Monday, December 5, 2011

a day to fight violence against women

On December 6, this day in 1989, an angry young man entered a classroom in École Polytechnique in Montreal with a rifle, ordered the men to leave, and shot all of the women in the room, claiming that he was "fighting feminism". In total, he killed fourteen women, one of the most tragic massacres that peaceful Canada has ever known. Since then in Canada, December 6 has been the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women.

Internationally, November 25 to December 10 also marks the "16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence" Campaign. People all over the world have been taking part in this campaign in all sorts of ways, including Namibia's own Lize Ehlers, who dedicates part of her new album "African Cleavage" to the issue.

"and for those women like myself,
who get carried on the hands
who get flowers and respect
all we can do is fight for those
who have never felt some tenderness
sing for those who have always been oppressed
and who will never be strong enough alone
to walk on out of their bad situation
women who think that they will always need someone
to make them feel slightly valid
women who think thin is more important than health
women who just exist..."

-Lize Ehlers

At work, I've lately been working a lot on the topic of violence against women while helping to finalize our report on the Combating of Domestic Violence Act. One of my tasks involved going through boxes and boxes of court files containing applications for protection orders against abusers, and reading the affidavits of hundreds of women who have been suffering abuse for years at the hands of their partners. You can only imagine how heart-breaking it could be to read some of the stories. What's even more frustrating is the sheer number of files that only have interim (temporary) protection orders and no final protection orders. I have to wonder what happened in those cases? Did the woman go back to her husband? Did he promise to not to hurt her anymore? Did anything change?

This is the thing: gender-based violence is real. Not just in Namibia, not just in Africa, but in Europe, in North America, in your own neighbourhoods. Chances are you know somebody who has silently experienced an abusive relationship at some point in her life. Chances are that many women in your life are survivors of sexual violence, even if we don't tell you about it. And the effects of violence on its victims are devastating and long lasting: even if they manage to keep up a strong face and never show their pain in public, they still struggle with the pain, the fear, and the memories for the rest of their lives.

It's a very sobering and depressing thought, but the thing is not to dwell on the tragedy of it to the point of feeling hopeless or numb, but to use your sadness and outrage to fuel your motivation to fight the issue. Really, it's all we can do, right?

So let's do it. Let's save the next generation from these scars of ours. Moms and dads, let's raise our kids to learn that we can work things out and express ourselves without being violent. Educators and politicians, let's recognize the fact that the more gender equality there is in a society, the less violence there is, and let's put that idea into practice. Men, wear those lovely white ribbons and be proud that you are enough of a man that you would never feel like you need to hurt a woman. Go out and set a shining example to younger boys. Let's all be examples of respect. And to the survivors: sisters, stay strong. You're not as alone as you feel you are.

So in remembrance of this day, I'm posting a song about violence against women that I wrote and recorded in my parents' basement when I was a teenager (so i apologize for the recording quality): day i’ll leave you for someone that loves me
and he won’t rip me up and tear me down inside
one day i’ll leave

i spent the night with the bailiff
he keeps me warm at least
but in the morning he was gone
he always, always leaves
what a wound he left me
i could barely breathe
they say girl you need to find a better way to sleep

one day i’ll leave you for someone that loves me
and he won’t beat me while i sleep and leave me sore
in the morning, i’ll leave...


I finish this entry by naming the fourteen victims of the École Polytechnique Massacre. This is usually done in remembrance ceremonies across Canada. Since I'm in Namibia, I can't take part in these ceremonies, so I'll participate in spirit.

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
Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz