What are the future steps we should take and how do we work towards ending violence against women? rabble asked a diverse panel of women — activists, advocates, teachers, counselors, writers — what December 6 means to them and what they think future actions should revolve around.
The answers echo a complex situation with many nuanced factors and opinions and represents that though our ideas may differ, we all hope to achieve the same result: ending violence against women.
The National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women is an important day because we mark the memorial of the 14 women killed in the 1989 École Polytechnique massacre and reflect about violence against women.
So we ask what does December 6 mean to you and what do you think the next steps to end violence against women should be?
Harsha Walia, organizer with No One Is Illegal and Feb 14th Women’s Memorial March Committee:
“Violence against women is escalating as capitalism and colonialism continue to exploit women, women’s bodies, women’s communities, women’s labour and women’s traditional land bases. We see this with the tragedy of missing and murdered Indigenous women, the tearing apart of families by deporting refugee women and apprehending Indigenous children, the tens of thousands of women and children and seniors and trans communities facing deep poverty and homelessness, the legally sanctioned physical and sexual
exploitation of migrant workers in farms and as domestic labour in Canadian homes and the pervasive gendered colonial violence of settler-colonialism on Turtle Island to military occupation in Afghanistan.
Yet despite this, women — particularly women of colour, Indigenous women, low-income women and women in factories and fields across Canada and the global South — are at the frontlines of combating sexual violence, heteropatriarchy, racialized empire, capitalist exploitation and environmental degradation.”
Joyce Arthur, founding member of FIRST, a national feminist advocacy organization that lobbies for sex worker rights and the decriminalization of prostitution in Canada:
“Today is the 24th anniversary of the Montreal Massacre, yet violence against women is still widespread in our society. Sex workers and transgender women are two groups of women who remain particularly vulnerable to high rates of violence, but their situation is often overlooked or dismissed due to stigma.
Although attitudinal changes are key to reducing this violence, the law is a crucial stating point. It’s time to decriminalize prostitution, and it’s time to pass Bill C-279. Sex workers look forward to the upcoming Supreme Court decision that may toss out the most harmful of Canada’s prostitution laws, and Parliament should have another chance this session to pass private member’s Bill C-279 to enshrine ‘gender identity’ and ‘gender expression’ as protected rights.
Sex workers and transgender women deserve the same rights over their bodies and choices as other women, while trans women deserve full rights and recognition as women. When oppressed and criminalized groups of women are not safe from violence, no woman is safe.”
Katy Carr, crisis line working and youth worker:
“As I don’t have direct memory of December 6th, 1989, I always wonder what that day means to me and this is what I know. The December 6th memorial is only a single day in the year, and only skims the surface of the types of oppression and marginalization women face on a daily basis, but it’s something. It’s a day for remembrance, not only of the women who lost their lives on that tragic day, but all women who have lost their lives to violence or continue to survive violence. The day represents a story of tragedy, but also one of resiliency and continued dismantling of a system that continues to ensure women live in fear.”
Muna Mire, freelance journalist:
“A year before I was born, there was an unspeakable act of violence committed on the L’École Polytechnique campus. Fourteen young women were slain in cold blood. While we take today to collectively hold this memory and to work towards healing, I want us to remember that violence against women continues unabated; the structures that make this violence possible are still in place.
Remember that simply by attending university, a young woman’s risk for violence — particularly sexual violence — is increased significantly. Remember the daily violence experienced by Indigenous and First Nations women and how we leave these women out of the conversation and out in the cold. Remember that violence experienced by young girls under 12 is on the rise according to a report released by Statistics Canada in July. Remember who we subject to violence, interrogate how that violence happens –how it is complicated by race or age — and who we centre in the conversations around violence against women. Only then can we take action to end violence against all women.”
Meghan Murphy, Founder and Editor of Feminist Current:
“It seems the backlash against feminism intensifies when we are gaining ground. We can see efforts to mainstream pornographic imagery, to normalize and glorify the sex industry and increased efforts of Men’s Rights Activists as proof of this. Feminism has always been dangerous to a certain degree — we mustn’t forget that our sisters who were murdered at L’École Polytechnique in 1989 were targeted specifically because of a man’s hatred of feminists. In the face of opposition, attacks, efforts to slander and discredit and silencing, we must remember this. Challenging the status quo will never be easy, but violence against women is a global epidemic and putting on rose-coloured glasses won’t change that. No woman is free until all women are free.”
Audrey Huntley, mixed European Settler and Indigenous Anishnawbe ancestry and co-founder of No More Silence:
“Let’s not forget that at the very heart of what made this country, they now call Canada, lies violence: the violence of colonization and attempted genocide. It is a violence that is ongoing so that Indigenous women continue to go missing and be murdered at epidemic rates while many of their perpetrators enjoy impunity in a racist system of injustice. Let us stand together now with Indigenous women leaders and their communities in building a new relationship that will save the planet and end all violence. No More Silence! Violence No More!”
