Voice of Women (VOW) was founded in 1960 whem women across Canada decided they must try to stop what appeared to be imminent nuclear war. The Summit Conference had collapsed; the Cold War was rapidly getting hotter, and we felt women around the world should band together to demand an end to war. Groups like VOW were formed in many countries.
By the end of its first year, VOW had 6000 members. It organized an International Women's Conference in September 1962-the first meeting in Canada to include women from the Soviet Union and other socialist countries. Conference delegates called on the U.N. to designate a World Peace Year. The idea was taken up by Prime Minister Nehru at the UN., and 1965 was proclaimed International Cooperation Year.
Next VOW devoted its energies to campaigning and raising funds for the Canadian Peace Research Institute. It also supported the international call for a Test Ban Treaty which resulted in the Partial Test Ban in 1963. VOW members were well aware of the dangers from radioactive fallout, having presented a brief to the Canadian Government on the subject and having participated in a research project in which they collected thousands of children's baby teeth to test for strontium 90.
IN 1964, VOW joined NATO Women's Peace Force at The Hague and later went to Paris, where women from all NATO countries protested the proposed multilateral nuclear force. VOW hosted delegations from the Soviet Union and Indochina and held a conference of Women for Peace during Canada's Centennial Year, attended by women from 30 countries.
The use of natural resources for war materials and the horrifying destruction of Vietnam, led VOW to investigate the dangers of oil and gas development in the North to native people and to the environment.
VOW worked to end the war in Vietnam and to provide humanitarian aid to the victims; this led to exchange visits with Vietnamese women and to the Ontario Voice of Women knitting project, which over ten years sent thousands of knitted garments and other aid to the children and other victims of the war. This project involved hundreds of women in the United States who had no other way to express their concern for their country's destruction of Vietnam. VOW members also took in young men who resisted the U.S. draft or who deserted.
VOW has always had a close bond with American "peace" women. Many lasting friendships have resulted from common concerns for peace. VOW members have also taken part in actions with the women of Greece, Cyprus, Indochina, Chile, Bolivia, Africa, Japan, Britain, and many others. The use of media and propaganda in most countries to stifle legitimate protest and exposure of injustice had taught us how difficult it is to speak against powerful interests. VOW members have learned much about the political realities and some have gone on to work in the fields of human rights, welfare organizations, citizen's groups, and politics.
In 1978 VOW participated in the U.N. Special Session on Disarmament held in New York. VOW also presented briefs to External Affairs supporting Trudeau's "Strategy of Suffocation" and on foreign aid, the new international economic order, refugees, human rights, arms control, NATO and the deployment of Cruise and Pershing missiles, nuclear free zones, nuclear safeguards, and against the NORAD agreement.
During 1979, International Year of the Child, Ontario VOW had an elementary school project, going to schools with a "Peace and Brotherhood" lesson based on the rights of the child.
A year later VOW combined with other women's organizations in International Women's Day activities in towns and cities across Canada. Protests were mounted against the proliferation of nuclear power stations, including a hunger strike by two members in New Brunswick. Across the country, British Columbia VOW supported the "Stop Trident" campaign.
During 1982, the year of the Second Special Session on Disarmament, a brief was submitted to the Standing Committee on External Affairs and National Defence with regard to Canada's position. A statement from the Voice of Women was sent to the United Nations and busloads of VOW members and friends went to New York for the June 12th rally.
Over 125,000 signatures were collected from across Canada on the Women's Petition for Peace, presented to women Senators and M.P.s and to the U.N. Secretary General. Halifax VOW coordinated this and our "Mother's Day for Peace" campaigns.
In 1987, two VOW members, Kay Macpherson and Madeleine Gilchrist, joined thirty women, members of parliament, defence experts, and peace leaders, from thirteen NATO countries to interview the permanent NATO representatives on questions of defence. VOW held its second United Nations visit, eighteen Canadian women were initiated into U.N. structure and functioning. Several VOW members prepared a brief on the Defence White Paper. As a contribution to the Hiroshima Day remembrance, an easy-to-read pamphlet dealing with the White Paper was prepared for distribution to the public.
VOW is now a co-plaintiff in the Nuclear Weapons Legal Action. We are broadening our outreach program by establishing home-school groups for discussions about war toys and other issues We have been working on a demonstration against the August 23 visit of the Oliver Hazard Perry to Toronto. Halifax VOW has produced a beautiful resource book with writing on peace and photographs of the Visual Art exhibit at Mount St. Vincent University.
Voice of Women, 736 Bathurst St., Toronto M55 2R4