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Fran Klodawskyi

Department of Geography

Carleton University

Janet Siltanen

Department of Sociology and Anthropology

Carleton University

Caroline Andrew

School of Political Studies

University of Ottawa

Forthcoming in Urban Geography, Theme Issue on Urban Contestation



Approaches to urban contestation that challenge the dichotomy between institutionalization and
opposition, and understand contestation as including engagement, are explored in this article. We
set out how recent forms of feminist analysis and critical scholarship open up a conceptual
terrain for such thinking and we ground our discussion with further details of City for All
Women Initiative/ Initiative: une ville pour toutes les femmes (CAWI-ITVF) which we regard
as a concrete (and successful) case. CAWI-ITVF’s tactics and strategies are noteworthy because
of the particular manner in which they have incorporated ideas drawn from feminist and
progressive organizing in other, including non-urban and non-Western, contexts. CAWI-ITVF’s
successes are most striking in relation to women who had previously felt totally alienated from
local politics in Ottawa. The organization’s rationale, strategies and tactics provide insights into
the ways in which women active in this network strategically use space to create new spatialities,
and how their interactions in space are productive for creating new political subjects.


It is January 26, 2005, at City Hall in Ottawa. It is budget time and all day, city

councillors - seated in a semi-circle at the ‘front’ of a large and imposing room - have been

listening to public delegations. The early evening has been taken up with a well organized group

of presenters – both female and male, but all mature white and relatively well-off adults –

arguing to cut taxes and services, and raise public transit fares.

Then, from the ‘visitors area’ where individuals sit in rows (at the ‘back’ of the room)

waiting for their turn to speak, up gets a group of twelve women of every colour, age, size, shape

and dress. The contrast could not have been more striking. All are wearing peach-coloured

scarves as a symbol of their solidarity amidst differences. They begin with a song:

We’ve come to talk

To share our views

Cause when we vote, we’ll think of you,

We are women across this city

We represent communities

Please take the time

To see our views

We are the city that cares, includes

Please bring alive the 20/20

In our budget Two thousand Five

Nous sommes les femmes

De toute la ville

We’ll be happy if you will

20/20 will work just fine

In our budget Two thousand Five.

The song was followed by two powerful, hard-hitting presentations: one, on the

importance of grants to community groups, and the other, on the significance of good, accessible

public transportation for those living on low and fixed incomes. The presenters were eloquent

about the destructive impacts of isolation and marginalization when a cost-recovery orientation

to public services such as recreation and public transportation, made access impossible. Their

references to “20/20”, the 2005 Official Plan that was developed on the basis of widespread

public consultation but subsequently undermined due to economic pressures, indicated that this

was an informed as well as an assertive public and its bilingual elements acknowledged Ottawa’s

many French speaking residents.

The impact of their presentation was palpable. The song had woken those who were

dozing, worried those in charge of procedures, and energized still others. The women had

achieved their first goal of making sure that councillors, bureaucrats and other presenters were

paying close attention. These women were all “graduates” of training organized by the City for

All Women Initiative/ Initiative: une ville pour toutes les femmes (CAWI-ITVF), on how to

influence decision-making at City Hall.

We begin our article with a description of this event in order to signal our interest in

approaches to urban contestation that challenge the dichotomy between institutionalization and

opposition, and that work with an understanding of contestation that includes political

engagement. CAWI-ITVF’s tactics and strategies are noteworthy because of the particular

manner in which their members have incorporated ideas drawn from feminist and progressive

organizing in other, including non-urban and non-Western, contexts. CAWI-ITVF’s successes

are most striking in relation to women who had previously felt totally alienated from local

politics in Ottawa. The organization uses space strategically to create new understandings of how

politics works ‘on the ground’ (“new spatialities”) and following from this, how their members’

interactions in spaces such as City Hall, community centres and neighbourhoods are productive

in creating new political subjects (“new subjectivities”). Contestation in what we refer to as a

“feminist register” signals the intriguing observation that while CAWI does not present itself as

an explicitly feminist organization, many of its characteristics echo certain feminist perspectives

and desires. The language of register refers to a musical tone that is distinctive but not easily

captured in language, similar to the song referred to in the introduction. This song is not only a

cleaver tactic but also something less easily articulated, having to do with a way of performing

feminism that is embodied, multi-faceted and difficult to categorize.

The significance of urban contestation as engagement will be explored in this article with

the help of insights drawn from strands of feminist, critical geography, and social movement

scholarship. We begin by setting out how our investigations and analysis are related to other

theoretical discussions of interest to feminist urban geographers. In Part 2, we situate ourselves

in relation to the subject and arguments of this paper, as well as summarizing CAWI-ITVF’s

genesis and current activities. This theoretical and contextual information forms the backdrop

that underpins the presentation and analysis of our case study. CAWI-ITVF’s story is usefully set

within a broader political economy that has seen significant labour market restructuring over the

past two decades, and in the relative power and significance of different levels of government in

Canada. However, CAWI-ITVF’s strategies and tactics cannot be explained solely or even

primarily through these macro-scale and structural drivers. They also have to do with the manner

in which circumstances, ideas, resources and relationships have come together in space and time

and out of which, new spatialities and subjectivities have emerged (Staeheli & Kofman 2004;

Fincher 2004; Martin 2004). We explore these latter arguments in Part 4.



