OrilliaMatters welcomes letters to the editor (email@example.com). Today's letter is in reference to the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women, Dec. 6.
Do you remember what you were doing and where you were on Dec. 6, 1989 at 5:10 pm? I do. That date and time are seared in my memory.
I had just picked up my four-year-old from daycare and was driving past the Université de Montréal when I heard on the radio that there was a mass shooting at the École Polytechnique, the Engineering School of the university.
A man had entered a classroom armed with a semi-automatic weapon. He separated the women from the men and opened fire on the women, calling them feminists. Fourteen young female engineering students were murdered, and 13 other people were wounded. One of the police officers on scene, Pierre Leclair, found his daughter Maryse amongst the deceased.
The Canadian Parliament proclaimed Dec. 6 as the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. This day falls within the 16 Days of Activism against gender-based violence, a 30-year-old annual international campaign that runs from Nov. 25 to Dec. 10, the International Human Rights Day.
Every year, the OPP recognizes the day at its headquarters in Orillia, not only because of Maryse and the other 13 young women who died that day but also for all victims of gender-based violence.
Violence against women is widespread in all aspects of Canadian society and presents a significant barrier to gender equality. The Montréal massacre is an extreme example but there are many other daily acts that also constitute violence against women: verbal, psychological and domestic abuse, sexual harassment and sexual assault, physical harassment, and coercion. It happens at home, at work, at school, and online.
According to the Canadian Women’s Foundation, 67% of Canadians know at least one woman who has experienced gender-based violence. And the problem is worsening in the context of COVID-19.
Police services, shelters, and local organizations have reported an increase in calls related to gender-based violence since the onset of the pandemic. Across Canada, 92 women were violently killed in the first six months of this year, up from 78 in the first half of 2020 and 60 in the first half of 2019.
Our actions and words matter. Taking concrete action, however small, creates a ripple effect that can raise awareness and help eliminate violence against women.
We can all start by speaking up when we see or hear comments at home, at work or at school that degrade women or reinforce harmful stereotypes. As a bystander you can make a meaningful intervention simply by calling out sexist jokes, especially if you’re a man.
We can all pause at 5:10 pm on Monday, Dec. 6, remember the victims of the Montreal massacre, and acknowledge that the fight to end violence against women continues to this day. We can join together in honouring their memories, and those of the missing and murdered indigenous women and girls, by lighting a candle and sharing our vigil on social media using the hashtags #EndVAW and #OurActionsMatter.
Chair of the Advocacy Committee, CFUW Orillia