Feminists On the Road to Gender Equality and Elimination of Gender Based Violence

14 Dec 2015
Aanii.  Manajiwin. Meegwetch.  To the Anishnawbe and Wahta Mohawks on whose territory we are now standing.

Today is the day Canada remembers women killed.  The day Canada stands for action.  The day in which we work for change.

This day, Dec. 6, is a day that began in 1989 when a man killed 14 women engineering students at Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal.  He killed them not only because they were women, but also for a fact we don’t always acknowledge, because he named them as feminists.  
We now know from his mother that this man as a child had been abused terribly by his father and that he grew up in a house where his sister and his mother were also assaulted regularly.  Through our work as feminists, she is able to come forward now with this information, speak out and be heard.  The context of his life doesn’t excuse his action, but it does galvanize us further to ensure that more boys and girls don’t grow up like this.  Not all the men they grow into go on to re-enact the violence they experienced ...but some do.  And all women have experiences of gender inequality.  #NotAllMen #YesAllWomen

It is these men - who do re-enact to seek power and control – who not only stalk and hurt and kill women but who continue to target and stalk and kill us as feminists.  They harass us, belittle us and attack us and our messages, seeking to stop us.  They are terrorists, in every town, in every rural neighbourhood, in every institution, on our facebook and twitter feeds, and as one of our clients was told by a police officer this week, they remind us that women should expect men’s violence, that’s just how it is.
 
Some women internalize this culture and act as enforcers or abusers too, inflicting the lateral violence of internalized oppression.  But we know that women’s violence is not the same as men’s violence, not nearly the same.  We also have male allies among us who speak up and work with us, their work vital as other men listen to them.

Today I’m  remembering women killed who have touched my life – my student Lindsay Wilson, who was in my social justice class ready to graduate when she was killed by an ex boyfriend here in Bracebridge in 2013.   She had just written a reflection paper for my class on her personal transformation and was moving on into social work, hoping to work with developmentally delayed people.  The daughter of my colleagues in anti-violence, Dawn and Ed Novak’s daughter Natalie, the dancer and friend, studying hospitality at Ryerson, killed at age 20 in 2006 in Toronto by an ex boyfriend.  And Samantha Collins, killed in 2007 at age 29 by her ex partner while in a journey to make herself stronger, her body not found for 3 years.

And I also remember more than 1000 women’s personal stories of sexual violence and other abuse and inequality they endured; I can conjure up their faces and details of what happened to them when I try.   Knowing their stories as I do, I cannot resign myself to say ‘that’s just how it is’.
  
As we know in this room, the road to gender equality is a long one with lots of detours, roadblocks, potholes, dead ends and guys with hardhats telling us to turn around and go back.  As feminists, we’re driving the buses in our work for change.  Our vehicles are often clunkers, and, at times our progress feels painstakingly slow with misogyny and gender based violence at every turn.
  
I will venture to say that all of us here also know the frustration of realizing we are at a solid brick wall.  You’ve run into them online, or at a party, or in your own circle of colleagues, family and friends, the person who is so blind to gender inequality and gender based violence that they challenge every single fact put in front of their face.    We need to take the off ramp...move on.  Not going to stop at this greasy spoon again anytime soon.  But then the road goes on and around this bend is a place where our road widens out and we gain speed.  Imagine yourself at the wheel of a beautiful turbo charged feminist convertible, and let the wind blow your hair and the sun shine on your face.  Check out the scenery now.

