I joined the February 14th Women’s Memorial March in Downtown Eastside Vancouver in 1998. At the time, I had just immigrated to Canada. I came escaping from injustice and looking for a safe place to live for me and my family. However, sooner than later, I learned about the real Canadian history and it was very different to the official story that I had been told. I learned about the impact of colonization on the Indigenous people of this land. I witnessed and experienced racism and discrimination. I realized that the history of colonization and its impacts on Indigenous people in Latin America was similar to the impact on Indigenous people in Canada. I learned that colonization has been the most important form of oppression all over the world as well as the root cause of violence against women.
At the time, also I learned that here in Vancouver, there were many women going missing and being murdered in the Downtown Eastside area. I did not know who the women were. I only knew what I heard in the news, where women were objectified and judged. Though, as I connected with women’s groups in Vancouver and joined my first march, I learned that the majority of women who were missing and murdered were indigenous women, racialized women, poor women, sex trade workers, and vulnerable women. Women who became vulnerable because their social location within a hierarchical colonial society.
I was shocked to find out the similarities with the missing and murdered women in my home country, Mexico. In Mexico, I used to fight against systemic exploitation, abuse and violence against women. At the time, 1990s many girls and women were going missing and murdered in Ciudad Juarez, which is located in the Mexican border with United States. Many of the women who disappeared were young racialized women, working class and poor women, as well as the majority of these women were factory workers with the "maquiladoras." The "maquiladoras" were factories that had been established in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico as a part of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and as a part of the Mexican border’s industrialization. In 1990s, there was a wave of attacks that left hundreds of girls and women dead over the course of a decade.
At the time, I attended demonstrations and forums; I joined international networks to demand the Mexican authorities to investigate and solve this tragedy. However, this issue was never dealt with and rather a second wave of violence against girls and women came up and a higher number of girls and women went missing and murdered. In 1996, I left my country feeling despair and guilt for abandoning my sisters in the struggle. Back then, I thought that I could not continue witnessing the injustice and that no matter how hard I fought I could not defeat a patriarchal capitalist system that fosters gendered violence.
Even thought I left my country, my commitment and my ideals of building a better world have never changed. Since I joined the February 14th Memorial March in 1998, I have been marching every year and every year I march with all my strength and with a deep sadness for every girl and woman who has disappeared, every girl and woman who has experienced sexual violence, every girl and woman who has been murdered and every girl and woman who has resisted.
I march because I refuse to be silent. I march for every woman I have worked with, and all of the women who came before me. I march to make sure that I do my part to honor women’s suffering, struggles and strengths.
Rosa Elena Arteaga has been working in the anti-violence field for over eighteen years providing crisis intervention and delivering workshops on violence against women and violence against women. For the last ten years she has worked as the Manager of Direct Services and Clinical Practice at BWSS. Rosa Elena is wildly passionate about her work which is framed in a narrative, feminist, anti-oppression, anti-colonial perspective. She is an active agent of change towards eradicating violence against women.
Photo credit Linda Yanz
Photo translation: Globalize Solidarity, International Forum Against Violence Against Women in Mexico