This article contributes to ongoing efforts on the part of feminist political

geographers and other critical scholars to explore and learn from diverse, emplaced actors who

are ‘being political’, yet whose activities typically are unacknowledged and/or denigrated

(Staeheli et al, 2004; Nagar et. al., 2002). We see ourselves as contributing to scholarship that is

challenging heretofore unexamined categorizations and dualisms, that highlights the value of

situated knowledge inclusive of multiple perspectives, and that is explicit about a commitment to

progressive social change (Kofman and Peake 1990; Staeheli and Kofman, 2004, p.1). Our

particular interest aligns closely with Wekerle’s explorations of: “how urban citizens have

mobilized movements to meet the needs of everyday life in response to neoliberal restructuring

and structural adjustment, how they have created spaces within the local state for feminist

policies, and how they have forged transnational networks to link movements in a global civil

society” (2004, p. 245). Within this area of scholarship, we have a particular interest in women

who are typically regarded as ‘other’ in relation to urban politics, such as newcomers, those who

are indigenous, poor and/or those who are differently abled. These women are central to CAWI-

ITVF and to our research. Here we look to what scholarship offers by way of insights about

when and how such women engage in and are recognized as political actors. Three areas of

literature have been particularly insightful: prefigurative politics; the politics of becoming in

place; and actually existing urban neoliberalisms.

(a) Prefigurative Politics

An interest in prefigurative forms of political activity was one legacy of 1980s feminism.

With connections among feminisms and between feminist and left politics in a state of tension,

Sheila Rowbotham, Lynne Segal and Hilary Wainwright (1979) articulated a need for a new

approach to political activism that acknowledged diverse oppressions, and practiced a politics

that gave as much attention to the processes of political activism as to its ends. In contrast to

hierarchical and prescriptive forms of mass political organization, and platforms that promised

desired changes only after proper political alignments, these authors argued for an enabling

approach to difference, and stressed the power of incorporating elements of desired futures into

evolving presents. This was an intervention that would continue to reverberate, inspiring feminist

and other activists for social justice to reconsider and reconfigure the understanding, analysis and

practices of political activism. Their insights have raised important questions about the how and

what of feminist research. During the 1980s and 1990s, their arguments, together with many

other interventions that were informed by Foucauldian, critical race and post-colonial analysis

(Foucault xxxx; Spivak xxxx), profoundly destabilized assumptions about the significance of ,

and approaches to studying “everyday resistance” at the local level (hooks xxxx; Escobar xxxx).

Since that time, critically engaging the concept of agency among individuals with apparently

little power has been the subject of considerable, on-going debate and reflection (Gibson-

Graham 2006; Isin and Ustundag 2008; Pain 2009). In parallel with these discussions,

explorations of appropriate methodologies to investigate these matters have also been in play.

There is a growing literature that questions whether or not feminist and other critical social

science methodologies, such as participatory and action research, provide pathways to

investigation that avoid the disciplining and often exploitative tendencies of more mainstream

approaches to “knowing” (Kesby 2005; Kindon et al xxxx; Naples xxxx).

(2) The Politics of Becoming in Place

Both Gibson-Graham’s (2006) A Postcapitalist Politics, and Harcourt and

Escobar’s Women and the Politics of Place (2005) offer readings of “place-based globalism” that

we see as salutary extensions of these earlier efforts. For Gibson-Graham, an evolving post-

structural critique of (capitalist) economic reification has translated into action research that

includes “the self-cultivation of subjects (including ourselves) who can desire and enact other

economies” in multiple sites (2006, p. xxiii).  Their political ambition has been to release and

cultivate the potential inherent in diversity and in already-existing alternative practices to

disorder, dislocate, dis-identify and unfix hegemonic understandings and projects. This ambition

applies also to the creation of new political subjects. They identify a counter hegemonic politics

as involving “dis-identification with the subject positions offered by a hegemonic discourse and

identification with alternative and politically enabling positions” (Gibson-Graham, 2006, p. 77).

Links between dynamics of place and the global are also central to their thinking. They are

considered to be coproduced, and this coproduction is regarded as a strong resource for political

possibility. They offer “a vision of global transformation through the accretion and interaction of

small changes in place” (Gibson-Graham, 2006, p. 196). As they note, the global reach of second

wave feminist politics was due to the ubiquity of place-based feminist activism, and networking

across places. Harcourt and Escobar (2005) see Gibson-Graham’s analysis and ongoing activities

as very much in line with their own ideas about place based globalism: “[t]he sense of

globality… is… not [a] search for universal validity or an all-embracing global reality… but one

that seeks to preserve heterogeneity and diversity, even as, and precisely through, new kinds of

alliances and networking that we refer to as self-organizing, decentralized and nonhierarchial

‘meshworking. In short, these [women and the politics of place] movements want to be

practicing, already, the kinds of worlds they would like to bring into being” (2005, p 14). These

authors emphasize the value of a “politics of the coproduction of subjects and places. A politics

of becoming in place” (Gibson-Graham, 2005, p. 131). In this formulation there is a recognition

that women are “already everywhere engaged in constructing and revitalizing places in response

to the exigencies and possibilities of their everyday lives” (Gibson-Graham, 2005, p. 132).