In the past year:
Malala Yousafzai won the Nobel Peace Prize, her presence and words always inspirational. She is the girl who lived, and who brings her message of education for girls worldwide.  This year she said she is a feminist publicly.  Malala has the luxury Greyhound of buses, the million dollar Heart tour.
Numerous young women have publicly identified as Feminists – our fourth wave is coming if not here already - including Emma Watson of Harry Potter fame, a book and film series which stands as an example of female strength for a generation of children...these young women are all around us, and they demand rights daily... the f word more okay in a world that’s more okay now with ...consensual f
Canada elected a self acknowledged feminist Prime Minister whose first act was to create a cabinet comprised of half men and half women that is reflective of Canada’s diversity ...because it is 2015. 
The gender pay gap is once more on the table – in legislation and in Hollywood.  Some male actors are making their wages public, so their female co-stars can demand the same.  Thanks to mockingjay Jennifer Lawrence and others
Muskoka Parry Sound Sexual Assault Services will achieve pay equity for its workers, okay it’s still a clunker  - but the busload are happy about it
Transgender is now a topic for dinner table conversation and more cis men and women are their allies
The celebrity examples of sexual violence enacted – Jian Ghomeshi and Bill Cosby – led to a widespread discussion of #BeenRapedNeverReported begun by two journalists Antonia Zerbesias and Sue Montgomery – a campaign that enabled many women to say – yes it happened to me too, both online and to their friends, family and colleagues -it’s getting easier for us to talk about it – and the MPSSAS caseload has now officially doubled since 2011.  This is a huge global convoy of 1 in 3 women and it will inspire a wide superhighway for us someday in the future, toll free.  Eve Ensler and a host of international leaders are steering these buses.  We will reach our destination.
Ontario’s #ItsNeverOkay campaign is bringing numerous structural changes to the way institutions treat sexual violence and harassment in Ontario.  This campaign will have impacts over the years to come in our justice system, education system and in general society and was inspired in part by two teen girls,  Tessa Hill and Lia Valente writing to Premier Kathleen Wynne about the lack of curriculum in school regarding relationship violence....this is a serious fleet of buses in our province
Tessa Hill and Lia Valente’s 2015 documentary ‘Allegedly’ looks at media’s role in perpetuating rape culture, and is enabling journalists across Canada to examine their reporting more closely – good driving there and they just got their licenses!
The #AskHerMore campaign begun at the Oscars last winter is challenging red carpet journalists to highlight women’s achievements rather than their dresses – watch for them
The US Supreme Court has ruled for same sex rights – and the White House had a rainbow on it – rights for LGBTQI people reinforces the rights for all marginalized people 
Increasing knowledge of the neurobiology of trauma in Canadian social service agencies is enabling linkages between abuse, violence, addictions and mental health and there is the tiny beginning of this in the justice system – this will gradually enable less victim blame and more informed handling of VAW cases... curves and hardhats ahead though and our buses may need a few of those large bull catchers on the front – notice I didn’t say cow.
A Canadian judge who asked a woman who had been sexually assaulted why ‘she didn’t just close her legs’ has been removed from the bench.  Full stop.
The Canadian government removed the ‘tampon tax’ on menstrual products July 1st recognizing that women were bearing unequal costs - thanks to Jill Piebiak’s social media campaign and online petition – a racing bus that arrived promptly on time
#ILookLikeAnEngineer an August twitter campaign by software engineer Isis Wenger brought young women forward to dispel gender stereotypes about careers in math and science as models to others – just as the 14 Ecole Poly women were
Gradually the toy industry is changing and gender filters on toys are being removed – in UK now but it will come
Closer to home, the students Avery Allen and Kirsten Nicolson of Nipissing U who together with Professor Lynn DeCaro began the Ignite project here in Muskoka.  Now partnered with the Town and St. Dominic’s school, this project will bring a public space at the Muskoka Falls to publicly honour women who have experienced gender based violence hopefully by this time next year – get on board with this bus
The Stolen Sisters, the stories of Missing and Murdered Aboriginal women of Canada will be sought out, including the institutional abuses and structural changes needed to remedy this tragedy.  The road is being paved now.
Also another moment of Muskoka pride, the development of the online Guts Canadian Feminist Magazine, with founding editors Nadine Adelaar and Muskoka’s own Cynthia Spring
Women will vote in Saudi Arabia for the first time this year and there are 900 women running for public office there – watch for their buses in future

This list is by no means the end of the positive change going on presently.  We can each think of the small personal routes we make with our friends, family, colleagues and clients – that is how social change happens.  We feminist women and our feminist male allies have much work ahead in our world of toxic masculinity and those whose interests value notions of divide and conquer, power and control.
 
At 57, I am now more of a feminist activist than ever.  I also know that it is love that conquers hate.  And men’s love of women and children – humanity - is what will eliminate gender based violence ultimately.
 
Keep on driving the bus.  All aboard.  Thank you.

Lauren Power
Executive Director, Muskoka Parry Sound Sexual Assault Services
Edited by Erin Hassard

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