Norma Walmsley has taken to heart John Donne's saying that no man, or in this case woman, is an island but "a part of the main." She has founded Match, an international organization through which women all over the world are matching up needs and resources. Miss Walmsley, a political science specialist, describes it as "a switchboard to link the needs and resources of the women in Canada and in the third world."
Five years ago she attended the International Women's Year conference in Mexico City, an event which she says abruptly changed the course of her life. "I've always been interested in international education fields. And I knew the development field wasn't working. Our targets were wrong because our basic needs were not being met in such rudimentary areas as food, water, health, and hygiene."
She saw that for improved living conditions there had to be real change, and this could only come from the women themselves. Why shouldn't African women, Thai women, and the women of Bangladesh, for instance, be involved in the development of their own communities? Again and again she asked this question, and the answer was always the same. The women said if they had the information, the expertise, and the money, they could do a great deal within their own lands. But they were never consulted about their needs by the planners from their own countries.
Miss Walmsley came away from the Mexico City conference with a clear pattern in her mind. "I saw they didn't need any Westerners telling them what to do," she says. "I saw what was needed was a kind of international center that would cooperate with these women, that would help them to help themselves, a center where they and the women of Canada would be able to get together and work out their own arrangements."
A former head of the political science department at the University of Brandon in Manitoba, Miss Walmsley had come to Ottawa where she was working as a consultant. Here in the Canadian capital she set up the center's headquarters in 1976, with the help of donations, membership fees, and a United Nations grant.
As the program started, letters and phone calls were pouring in from individuals and groups of Canadian women across who wanted to help.
"A woman of 80 said she could prepare a good meal, and she would do this and charge gourmet prices, and give the proceeds to Match," Miss Walmsley said. "Other groups raised money through garage sales. Some gave up holidays to make a donation to Match."
From the beginning the rule was set down that needs and projects in the developing countries must be identified and planned by the women in those countries.
A society for the handicapped in Calcutta needed an expert to train its staff in techniques to improve non-oral communication among its clients. Match found an expert and a group willing to pay the money to send her to Calcutta for five weeks.
Money raised for these third world projects is tripled by the Canadian International Development Agency, which handles most of Canada's foreign aid. government grants have also made possible the hiring of additional staff at the Match headquarters which now totals seven and providing funds for trips across the country seeking support from women's organizations.
Miss Walmsley says that a vast network of cooperation has sprung up between the women of Canada and those in more than 120 developing countries.
Miss Walmsley says that Match now is "exploding at the seams." Besides visiting different parts of Canada and talking about women's role in the third world, she also travels abroad and talks to women connected with Match activities. Recently she was in India where she evaluated Match's projects there.
For its second conference in Toronto last fall, Match brought together leading women from the third world and from Canada. It was a low-key conference , held in an inexpensive hotel and aimed solely at giving its delegates an opportunity to exchange views.
One speaker was Zene Tadesse of Ethiopia, secretary general of the Association of African Women for Research in Development. She told the meeting that while men are being trained in the technological skills that will help them meet the new labor needs, women are not being helped at all.
Other problems: Young girls of the third world are often discouraged from getting an education because, with few schools, families often choose to send only sons.
A speaker from Senegal said the Western world, and too often this means Western women, has its own idea as to what is good for third world women. An example of this is family planning, which may work against women rather than for them. "It is unfair to expect an illiterate woman who is not used to taking pills . . . to adapt to birth-control pills when they are often dispensed with no explanation."
Match has scheduled its third annual meeting for Quebec City on Sept. 19 to 21.