Demonstrators gathered at the steps of the Manitoba Legislative Building Saturday morning to demand protection of women’s reproductive, sexual and human rights with peers across the globe, and to call for equal abortion and health services in Manitoba.
"We need to let people in power know that women’s rights are under attack right now," said Women’s March Winnipeg chapter founder Vivienne Ho. "Every year we need to remind our people in power that we’re still here. We cannot stop doing this."
Despite a snowfall warning within the city of Winnipeg and biting winds, more than 100 people took to Broadway with placards and drums to hear from speakers Brianne Goertzen, provincial director of the Manitoba Health Coalition; Winnipeg Centre MP Leah Gazan; and medical student Erika Lee, who helped lead a successful campaign for universal coverage of Mifegymiso, a medical abortion pill, in Manitoba.
The protest was part of the fourth annual international Women’s March, held in 20 countries worldwide. In Canada, marches took place in Salmon Arm, B.C.; Saskatoon, Regina, across southern Ontario, and throughout New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. The first Women’s March was held in 2017, following U.S. President Donald Trump’s inauguration, and this year, supporters marched under the banner of bodily autonomy: the right to self-governance over one’s own body without coercion or external pressures, organizers said.
"When we lose our basic access to health care services, we lose our autonomy and we lose our power," Goertzen said. "When we talk about bodily autonomy we must talk about reproductive justice."
Goertzen, who serves as a school trustee for River East-Transcona School Division, said disparities in access to reproductive services and health care, including abortion, between urban and rural communities in Manitoba have to be eliminated.
Organizers also called on the provincial and federal governments to integrate abortion care into primary health care networks and to eliminate barriers — including distance and cost — to reproductive health care.
"If we want women’s issues to be placed firmly on the table in this legislative assembly and the House of Commons, we can not expect a male dominated power structure to serve our interests," she said. "We need more women stepping forward to put their name on the ballot.
"The personal is political."
Martha Paull said she joined the march Saturday to stand up for women and their rights, and agreed that health care services are often inacessible, hidden or poorly advertised.
"I really think they (the government) should help women to access programs," Paull said.
"We have been pushed off to the side and no one is respecting us," she added. "I think that all women should be respected for being life carriers."
The Women’s March Winnipeg chapter is committed to fighting for equal access to necessary health care services at the local level, Ho said, and will continue its advocacy beyond the march. The chapter is also focused on economic security and pay equity and safety.
"We have to always take a look and see what actions we can take. It’s not just a march, it’s a movement," she said. "We have to see what’s needed most next. Right now, locally it’s trying to get equal access for everyone in Manitoba.
"We have to keep on fighting and keep on marching. Although abortion is legal in Canada and a lot of things are a lot better for us than Americans or people around the world, we must amplify our voices and speak together with everyone else in the world," she said. "If we want an equitable and dignified life for all, we have to stand collaboratively and work collaboratively."
Danielle Da Silva