National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women

Geneviève Bergeron, Hélène Colgan, Nathalie Croteau, Barbara Daigneault, Anne-Marie Edward, Maud Haviernick, Maryse Laganière, Maryse Leclair, Anne-Marie Lemay, Sonia Pelletier, Michèle Richard, Annie St-Arneault, Annie Turcotte, and Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz.

On December 6th, 1989, these 14 young women at l’École Polytechnique de Montréal were killed by an armed attacker — because they were women. Claiming to be “fighting feminism,” the attacker acted methodically by separating male and female students before opening fire. It remains the deadliest mass shooting in Canadian history.

Two years later, today’s date of December 6th was named as the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence against Women in Canada. It is a day of solemn remembrance, and an opportunity to highlight our ongoing collective commitment to defend women’s rights and achieve gender equality.

This year’s Day of Remembrance and Action in Canada coincides with critical hearings being held this week in the city of Thunder Bay as part of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. The inquiry’s mandate is to examine and report on the systemic causes of all forms of violence against Indigenous women and girls in Canada by looking at patterns and underlying factors. It also seeks to memorialize the victims, estimated to be in the thousands.

As part of the hearings, commissioners are receiving testimony from approximately 50 family members and survivors through public and private hearings, sharing circle testimonies, and artistic expression panels. Inquiry staff members are also gathering statements from other people affected on a walk-in basis (watch today’s hearing via the APTN). 

While these hearings offer Indigenous women, families, and communities a crucial forum in which to tell their stories, doing so can be extremely difficult for many tragically touched by the systemic catastrophe of violence against Indigenous women and girls in Canada and the related absence of justice. In a report by the CBC, an Indigenous woman named Sharon Johnson, whose sister Sandra was killed in 1992, described having “a lot of mixed emotions” about this week’s hearings. Though Thunder Bay police deemed Sandra Johnson’s death the result of a homicide, the case was never solved. Since then, Sharon has organized memory walks to honour her sister and draw attention to the cases of other missing and murdered Indigenous women.

Internationally, violence against women remains an urgent issue affecting millions of people. According to UN Women, approximately 35 percent of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence. In addition, some national studies show that up to 70 percent of women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime from an intimate partner. As the UN agency notes, such violence results in acute physical, sexual, and psychological consequences for women’s health and well-being, and prevents them from fully and equally participating in society.

Arguably, nowhere has gender-based violence been worse of late than in Myanmar, where an ethnic cleansing campaign against Rohingya Muslims has been underway for months. In a report published by Human Rights Watch (HRW) on November 16th, the organization detailed the mass rape and sexual assault of Rohingya women and girls by Myanmar security forces since August, including interviews with 29 survivors. As HRW laments, “These likely only represent a proportion of the actual number of women and girls who were raped.”

Although we still have a long way to go in addressing the problem of violence against women, both in Canada and around the world, 2017 has been indelibly marked by the scores of brave women who have come forward to tell their stories of sexual assault and harassment as part of the #MeToo movement. The resulting cultural impact has been significant. Just today, Time Magazine announced that its 2017 Person of the Year is “The Silence Breakers” — the wave of women (and some men too) who have courageously spoken out about being victims of sexual assault and harassment.  

The movement for social connectedness, initiated by Kim Samuel, is based on the principles of respect, recognition and reciprocity. These speak directly to women’s rights issues, to the victims themselves, and to the broader challenge of ending gender-based violence, assault and harassment. Indeed, we all have a role to play and even the most basic of actions like simple conversations can have a ripple effect.

To share your thoughts about the issue of violence against women, tweet using the hashtag #MyActionsMatter.