Placed-based activism is the cornerstone of a Women and the Politics of Place (Harcourt and

Escobar 2005) framework “Place, like the subject, is the site and spur of becoming, the opening

for politics” (Gibson-Graham, 2005, p. 132). We see in these arguments, a strong justification for

further investigating how women such as those involved in CAWI become engaged in place-

based politics in the first place. What these sets of authors do not bring into the analysis to date,

however, is a concerted focus on embodied urban politics, despite (or perhaps because of?) the

increasingly neoliberally-framed, and growing, economic and political significance of cities

throughout the world.

(c) Actually Existing Urban Neoliberalisms

Since the 1990s, various scholars have documented the harsh disciplining tendencies that

government retrenchment and restructuring have had on equality seeking groups in cities

(Boudreau et al, 2009; Cohen and Pulkingham, 2009; Shragge and Fontin, 2000). This

scholarship has noted the ways that community organizing principles were often subverted to

conform to pressures to keep down costs and reduce expectations of what governments should

provide for citizens. For example, authors such as deFilippis, Fisher and Shragge (2006), and

Peck (2001) have raised important questions about the manner in which community

organizations have sometimes ended up implementing governments’ fiscal (and social) goals

rather than the objectives of the organizations. Frequently, these disciplining tendencies have

been brought together and described under the umbrella term ‘neoliberalism’, a term that has

become more and more dominant as both explanation and analytic frame (Larner 2003).

However, a consensus is emerging that greater nuance is required in the analysis of

neoliberalizing effects on urban politics and policies, for four sets of reasons that are relevant to

our analysis.

First, the operation of neoliberalizing tendencies needs to be contextualized within a

broader appreciation of diverse factors and forces operating to shape the direction and character

of urban politics more generally. In other words, neoliberalization is increasingly recognized as

not the only phenomenon in operation. This point has been made recently by Jessop et al (2008)

who advocate for a more polymorphous characterization of factors at work within urban

discourse and practice, including attention to the diverse spatialities of politics as located in and

interacting with territories, places, scales and networks. They and other commentators encourage

the further exploration of concrete-complex examples in order to further refine their arguments

(Katz 2004; Mayer 2008). Second, the need to attend to how specificities of time, space and

place shape the interpretations and enactments of neoliberalization is increasingly emphasized.

As several commentators in Leitner, Peck, Sheppard (2007) stress, these need to be understood

as particular expressions conditioned by the history and complexity of local conditions.

Neoliberalization may have general traits, but these are specified, interpreted and realized in the

unique contexts of localities. Larner, LeHeron and Lewis (2007) go further in asserting that

neoliberalism is more usefully conceived of as a series of somewhat discrete and dynamic

“projects” and that “it is only through both interpretation and interpenetration that these political

projects have begun to take on sameness rather than difference, alignment rather than

divergence” (p.  227).  Third, there is growing interest in examining social movements as being

relationally intertwined with what is understood as “the state” (Goldstone 2003). As McAdam

notes,  “the results of protest are not simply related to the scale or intensity of mobilization… and

protest activity. Interactions with political leaders and agendas, as well as shifting state, public

and elite responses, can either produce dramatic changes from relatively modest mobilization or

frustrate even widespread popular protest activities” (2003, p. xv).    In this view, the field within

which social transformations as an outcome of politics might be imagined, is more complex but

also more multi-faceted than more dichotomous presentations might suggest. Through the lens of

social movements, McAdam hints at what Larner et al assert. Namely, that it is “only through an

appreciation of the implications of such a framing” [of neoliberalism as ongoing and evolving

political projects,] does it become possible to “open… up possibilities for multiple political

interventions” (p. 277). In other words, only by gaining more knowledge about the discourses

and actions that promote neoliberal framings is it possible to identify political strategies that

encourage qualitatively different outcomes.

Lastly, while explorations about democratic governance and participation in neoliberal

times continue to proliferate, North American and European scholarship has devoted little

attention to ideas about the recruitment and engagement of new political actors. In contrast to

Latin American scholarship on the subject of engagement, there is a gap between the growing

interest in deliberative and participatory tools of governance, and a lack of focus on the

circumstances that influence political “take up” by currently disengaged residents. The powerful

arguments put forward by Paulo Friere (1972) - that learning to critically conceptualize their

society is a necessary precondition of people’s willingness to engage in political activities - have

been neglected in recent urban and Western literature on deliberation and participation

(Beaumont and Nichols 2008).

Insights from these four areas of literature have reinforced our sense that there is

something important to learn from an extended case analysis of CAWI-ITVF. As will be

discussed below, our privileged position with regard to this organization has provided an entry

point into research that we hope will contribute new insights about the kinds of organizations

that Hamel, Lustiger-Thaler, Mayer (2000, p. 1) refer to as transfunctional urban social

movements. Like CAWI-ITVF, these movements:

…are not fearful of institutionalization. In many cases they seek it out. They are
corporatist and increasingly find expression in partnerships of all stripes and
countenances, if the strategic environment is so predisposed. The latter, however, do not
acc’t for all their functions. They have another embedded characteristic: they are key to
the social construction of conflict within the city… Their transfunctionality brings
together service roles and conflict roles, as they pre-score the scripts and narratives of
local politics (Hamel, Lustiger-Thaler, Mayer 2000, p. 1).
Although CAWI-ITVF is not a service organization in the narrow sense of the term, it does

provide vital educational opportunities and discursive spaces for exploring how urban politics in

Ottawa might be practiced in line with its participants goals’ and hopes. By also being a player at

City Hall, the organization’s members see the possibility of their own future engagement within

mainstream decision-making, albeit on a terrain that they have helped define.