Shantelle Moreno, counsellor, educator and lifelong learner:
“The National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women is an opportunity. This day is an avenue to discuss issues of gendered violence in educational institutions, workplaces and communities. We may be compelled to share our opinions, ideas and experiences with colleagues, mentors, youth, family, friends and lovers. For some it is a painful reminder of loved ones lost. For others it is a flicker of light in a sea of darkness. For me, it is a reflection of how and where the struggle began, how it has evolved and where gains still need to be made.
Consciousness-raising. Education. Action. Support services. Expanding our understanding of gendered violence to embrace trans* bodies. Connecting the dots between misogyny, cissexism, colonialism, racism, poverty, addictions, mental health and abuse. Unpacking gender roles. Exposing oppressive masculinities. And the list goes on and on and on.”
Mercedes Allen, trans activist and freelance writer:
“On December 6, we remember the 14 women who were murdered in an act that was specifically targeted towards women, and particularly targeted towards women who dared to pursue education and to better their lives. The event resonates 24 years later, because women can still feel targeted, and still feel conscious of how their empowerment can be perceived as a threat to the social power structure.
One of the controversies that occurred at the time is that there was no inquiry to determine how or why the massacre occurred, or what could be done to change the factors that led to it. Canadian society wanted to believe that this was an anomaly — that this was a singular moment of atypical violence that could be ignored and would never repeat. Twenty-four years later, we’re again seeing evasiveness when the calls go up for an inquiry to examine the continuing trend of missing and murdered Indigenous women, and the silencing of marginalized womens’ voices during the investigation into the phenomenon missing and murdered women in B.C. These situations add the intersecting factors of race and class to the discussion, but the fact remains that Canada has avoided talking about it, and as a consequence, the problem has not gone away. It is far past time to have that national discussion, and to not have it simply directed as an assuagement of hurt and guilt, but to dare to challenge the attitudes that can lead toward the devaluation of women, and that could rationalize violence against them.”
Steph Guthrie, Feminist Advocate and Executive Director of Women in Toronto Politics:
“While awareness and remembrance days have their drawbacks — why a single day? Why not maintain awareness and engagement with an issue throughout the year? — they play an important role in public consciousness. The reality is that the violence and marginalization women experience is mundane. Violence against women is part of the socio-cultural air we breathe. If you look, you can see it in the way violence against Indigenous women, trans women, street-involved women and sex workers is consistently brushed off by law enforcement and sensationalized by the media (when it is covered at all). You can see it in #fasttailedgirls, the Twitter hashtag started by Hood Feminism‘s Mikki Kendall (@Karnythia) and Jamie Nesbitt-Golden (@thewayoftheid) about rampant sexual abuse and victim-blaming experienced by Black women and girls and the relative invisibility of this problem outside the Black community.
Even though I am writing this before December 6, I’m willing to bet you’ll be able to see it in the column that a major Canadian newspaper probably published on the 6 (most likely by a woman author) insisting that we must stop commemorating December 6, because violence against women is not an epidemic and, gosh darnit, we’re the sexist ones for talking about it so much! Violence against women is indeed an epidemic. It reaches crescendoes in many people’s lives on a daily basis. Yet it remains but a dull roar in our public discourse. That’s why days like December 6 are important. Hopefully every December 6, as violence against women holds rare dominance in public discourse, those of us who are vocal about it year-round will gather a few new voices into our fold.”
Angela Marie MacDougall, Executive Director, Battered Women’s Support Services:
“At Battered Women’s Support Services, we remember all the women from our communities who have gone missing or have been murdered over the year, the 14 women of the Montreal massacre who died at the École Polytechnique in 1989, the girls and women who have been murdered along the Highway of Tears in northern B.C. and in Downtown Eastside Vancouver. And we work hard for all the women and girls, who, right now are living in fear in their homes, on the streets, on campus and on public transportation across the territories. Gender-based violence is endemic and an epidemic that girls and women navigate from the cradle to the grave.
In our work at Battered Women’s Support Services, we know that now more that ever women are leaving abusive and violent relationships. And we’re profoundly aware of the 190 women currently on our waitlist, awaiting counselling for their experiences of gender violence. An end to violence against girls and women is ensuring well funded women-centred and feminist support services.”
Chanelle Gallant, Maggie’s: Toronto Sex Workers Action Project and intersectional feminist activist:
“The Montreal massacre is when I began to declare myself a feminist — I was 15. Today I centre sex workers in my feminism and I mourn the gorgeous, smart, vibrant bad-asses, mostly women and feminine people of all genders who have been lost to male and state violence. One of the strongest opportunities we have to support women and feminine people at the margins who are experiencing violence is to take a stand for the decriminalization of prostitution and the right of sex workers to control their own destines. Today and everyday: don’t talk with pity about sex workers. Stand the f*** up and honour sex working feminist demands for decriminalization.”