from broad layers of organized labour including strong support from the Ontario Public Sector Employees Union (OPSEU) and Unifor, both under new leadership from J.P. Hornick and Lana Payne respectively. Bill 28 was repealed on November 14, ten days after the start of OSBCU’s strike action.
After a session of drums and music by the groups Half Spirit and Eagle Women Singerz followed by the closing speakers, attendees assembled outside OISE. The march went eastbound on Bloor St. and south on Yonge St., ending at Toronto Metropolitan University where various groups assembled.