Research about and with CAWI-ITVF is a relatively recent development in a much

longer and multi-faceted history of our involvement with this organization. All of the authors

have long been ‘engaged scholars’ at the municipal level in the sense of having participated in a

variety of endeavours related to local area social issues. For two of us – Andrew and

Klodawsky– involvement in issues relating to women’s public safety concerns, both locally and

internationally, has been of long-standing import. CAWI-IVTF’s inception in 2002 is the most

recent phase of multiple initiatives since 1989 to “engender” Ottawa’s City Hall, in collaboration

with local politicians committed to encouraging the greater engagement of women in local

politics. Our growing excitement about the emerging ethos (“register”?) of both CAWI and

another organization in which we have both been involved – Women and Cities International

(WICI) – spurred on the crafting of a research project structured around the assertion that there

were theoretical insights to be gained by approaching the two organizations as paradigmatic

examples worthy of being examined as extended case studies (Flyvbjerg 2001). Specifically,

these theoretical goals were to explore: “the significance of feminist community organizations

for increasing the involvement of minority women in political activities, at the local level and

beyond, the strategic significance of scale… [and] attention to [how] the everyday personal and

organizational experiences of feminist organizing can shed light on ways to challenge inequality”

(Klodawsky 2007). The focus of this article is on the latter element. Given Andrew and

Klodawsky’s positionalities vis-à-vis CAWI, it made theoretical and particularly methodological

sense to invite a third scholar – Siltanen – to participate in this endeavour. Her more distanced

relationship with CAWI combined with her own experiences as an engaged scholar and her

methodological acumen made her the ideal third for our team. After receiving enthusiastic

support from members of CAWI-ITVF and WICI, we applied for and were successful in

receiving funds from Canada’s Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council in 2008 for a

three-year programme of study. Our investigative methodologies have included a range of

qualitative approaches, including: in-depth interviews, reflexive conversations among the

researchers, document analysis, and participant and non-participant observation. In the

discussion that follows, we begin by presenting our understanding of CAWI-ITVF’s genesis and

evolution as best situated within the context of two somewhat related but distinctive processes at

play at the beginning of the 21st century in Canada: on the one hand, new economic, political and

social pressures associated with globalization and felt especially in Canadian cities, and on the

other hand, the manner in which Canadian immigration policy has intersected with these political

economic changes.

(a) Canada’s changing political economy

Since the early 1990s, Canadian cities have been the places where employment

opportunities are most likely to be found, but they have also been sites where the growing gap

between rich and poor has been the most clearly visible. Urban residents have faced harsh market

logics in numerous aspects of their lives. Although cities have also been acknowledged as the

spheres of growing ethno-cultural diversity and complexity, their capacities to develop the means

to address competing demands and diverse sets of needs and supports have been extremely

limited. Senior governments’ reluctance to cede adequate resources to large municipalities has

been a major contributor to this dilemma, despite growing evidence that the negative impacts of

resource/demand mismatches are mostly likely to occur within these places and particularly

among certain marginalized populations (Boudreau et al., 2009). In part, this mismatch has

occurred due to the historical legacy of how local governments have been understood: as minor

players whose mandates have been most particularly to provide hard infrastructure and other

expenditures destined to support private development (Tindal and Tindal, 2004).

In Ottawa, these experiences have been coupled with the city’s unique situation as both a

mid-sized municipality and the seat of the federal government. Early suspicion of the

motivations for federal government involvement in local affairs have continued to the present

day. Local councillors have recognized the federal government’s significance to the local

economy but they also have retained a scepticism about federal motives in the region and have

therefore been enthusiastic “boosters” of high-tech development in an effort to reduce the city’s

economic dependence on the federal government. One outcome has been a pre-occupation on the

part of some elected officials (both mayors and councillors) to ensure that taxes are kept as low

as possible. Unlike some other Ontario cities that have contested these logics and rationalized the

need for increased tax rates, Ottawa has been led by politicians whose primary concerns have

been “fiscal responsibility”ii. Some politicians and, even more so, staff see CAWI-ITVF’s

innovative strategies and tactics as a means of incorporating innovative approaches to promote

diversity into a bureaucracy and political culture preoccupied with fiscal stringency.

But City Hall’s interest in engaging with CAWI-ITVF has not been solely or even

primarily driven by economic pressures and an orientation of fiscal conservatism. The City of

Ottawa also has had a tradition of progressive Catholic social action that values caring for the

less fortunate and caring as a part of the social responsibility of living in a community. For some

local politicians and residents, this tradition remains as an important characteristic: caring for the

unfortunate is often seen as the correct way to act, rather than part of a coherent policy stemming

from an analysis of root causes. This influences the way in which the City regards CAWI-ITVF:

an anomaly in terms of the classical areas of municipal activity not seen to include promoting

gender equality; a responsibility of the federal government vis-à-vis immigration policy, and the

province vis-à-vis social policy; but also as a group to be helped and protected.

