Celebrating 80 Years of Advocacy
“O Foolish people, do they think they can stay the March of Progress?”
President CFBPWC, 1933
In her article, “Equality and Difference: Feminism and the Defense of Women Workers During the Great Depression” Margaret Hobbs, an associate professor of Women’s Studies at Trent University, discusses the importance of BPW Canada in its support of equality for women in the workplace. When the Canadian Federation of Business and Professional Women’s Club (as BPW was then known) formed in 1930, one of its first orders of business was to support the removal of discrimination against married women in the workplace. During the years of the depression there was a backlash against women and girls holding jobs. In the 1930’s political parties were seeking the female vote by bringing in social programs developed to improve the lives and women and children.
Hobbs points out employment issues were of particular importance to BPW members since most were white collar workers such as secretaries and clerks. The incredible growth in the number of clubs and members during BPW’s first 2 years, (the number of clubs grew from 7 in the first year to 13 in 1931) illustrates the need of these mutual support groups.
Although there were some internal disputes within the membership about the presence of married women in the workplace, the Canadian federation strongly endorsed the employment of married women. At the 1931 (2nd) annual convention, a resolution was passed formally registering disapproval of workplace discrimination based on a women’s marital status. In 1933 the BPW President berated those attempting to either replace female workers or lower their salaries, a practice common in banking and teaching. In 1934 at the International Council of Women in Paris BPW International passed the following resolution, “declares that a woman, whether married or unmarried, shall have the same right as a man to retain or obtain paid work, and strongly protests against any attempt to deprive her of this right.”
As BPW celebrates its 80th anniversary, members should take pride in the fact that BPW has been championing, and continues to champion, the rights of women to participate as equals in society.
For more on this topic see Margaret Hobbs article in Labour 32 (Fall 1993).
Our Roots: History & Strength in Advocacy
The International Federation of Business and Professonal Women (BPW International) was founded by Dr. Lena Madesin Phillips in 1930. BPW International has become one of the most influential international networks of business and professional women with affiliates in 80 countries in five continents. BPW has consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and participatory status with the Council of Europe. Its members include influential women leaders, entrepreneurs, business owners, executives, professionals and young career women.
The root of BPW’s advocacy is embedded in the work with the United Nations. BPW lobbied for the formation of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) and supported many women’s issues. BPW was awarded a Peace Messenger Certificate from UN Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar in 1987. Esther Hymer, BPW representative at the UN, was named as one of three women playing a significant role in the work of the UN Commission by Secretary-General Kofi Annan in 1997.
Today, BPW continues its representation at UN Headquarters in New York, Vienna, Geneva; UN regional offices (UNECA, UNECE, UNESCAP, UNESCWA, UNECLAC); UNESCO, UNICEF, ILO, WHO, UNCTAD, UNIDO, FAO, UN DPI; Council of Europe; European Women’s Lobby and continues to work closely with UNIFEM.
Our Aims: Develop Professional and Leadership Potential for Women at All Levels
BPW affiliates contribute to society by enabling women to sustain themselves economically. In addition, BPW offers personal development programs for members such as mentoring, leadership training and e-Business training. Since 1996, BPW affiliates worldwide have helped over 45,000 women to become economically empowered.
BPW projects assist women to:
• Enter and re-enter the workforce
• Start up and advance their business or profession
• Protect their rights
• Overcome their limitations
• Create a nurturing environment in work, education, health for women development
BPW affiliates also collaborate with governments and other non-government organizations (NGOs). BPW International belongs to coalitions of NGOs such as Project Five-O and Conference of NGOs (CONGO).
Our Ambition: Equal Participation of Women and Men in Power and Decision-Making Roles
While capacity-building and confidence-building enable more women to advance to executive positions, the goal of equal participation is still far from being a reality. ??BPW International is giving high priority to create opportunities for women to rise to the level of top executives by collecting evidence on the return on investment when women become top executives. The aim is to use this testimony to persuade the relevant stakeholders such as companies, institutions, academia and governments that they would perform better if the percentage of females at top executive level increased and reached a par with men.