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Vancouver Status of Women (VSW) was formed in 1971 in response to the Report of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women set up by Prime Minister Lester Pearson in 1967. VSW’s goals were to ensure that the recommendations of the Royal Commission were implemented, foster public knowledge of women’s issues, and facilitate communication amongst individuals and groups concerned with the status of women. The organization was originally named the British Columbia Status of Women Action Co-Ordinating Council (BCSWACC), then the British Columbia Status of Women Council (BCSWC). By 1973, the organization was legally incorporated and had changed its name to its present incarnation. As of 2017, VSW continues to exist.
In its early years, VSW conducted research and prepared education materials for women, government officials, and the general public. The organization participated in committees and task forces set up by all levels of government, advocated for individual women through the provision of an ombuds-service, produced a weekly television program called “Women Alive,” and distributed interviews and press releases to the media. From the 1970s until the early 1980s, VSW tended to center on the concerns of white, middle-class, cisgender, heterosexual women. From the early 1990s onwards, due to activism from women of colour and queer women that resulted in organizational re-structuring and the implementation of an affirmative action hiring policy, the white and heteronormative culture of the organization began to shift. It was not until 2001 though that VSW implemented a trans-inclusive policy. VSW’s transphobic practices were confronted during this time by queer feminists of colour, who pushed for the VSW coordinating collective to engage in processes of critical education around this subject. In 2008, VSW’s policy statement was again revised to include intersex, non-binary, and pan-gender individuals.
From 1974-2001, VSW published Kinesis, a national feminist newspaper that was issued ten times a year. Kinesis had an anti-oppression mandate, and thus featured articles that combatted sexism, racism, classism, homophobia, ableism, imperialism, and other forms and systems of marginalization. Beginning in 1991, VSW released its Single Mother’s Resource Guide. As of 2017, this resource continues to be published once every two years. In 2005, VSW also released its Welfare Resource Guide for Women, which includes information about B.C.’s welfare system and employment insurance regulations.
Since its inception, VSW has addressed the following issues: discrimination in the public education system, pay equity, violence against women, the lack of community services for women, pensions, pornography, inadequate unemployment and welfare rates, the anti-choice movement, and corporate globalization. Beginning in the mid-1990s, VSW began to prioritize anti-racism and anti-oppression work, as well as concerns specific to immigrant women, Indigenous women, women of colour, single mothers, and others. In the early 2000s, VSW engaged in learning about issues affecting transgender individuals and shifted its policies to be trans-inclusive.
VSW’s funding sources and organizational structure have shifted substantially over its existence. In 1973, the organization received funding from the federal government, the provincial government of B.C., and the City of Vancouver. It maintained a staff of 13 and featured a Board of Directors. Volunteers were frequently involved.
In 1983, the Social Credit government in B.C. withdrew all provincial funding from the VSW. After sustained lobbying, VSW procured a small operating grant from the federal government through the Secretary of State Women’s Program. VSW continued to receive financial support from the City of Vancouver. Following this, VSW reduced its number of permanent staff to four. A further 15% reduction in Secretary of State funding in 1989 and a 10% reduction in 1993 reduced the VSW staff to three full-time and three part-time individuals. In 1987, VSW moved from its location in Kitsilano to Grant Street, just off Commercial Drive.
In 1992, VSW changed its organizational structure from a board of directors to a coordinating collective comprising staff and volunteers. In addition, VSW implemented a consensus decision-making model and developed an affirmative action hiring policy. As a result, more women of colour and Indigenous women took up employment at the organization. VSW’s affirmative action hiring policy also led to new partnerships with groups such as the Aboriginal Women’s Action Network and the South Asian Women’s Centre. In 1997, VSW moved to a location on East Hastings Street.
In 2002, the B.C. provincial government announced that it would cut core funding to 37 women centres. VSW protested this decision alongside other organizations, including the BC Coalition of Women Centres and End Legislative Poverty. On March 12, 2004, five members of the BC Coalition of Women Centres—including a staff member from VSW—occupied a room of the B.C. Legislature after a half hour meeting with Ida Chong to protest these cuts.
By 2004, VSW’s core funding from the provincial government ended, and the organization lost $48,000 annually. In the same year though, as a result of donations, VSW was able to purchase 2642 East Hastings Street, where it is currently headquartered. As of 2005, the organization receives funding from Direct Access gaming, the City of Vancouver, Status of Women Canada, and donors and members.
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Bunjun, Benita. 2011. The (un)making of home, entitlement, and nation: An intersectional organizational study of power relations in Vancouver Status of Women, 1971-2008. University of British Columbia.
Finding aid prepared for Vancouver Status of Women fonds by RBSC staff in 1986.
Records within the Vancouver Status of Women fonds.