(b) Canada’s changing immigration policies

The story of CAWI-ITVF is also inextricably linked to the recent evolution of

immigration policy and trends in immigration to Canada. Since the early 1990s, federal

immigration policies have shifted in favour of increasing the number of immigrants in the

economic class, in an attempt to improve their economic outcomes but also in line with the

growing focus on economic benefits over other values, such as family reunification and refugee

settlement. Ironically though, during the same period that federal immigration policies were

adjusted to favour of those with advanced formal education and specialized training, changes in

the domestic economy were creating a growing mismatch between the kinds of immigrants that

Canada was welcoming, and the kinds of characteristics favoured by domestic employers

(Sweetman and Warman (2008).

The negative implications of these processes are clearly very important to the many

CAWI-ITVF members who are immigrants. They tend to be well-educated, with successful

careers in their countries of origin. Many of them decided to come to Canada so that their

children would have better lives, and therefore were aware that, to some extent, they would be

sacrificing their careers to further these goals. But despite this acceptance of starting again, as

women who have a sense of their own worth and their potential to contribute significantly to

their new setting, the discouraging labour market environment has had negative impacts. Often

this sense of self-worth has been worn down or even quashed through early difficult years in

Canada and the non-recognition of their previous employment experience. The result is often the

production of two somewhat contradictory positions: a sense of discouragement and loss of sense

of worth, coupled with a strong sense of agency and determination. They want to be accepted

and included in Canadian society while at the same time they do not want to reject their cultural


Participation in CAWI-ITVF is part of what can be considered a political strategy on the

part of these women. Most have been, or are still, active in ethno-specific organizations and one

of the clear characteristics of CAWI-ITVF is that it is a mixed organization of women. Not only

does it bring together immigrant women from different national backgrounds, it also includes

diverse women born in Canada. Linked to the sense of agency and determination mentioned

above, CAWI-ITVF has become an opportune channel for immigrant women who want to both

honour their home culture and at the same time become active in mainstream organizations. This

is a choice made by each individual but the presence of a number of women who have made a

similar choice does mark the organization and it has also attracted the involvement of indigenous

women and women with disabilities with somewhat similar characteristics and motivations.

It is within this context that we now turn to exploring CAWI-ITVF as an organization

that is both a partner with the City of Ottawa and an oppositional community voice. An

intriguing element of CAWI-ITVF is that its participants seek institutionalization as a means of

shifting City Hall priorities to align with their own felt concerns. Their interest in

institutionalization is both pragmatic and principled – they want to be part of City Hall in order

to shift its logic to one that is more in keeping with their own views of what an inclusive city

should be and they want , as well, to benefit from this shifted logic. In seeking out

institutionalization, CAWI-ITVF mimics the transfunctional urban social movements described

by Hamel et al (2000, p. 1.

(c) CAWI-ITVF’S Genesis and Evolution

In a formal sense, CAWI-ITVF-IVTF began in November 1999, when the then Regional

Council of Ottawa-Carleton endorsed an International Union of Local Authorities (IULA)

Declaration on the role of women in local government and agreed to set up a Working Group on

Women’s Access to Municipal Services (Andrew et. al., 2004; Andrew and Klodawsky, 2006).

This phase of activity led to the conclusion that, although there were a number of interesting

initiatives within the City, there was no overall consideration of gender equality, much less

gender equality within the context of the full diversity of women. This insight emerged in part as

a result of becoming informed about other “public space” feminist organizing efforts directed at

the local level, both in Canada and internationally (Whitzman, 2006).

The interventions and recommendations of the Working Group on Women’s Access to

Municipal Services led to a second phase of the project, now renamed the City for all Women

Initiative/Initiative: une ville pour toutes les femmes, where the intent was to establish a more

formal partnership with City Hall and embark on a much more ambitious set of goals: to

institutionalize the effective consideration of gender and equality throughout the municipality.

Both initiatives were supported by funds sought for and received from Status of Women Canada.

It is noteworthy that the involvement of Andrew and Klodawsky, as academics, together with ‘in

kind’ (but not financial) support from the City of Ottawa, were pivotal in convincing Status of

Women Canada that these initiatives were worthy of their support. The earlier project’s legacy

included important insights about how staff support should be acknowledged. In the earlier

endeavour, staff were assigned to participate in the Working Group as an ‘add on’ to their other

activities without formal acknowledgement, despite the considerable work involved. Their

efforts were critical in moving to the next phase insofar as they provided vital lessons to the

academic and community women about how to get things done at City Hall. The value of this

insight and the importance of ensuring that staff involvement would be formally recognized in

the future, were key components in the second funding proposal, together with an equally

assertive claim about the need for a full-time paid coordinator. CAWI benefited tremendously

from Status of Women Canada’s willingness to respond positively to these arguments. Unlike the

Working Group arrangement, CAWI-ITVF’s establishment involved an agreement with the City

that staff involvement would be formally recognized. The ability to hire a coordinator was a

second factor that distinguished the second phase from the first, but what was particularly

noteworthy here was the knowledge, skills, commitment and orientation of the person who was

ultimately hired. Not only did she bring a background in adult education and critical pedagogy to

the position. She also saw and encouraged myriad political possibilities, both bottom up (insofar

as she has worked tirelessly to help community women become effective in their lobbying

efforts) and top down (she also identified and/or supported appropriate kinds of involvement

with the municipality and strived to take advantage of whatever opportunities were on offer).

For example, when the second phase got started early in 2004, City Hall was caught up in

a budget crisis and unable to immediately follow through on its commitments to work with

CAWI-ITVF. The organization then decided to begin by consulting with a variety of community-

based women’s groups, especially among marginalized women, asking them about their

experiences with the City of Ottawa. What became abundantly clear was that women’s groups,

particularly those who were racialized minorities and/or who were from recently arrived ethno-

cultural communities, felt that they did not have the necessary knowledge about the structures

and processes of municipal government to even approach City Hall, much less influence it.

Municipal government was seen as something distant, complex and unapproachable. This led

CAWI-ITVF to seek provincial community development funds to set up a program – Civic

Participation Training - to help women acquire the skills to help them in this task. The training

was seen as a means to empower women from marginalized communities to be able to assert

their community’s concerns at City Hall. Recruitment to the initiative was based on both

individual characteristics and affiliation with a particular group’s networks, in order to assure

that each woman’s learning would be shared with her home community

Simultaneously, as circumstances became more favourable, CAWI-ITVF worked to

‘partner’ with City Hall around the goal of making its decision-making practices and programs

more explicitly inclusive of diverse intersectional identities. The motion approved on May 5,

2005 was regarded as an extremely significant moment in CAWI-ITVF’s history (Fig 1), and it

also illustrates the rather typical manner that the City of Ottawa practices its progressive


• That the partnership between the City of Ottawa and City for All Women

Initiative/Initiative: une ville pour toutes les femmes be renewed with the aim of

enabling the full-diversity of women be included in city decision making.

• That the City of Ottawa continue to assign 2-3 managers to participate in the Steering

Committee and continue to allocate staff time to work with the initiative as needed.

• That the City of Ottawa and Community and Protective Services, as the lead

department, work with the City for All Women Initiative/Initiative; une ville pour

toutes les femmes to ensure that the goal, of implementing practices and strategic

plans that increase gender sensitivity and enhance gender equality, is realized.

  Fig. 1. Recommendations approved by Health, Recreation and Social Services

Committee on May 5, 2005
This motion encapsulated a nascent acknowledgement that the full-diversity of women should

somehow be more recognized and more present in decision-making at City Hall, not only

through the efforts of delegations such as the one described in the opening paragraphs, but also

through input into key programs and practices.

In order to enact these multiple roles, CAWI-ITVF has developed an organizational style

and approach to decision-making that reflects this multi-dimensional mandate. CAWI-ITVF’s

key decision-making body is a Steering Committee comprised of CAWI-ITVF staff (typically 1-

3 individuals), between 5 and 8 community women (selected after an invitation to apply), 2

academic advisors (who have been Andrew and Klodawsky since inception) and 2 City Hall staff

(see Fig 2).. Since May 2005, CAWI-ITVF has proposed and developed a pilot gender equality

training guide for city managers, and, based on the success of this project, has been engaged by

the city on a fee-for-service basis to develop an equity and inclusion lens incorporating eleven

marginalized groups.

But these efforts by no means encompass CAWI-ITVF’s active presence in Ottawa, as

Figure 2 also illustrates. In a broad range of venues both within and outside City Hall, and as part

of broader coalition efforts to reduce structural barriers for CAWI-ITVF women and others (such

as those represented in anti-poverty campaigns), CAWI-ITVF has articulated human rights and

economic and social justice arguments about the need to recognize the claims of the full diversity

of women. It is thus clearly understood that some aspects of CAWI-ITVF’s agenda are outside

the purview of City Hall staff but not so other members of CAWI-ITVF’s Steering Committee.


The places that City Hall, and Ottawa more broadly, are becoming, and the subjects that

are being created, are thoroughly implicated with the multiple processes outlined above. As we

see it, CAWI-ITVF is a contemporary manifestation of prefigurative feminist politics and it is

also one example of a politics of place, albeit one that is impacted by neoliberalizing strands of

governance. Explicitly, it has adopted a very particular, hybrid ethos or register in its quest to do

feminist local politics differently: institutionalization is sought to challenge both bodies and

structures: bodies in the sense of how CAWI-ITVF women understand and place themselves vis-

à-vis politics and the city, and structures in the sense of how decision-making takes place,

including a view of politics as a spatialized multi-scalar and networked phenomenon (Jessop et

al, 2008). In doing so, CAWI-ITVF has not only raised questions about current political

arrangements at City Hall; equally it has challenged status quo spatialities that seem to favour

only certain types of bodies and perspectives. At a variety of scales and in a variety of places and

networks, CAWI-ITVF has aimed to reconfigure these relations and their outcomes by disrupting

and redesigning the who, what, how and where of city politics; in the wake, new subjectivities

and new spatialities are co-constituted. By exploring how CAWI-ITVF has promoted the

engagement of bodies not typically seen at City Hall, the aim of this section is to connect its

politics of becoming in place and its focus on engagement, to the arguments presented above.

