–Submitted by Gabi Townsend, Coordinator, Victoria Community Response Network.
Content trigger warning: The following article mentions intimate partner violence, femicide, and abuse.
The Canadian Federation of University Women Victoria and St. Margaret’s School, in collaboration with Victoria Women’s Transition House Society and the Victoria Community Response Network (VCRN) held an online vigil on December 6 at 4:15 pm to commemorate the 14 women of the Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal who were murdered in 1989…simply because they were women.
This event was part of #16DaysofActivism, a worldwide initiative to raise awareness for the prevention and elimination of gender-based violence.
Gabi Townsend, VCRN coordinator, was invited to speak on behalf of the BC CRN to the students of St. Margaret’s as part of an all-female panel, who covered topics that included violence against women, the abuse of senior women, cyberbullying, and stalking. Students also acknowledged each of the 14 women by name. The campus is one of Vancouver Island’s oldest independent all-girls schools.
Gabi’s speech submitted at the time of writing this edition is below.
“I am honoured to have been invited to share my thoughts with you about violence against women and what we could possibly do to create a better world. Thank you for the privilege of joining you in honouring these 14 young women who were on the brink of creating their own future where they could achieve anything they wanted, influencing the future, and improving society. It’s what I did at that age. It’s what you are going to be doing very soon. This was taken away from 14 smart women in this country – yes, in our Canada. In this instance, someone expressed his hatred of women through a violent act that we hadn’t experienced before in Canada. He was going to stop them all right: his decision, his control, his so-called power.
“I wasn’t sure how I was going to tie in the work I do with the Victoria Community Response Network to this event, but it started becoming clear to me that this tragedy in Montreal is part of the bigger issue of violence against women of all ages and stages of life. My mandate is to raise awareness in our community about senior abuse and neglect, and self-neglect. Both men and women are affected, but senior women by far experience more abuse and violent abuse than men.
“Any act of abuse is a misuse of power, whether it’s happening to a young woman on a date, or a senior woman experiencing intimate partner violence or losing her savings to an adult child.
“Abuse takes many forms besides physical. It can also be emotional, like bullying, meanness, gaslighting, and cruelty. Abuse can also be financial, sexual, and spiritual. Left in the shadows, the abused become fearful, quiet, and depressed, which can lead to social isolation, lack of self-care, untreated health issues, and even mental health breakdowns – no allies, no friends, and no support.
“One in three (30%) of women worldwide have been subjected to either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime (Source: The World Health Organization.) In Canada, a woman is killed by her intimate partner every six days. (Source: Assaulted Women’s Helpline.) Other statistics indicate 1 woman or girl is killed every second day in this country.
“Violence and abuse against women do continue to go on in our own country and around the world. Sometimes, it’s loud and in our faces – like Montreal, like the van attack in Toronto – perpetuated by a man who hated women because he couldn’t get a date. Most of the time, it’s hidden away, individualized where people suffer silently, in shame and embarrassment, and in fear.
“Cultural values highlight these acts as individual problems, rather than the result of social structures and ideas built on gender and other inequalities. The role of misogynistic hate is a key contributor to male violence against women. Without awareness, treatment, and being called out for their behaviour early on, these abusers gain a false sense of power. Their mental health issues can escalate. Their hatred grows. In the extremes, they become the shooters, the bombers, and the users of vehicles as weapons of violence. Society is outraged, vowing “never again”.
“But every day in every community everywhere, abuse and violence against women continue. And every second day, a woman dies.
“This was a fact before the 1989 mass femicide at École Polytechnique. It was a fact before the van killings in Toronto. It will continue to remain a fact until we change public discourses, challenge negative attitudes, and acknowledge how inadequate our responses currently are to violence against women and girls.
“It goes to you, young women, to keep this in front of politicians and the media because, without that effort, they are not going to pay attention. They do pay attention when there are mass femicides. Why only then? Why are they not paying attention to what could be considered everyday terrorism? Why are we continuing to have to raise awareness of the issues of abuse and violence?
“As young women, many of you getting ready to step out into the world on your own journeys soon. I wonder: What you are thinking about today? Is this an issue too big to do anything about? Do you feel helpless or powerless? Or do you believe this could never happen to you? Could you make a difference at all?
“You can be the voice for those who died. Raise awareness about the stats and the cultural and gender-based beliefs that don’t work anymore, and continue the fight for the right to equality, the right to control our own bodies, and the right to enjoy society’s freedoms as a woman. You are better equipped than any other generation to make a difference.
“This starts at home, right here, with you today. The bullying and harassment of young women by other young women is well documented, and it’s encouraged to proliferate by social media. There’s no time for that. We as women need to be allies and supporters of each other, confronting bullies, bringing kindness and caring back into the world, and not practicing and perpetrating hatred, contempt and meanness. There are bigger issues in the world that need us to be strong and united, to lift each other up to conquer the hatred that leads to women being killed every other day.
“When I am speaking to community groups about older adult abuse and neglect, it’s because ‘community’ is how we are going to be able to notice, discover, and support those being abused. Can our community provide a safety net that allows our older adults to live dignified, safe, and fulfilling lives? We all have a responsibility to look after each other and to make it safe for everyone.
“You, young women, have the opportunity and the challenge to lead by example. You can create the community you want to live in where we all thrive, a society where we won’t have a repeat of mass femicide like in Montreal or Toronto ever again, and where our senior adults and all women can live in dignity and safety.
To learn more about the Victoria and area CRN and how you can get involved, contact Gabi at email@example.com.