Feature

Berks President Alarmed By the Silencing of Feminist Historian on IWD

The Canadian president of a major international women’s history organization condemns the effort to silence Canada’s leading women’s historian for telling us why it is important to remember International Women’s Day, why women’s rights are human rights that must still be fought for, and, oh yes, why we have the right to criticize our governments for not supporting women’s rights.  And, as Franca Iacovetta says, to think that all this took place on the blog of a human rights museum getting ready to open its doors to the public is all the more disappointing.

In anticipation of IWD, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights quite rightly invited Veronica Strong-Boag, one of Canada’s most distinguished and best known historians of women, the author and editor of many scholarly books and articles, and former president of the Canadian Historical Association, to write about IWD. She did so in her characteristically informed and impassioned way. It was posted on the museum IWD blog on March 4th, but then almost immediately withdrawn as ‘Communications’ at the Museum deemed her one-line comment about the current federal Conservative government’s anti-women’s record unacceptable as written. The offer of a substantive footnote and illustrative example from the author brought no reply.

But you can read the post at ActiveHistory.ca, which appreciated the time-sensitive nature of the piece and published it immediately.

And I ask you to show your support for Strong-Boag, by commenting on the ActiveHistory.ca blog, our own 2014 Berkshire Conference on the History of Women’s blog http://berks2014.com, or writing directly to the Canadian Museum of Human Rights. http://museumforhumanrights.ca/

On IWD Day, we should also ask: why is a historian who has good reason (and sound historical evidence) for her criticism of the federal government considered dangerous enough to be silenced by a supposedly arms-length institution?

As a feminist historian myself, who has looked into Canada’s record of denying civil and political rights to ethnic minorities and to immigrant, labour and feminist activists in the past, I feel it especially important that we remain vigilant about protecting human rights in the present.

Let’s remember why so many feminist historians see themselves as more than ivory tower figures – why they write histories that matter, why they are actively engaged with social change agendas.  We know that our research into understanding the inequities of the past, and those who struggled against them, can help us to know that our present and future can be different, if we commit ourselves to trying to make change, as Veronica Strong-Boag has done.

We keep this in mind as we get ready to host the largest and most important women’s history conference in the world, in late May at the University of Toronto. Our conference theme is Histories on the Edge and our program is full of brilliant and distinguished historians who, like Strong-Boag, have spent their career writing provocative histories that make you think.

Franca Iacovetta is Professor of History at the University of Toronto, and the President of the international Berkshire Conference of Women Historians
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