(a) New Subjectivities

The song mentioned at the outset was one woman’s suggestion on how to get the

councillors to sit up and take notice but it was also a reflection of CAWI-ITVF members’

emerging understanding of how best to make claims on the municipality. Prior to developing

these sorts of performances, the women had to see themselves as able to contest taken-for-

granted hegemonic understandings that were at odds with their own lived experiences. This

involved a two-pronged process. They needed to recognize and appreciate similarities amid

differences: though only some women might prefer dedicated single sex swim times for example,

the lack of attention to diverse women’s recreational needs was a rationale for challenging how

recreation plans were decided upon more generally. At the same time, this kind of cerebral

‘analysis’ was not sufficient. Also required was an embodied sense of entitlement that was

intertwined with visions of possible futures (and a vision of a possible present) where City Hall’s

decision-making capacities would be harnessed to their claims, not as individual plaintiffs but

rather as a collective actor demanding that diversity serve not as an excuse but rather as a


CAWI-ITVF has made over 20 formal presentations to various city bodies and when they

do so, peach scarves are always present. Organizing includes the effort to have as large a number

of diverse women as possible attending, to lend visible support to the presenters. CAWI-ITVF

conveys itself as a representation of diverse marginalized women’s voices in Ottawa and so this

visualization is an important element in CAWI-ITVF’s message – they are trying to convey the

voices of all those groups who have difficulties making their views known at City Hall. In this

sense, the image of CAWI-ITVF as a partnership involving the City, community-based

women’s groups and the universities strengthens CAWI-ITVF’s ability to challenge business as

usual: ‘we are a part of the City and as a partner, you cannot ignore us’.

CAWI-ITVF’s goal of engendering the decision-making processes of Ottawa City Hall

has, as its finality, a City of Ottawa that is inclusive of marginalized women’s voices. The impact

of the new subjectivities that CAWI is helping to shape can be nicely illustrated by a recent

Awards ceremony of United Way Ottawa. The United Way had given a prize to CAWI-ITVF

for its work with immigrant women. The Awards were given out at a banquet that brought

together official Ottawa, including both business and political elites. There were three tables of

CAWI-ITVF women at the banquet and the women were delighted to be there, delighted to be

honoured and delighted to feel part of the Ottawa community. As always, the group splendidly

and uniquely in that context, represented diversity, in terms of colour, size, age and dress. In

contrast to other awards received that evening, where the President or CEO alone represented the

organization, thirty women from CAWI went to the stage together. Two women stepped forward

as spokespeople and delivered, in eloquent English and French, a hard hitting message both of

thanks for the award and a reminder of the barriers faced by marginalized women. At the end of

the speeches, the thirty women threw their peach coloured scarves in the air, and shouted ‘Our

voices count: notre point de vue compte’. It was the visualization of democracy, solidarity and

diversity, women-centered and social justice seeking. At the same time it opposed the exclusion

of immigrant women and put forward an alternate vision of politics as it should be. At this

banquet, CAWI-ITVF women presented themselves not as supplicants grateful for recognition

by the local elites, but as engaged citizen claimants who were signalling a new and assertive


(b) New Spatialities

Although CAWI-ITVF does not have a public ‘office’ at City Hall or anywhere else for

that matteriii; the claiming of ‘space’ at City Hall has been a key strategy of CAWI-ITVF, not

only to convince community women of the legitimacy of their claims but also to continually

remind City Hall staff and politicians that their constituents include women from a broad range

of backgrounds and perspectivesiv. Initial debates about whether meetings should be held at City

Hall, have morphed from reticence because of community women’s feelings of alienation, into

an acknowledgement of their joint ownership of these spaces. As one member noted, being

recognized by numerous staff and councillors and greeted with “you here, again!” was a sign of

substantial progress. Only one year earlier, the same woman had spoken about how difficult it

was to get anyone at City Hall to even acknowledge the concerns of her Latin American


Similarly, in the process of developing the first, city-wide Civic Participation Training

initiative, a critical insight emerged. The training began as a way to empower women from

marginalized communities to be able to assert their own community’s concerns at City Hall.

Recruitment to the initiative was based on both individual characteristics and affiliation with a

particular group’s networks, in order to assure that each woman’s learning would be shared with

her home community. Over time however, women also gained insights about their

commonalities as women across other differences. Prior to CAWI-ITVF, these women had

tended to regard the city through a lens that distinguished their particular community – whether

of feminist disability activists, or aboriginal women, or gay women, or women from a particular

ethno-racial community -- from ‘Others’, where the focus was most particularly on powerful and

distant decision-makers with whom they felt unable to communicate, and much less on other

marginalized communities. Often these groups were both geographically and socially isolated.

Being active in CAWI-ITVF has profoundly shifted the women’s understandings of Ottawa’s

socio-spatial landscapes. CAWI-ITVF has become a site of engagement and networking through

which women from dramatically different ‘places’ (geographically, culturally, ideologically)

come together to share concerns and plan encounters for making issues known at City Hall

However, CAWI-ITVF operates not only at the level of Ottawa; its activities are

polymorphous in the manner discussed by Jessop et al (2008) and Mayer (2008) among others

(see Figure 2). It has activities at the neighbourhood level, linked either through the community-

based groups that CAWI-ITVF participants came from, or through the network of Community

Resources and Health Centre. Through these links, CAWI-ITVF women are exposed to different

forms of civic engagement (Andrew, 2009). Women do much of the work in their own

community’s organizations, but the formal leadership tends to be male. These organizations

have often been the sites where women have begun to appreciate their own administrative and

leadership capacities but also the barriers that stand in their way. CAWI-ITVF has aided these

women to engage in scale jumping activities from neighbourhood to City, in order to take

advantage of training and contestation in ways that are likely to provide them with useful tools

and knowledge.

