Written by Micki Smith, December 6th, 2011 NATIONAL DAY OF ACTION ON VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN

On December 6, we will once again participate in the solemn ceremony commemorating National Day of Remembrance & Action on Violence Against Women.  This date was chosen as it is the anniversary date of what has come to be known as the “Montreal Massacre”.  What transpired in Montreal on December 6, 1989 was so horrific – so vile – so frightening that it brought out into the open the pervasive violence against women that exists throughout our society.

The man who committed this slaughter wrote in a letter he left before he turned the gun on himself, that he hated women and that was why he must destroy them.  “…I have decided to send the feminists, who have always ruined my life, to their Maker …”

Women have been living with violence in their lives for centuries.  Women are not even safe in their own homes and are constantly being sexually harassed on the job.  Every time a woman walks down the street and receives wolf whistles, lewd remarks, or sexual gestures, this is an act of violence against her.  When violence against women in relationships is mentioned and someone says “what about men who are abused by their partner?” it is an act of violence against women.  Whenever talk is turned away from the issue of violence against women, this in itself is an act of violence.

In 1982, when Margaret Mitchell raised wife abuse as an urgent issue that required government action, laughter erupted in the House of Commons.  When the 14 young women were murdered at L’Ecole Polytechnique in 1989, it was perceived as an isolated incident perpetrated by the act of a mad man.  After much lobbying by women’s groups across the country, the Royal Panel on Violence Against Women was formed and in 1992 released the Final Report which concluded that the inequality of women is at the root of the cause.  “Until all women achieve equality they will remain vulnerable to violence, and until women are free from violence, they cannot be equal.” (Changing the Landscape: Ending Violence-Achieving Equality Final Report the Canadian Panel on Violence Against Women).

In 1990, communities began dedicating December 6th as a day to actively participate to end violence against women.  I have been involved with organizing the December 6th Candlelight Vigil since 1991. Historically, we have used December 6th as a time to mourn and to act.   Over the years, we have acted in a variety of ways.  When Anne Marie Edwards mother took up the cause of gun control, we supported her through petitions and letter writing campaigns.  The Long Gun Registry which the Harper Conservatives are dismantling was an outcome of that. 

In 1996, I wrote in our bi-monthly newsletter (Kelowna Women’s Resource Centre), “we can stop violence against women and we will achieve equality.”   At the time, BC had the Free-standing Ministry of Women’s Equality, the Kelowna Women’s Resource Centre was receiving some provincial operational funding,  The Elizabeth Fry Society had a 24 hour Sexual Assault helpline as a proponent of their comprehensive sexual assault program,  The National Action Committee on the Status of Women existed, The National Association of Women and the Law existed, the Attorney General’s policy on Violence against Women in Relationships included a pro-charge policy, and the Legal Services Society Act included poverty law. 

It is now 15 years later and as a result of government policies and funding decisions, the Ministry of Women’s Equality no longer exists, the Kelowna Women’s Resource Centre no long exists,  the Elizabeth Fry Society no longer has the  24 hour sexual assault helpline, the National Action Committee on the Status of Women no longer exists, the National Association of Women and the Law no longer exists, the Attorney General’s policy on Violence Against Women and Children in Relationships no longer includes a pro-charge policy, and there is no poverty related legal support with Legal Aid.  There are many other progressive policies, programs etc. that no longer exist as well; however, there is not enough room to document it all. 

Recent events such as the Missing Women’s Inquiry, the trial of Jennifer Cusworth’s murderer, the dismantling of the Long gun Registry, recent news articles about sexual assaults and murders of women, and the recent news article about the sexual abuse by the step-grandfather of a nine year old clearly identify that we have further regressed with women’s equality.  

I do still believe that we can stop violence against women and that we will achieve equality.  With the demise of the Kelowna Women’s Resource Centre earlier this year, the struggle has become more difficult.  We cannot afford to lose any more services and supports for women.  This year for December 6th, make your action be to support women-serving organizations that understand that women’s inequality is at the root of violence against women.  

Micki Smith