As well as the scale jumping from City to neighbourhood, there also exists scalar

interactions between Ottawa and the places of origin of CAWI-ITVF participants – everywhere

from Aboriginal communities elsewhere in Canada to the various countries of origin of

immigrant women. The scale jumping to the global is a part of CAWI-ITVF’s performance; it is

a way of recognizing the assets of those who have come to Canada and of acknowledging the

value of their cultures. It gives value to good practices from across the world and value to

CAWI-ITVF for being able to access and contribute to these practices. Thus, the concrete spaces

of CAWI-ITVF-IVTF cover territory (the Ottawa community, the diaspora communities), place

(Ottawa City Hall and various meeting spaces throughout the City), scale (jumping from

neighbourhood to city and from city to elsewhere and back again), and networks (links to diverse

city-wide ethno-specific organizations; neighbourhood based Community Resource Centers;

other equality seeking community organizations in Ottawa and beyond).


Admittedly, CAWI-ITVF’s story is very much a product of circumstance, place and time.

There is nothing automatic or natural or easy about the manner in which CAWI-ITVF has helped

to shape the new subjectivities and new spatialities described above. CAWI-IVTF would not

exist without the extremely skilful work of its coordinator and therefore without the senior

government funding that has supported her efforts. These efforts include: work to identify

women from multiple backgrounds who might participate; work to bring diverse voices together

in time and space for discussions about goals and approaches; work to create feelings of

togetherness amid diversity; and work to construct both the content and the form of CAWI-

ITVF’s vocal and visual performances. Listening, discussing, debating, supporting, planning,

anticipating and building women’s confidence are all building blocks in constructing the

alternative politics that reflects the concept of a politics of becoming in place. Voice and

visibility have become central themes of the new subjectivities and new spatialities of CAWI-

ITVF participants. They are the means by which attention has been garnered and political

legitimacy granted to those who have traditionally not been seen or heard at City Hall. CAWI-

ITVF’s motto is: “Our voices count – notre point de vue compte”. Voice is about process and

about outcome and impact. The challenge is to keep the voices of the CAWI-ITVF participants

authentic and true to their vision of life and politics and, at the same time, to be voices that the

City is able to listen to and act upon. To contest one has to be listened to – otherwise it is not

contestation but only noise. The processes of decision-making in Ottawa City Hall, and generally

across city halls in Canada, give considerable space to voice but only when this voice is

organized and controlled by the City. The challenge is constant for CAWI-ITVF – voice that is

listened to. CAWI-ITVF participants articulate a holistic vision of life – one uncomfortable with

the segmenting of activities into containers that are only political or social or cultural. The City

wants segmentation of voice – you can speak to a specific clause of a specific motion, you are

allowed so much time, you are on topic or you are not on topic. CAWI-ITVF’s response has

been to work with participants to create urban citizens that both engage with standard City Hall

processes (albeit sometimes in refreshingly unusual ways) but also retain a right to contest

beyond these approaches and to do so in a feminist register, should the decisions be contrary to

their understandings of what would be ‘just’.

At the same time that CAWI-ITVF’s story is specific and particular, it also offers

valuable insights for other critical, engaged scholars with an interest in local politics. One such

insight is that the possible subjects and spaces of contentious politics are more diverse and

diffuse than might appear at first glance. Subjects are not only those who are ready to engage in

local politics should funds and organizers become available. They also are unlikely actors whose

perceived liabilities might become resources when the focus is on processes of engagement.

Moreover, neglect of such capacities are potentially significant. A second insight is more

particularly about contentious politics in a feminist register. The feminism that we understand as

informing the efforts of Gibson-Graham (2006) and Harcourt and Escobar (2005) is also alive

and well within the confines of neoliberalizing cities such as Ottawa. In these places, the lines

between community organizations and state institutions are very fuzzy and are probably

becoming are more so. Working in a feminist register in such circumstances means having

patience in the way that Appadurai (2006) described this tactic and its connections to “slow

learning” in relation to the Mumbai Alliance. It means that there is a tight rope to be walked,

between the need to constantly be nurturing and checking back with one’s ‘base’ at the same

time as one tries to cultivate opportunities for progressive changes within formal state

institutions at a variety of scales. Obviously, the potential pitfalls of such a strategy are

numerous. Simultaneously though, we know far too little about the potential impacts of a greater

capacity to carry forward collective claims for inclusion and equality.


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Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Fran Klodawsky, Department of
Geography and Environmental Studies, Carleton University, 1125 Colonel By Drive, Ottawa,
Ontario, Canada, K1S 5B6; telephone: 613-520-2600, e. 8689; fax: 613-520-4301; e-mail:
In 2006, the mayoral race was won with the slogan ‘zero means zero’ referring to a promise not
to raise taxes. In 2008, City Council approved a motion to increase taxes by 4.9%, a rate increase
that meant there would be a significant budget shortfall.
While there have been numerous discussions about the pros and cons of setting up an official
office, until now CAWI-ITVF’s physical location has been the homes of its staff (with
appropriate compensation and provisions for separating home and work activities).

Since 2004, active CAWI-ITVF members have included activists from the aboriginal,
disability and francophone communities, university students and professors, as well as
newcomers from Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Iraq, Peru, Rwanda, Somalia and Venezuela.