(Photo by Tierney Watkinson)
Tierney Watkinson | News Director
On November 29, IWAU 2017 hosted UNBC’s Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women.
“Join us to remember and to contemplate a world where women can pursue their dreams without fear of violence,” the IWAU (Inspiring Women Among Us) itinerary read.
The ceremony began at 10:00am, when Hira Rashid took to the podium to introduce and MC the event, which took place in the Wintergarden. Standing behind a podium decorated with a selection of artwork and a cluster of 14 candles, Elder in Residence, Darlene McIntosh, officially welcomed the attendees to traditional territory.
Fourteen women were killed during the École Polytechnique Massacre, also remembered as the Montreal Massacre, in 1989. IWAU volunteers handed out purple and white ribbons before the commencement of the ceremony. White, representing the White Ribbon group, is symbolic of men and boys working to eradicate violence against women. Purple serves to symbolize the pain of women who suffered or still suffer, and to remember them, through the Purple Ribbon Campaign.
UNBC President, Daniel Weeks, spoke about how women are eleven times more likely to be the victims of violence, and that young women are twice as likely to experience such a thing as young men. He reminded us of UNBC’s new Sexual Violence and Misconduct Policy, saying that UNBC’s goal is a safer, healthier campus for all. He noted the importance of speaking openly about issues of violence and, in regards to the lives lost to violent acts, he closed: “Let’s never forget.”
Prince George Mayor, Lynn Hall, urged those in attendance to read the paper messages that were attached to the ribbons handed out, especially the men, and to think of the contributions of women to society not just at memorials, but every day. “It is a family that we need to nurture,” he said, “and I am proud to say that we are on that journey.”
Britt Meierhofer, perhaps better known as Britt AM, noted that there were more men in the crowd this year than in previous years when she took to the stage. She read two songs she had written, performing them for the first time as spoken word pieces.
Kasandra Johnny-Turbide, NUGSS Women’s Representative, spoke about toxic masculinity and the idea of so-called “irrational” feminists. She berated our use of passive language as a society when it comes to condemning the committer of violence; we often remove the perpetrator from direct blame when we talk about the crime. We make it normal. “This clearly isn’t a women’s issue. This is also a men’s issue. A human issue,” she stated. She also urged us to respect trans individuals and their use of preferred pronouns. In defense of our fellow humans, she asked that we all do a simple thing: “Please. Speak up.”
Hira Rashid took a moment to remark that “we are so quick to teach our daughters how to protect themselves,” and yet noted that we don’t take the same time to talk to our sons.
She then introduced Dr. Si Transken, Associate Professor of Social Work. Dr. Transken said that the event was both grotesque to her and something that made her glad. Glad, because we take the time to address these issues; grotesque, because these issues still exist and we need such events to address them properly. She spoke of how we, namely women, tend to stay at jobs and in relationships where we are abused because we feel there is nowhere else to go.
She called out the fact that the US President is in office despite 13 women being reportedly abused by him. Dr. Transken named multiple men in positions of power, who were and even remain in these positions despite allegations against them. Bill O’Reilly. Matt Lauer. A fire chief in Fort St. James. She noted that while the women who report sexual assault and see the perpetrator punished may feel affirmed, they do not necessarily feel like winners. Dr. Transken shared her own personal experience with sexual abuse at the hands of her father. She told the audience that she changed her name at 20, cut contact with her family. Her father was finally jailed when she was 55. She said that today, she gets a lot of joy from the students she teaches, and especially from her students who research topics related to abuse in order to spur change.
English Professor Rob Budde followed Dr. Transken to the podium. He spoke about FAM, Fellows Addressing Masculinity. He explained that FAM encourages men to imagine ways in which they can move through the world differently and to examine “how to undo toxic masculinity, to create a new positive masculinity.” “We are not hardwired not to feel,” Budde stated. “It is taught.”
Sarah Boyd, the Executive Director of the Northern Women’s Centre, read excerpts from the Montreal Gazette that described the victims of the December 6, 1989 Massacre. She read the names of the victims and described who they were as people. Boyd also spoke about a survivor of the Massacre, and how December 6 came to represent more than just the anniversary of the murders to her: this survivor’s child learned to walk on December 6th, and she found out she was pregnant with her third child on a December 6th exactly ten years later. Natalie Provost, the survivor, called it “A victory of life.”
UNBC student Fizza Rashid then sang “Warrior,” a song by Demi Lovato. Her beautiful voice echoed through the Wintergarden and tempted passers-by stop to listen. “I’m a warrior / I’m stronger than I’ve ever been…I’m a warrior / And you can never hurt me again,” she sang.
Krystal Vandenberg, President of the Northern Pride Centre and the host of the 2017 IWAU Trans Day of Remembrance, began their own speech by saying they were surprised that no one had defaced the names of those murdered for being transgender, which had been left on chalkboards in the hall. This was testament, they said, to positively changing times. Trans women of colour are most likely to face violence and homicide, Vandenberg reminded us. They also shared their own story of abuse: a male roommate threatened to assault and graphically murder them. When the police did nothing more than put him in jail overnight, they moved out. They dealt with the fear themselves.
The Memorial Ceremony ended with the Khast’an Drummers, who were striking in red and black. They performed multiple songs, among them the “Women’s Warrior Song,” and “Strong Women’s Song.” They sang about water and its relation to women, as well as about men as a part of women’s lives. Their final song, “Snake Medicine,” was a healing song and the Drummers encouraged everyone to get up and dance. One of the Drummers introduced the song saying that we cannot let grief be all we have. “Remember happy,” she said. Brenda Wilson, an information collection coordinator for The Highway of Tears initiative, took a moment to speak little about her own sister’s case, which is 25 years old.
Sarah Boyd gave each presenter a single red rose.
In 1990, according to Statistics Canada, only 14% of women aged 25 to 54 had a university degree. By 2015, that percentage had more than doubled. Today, across Canada, the majority of recent post-secondary graduates are women.
Let us not forget the tragic loss of life at that university in 1989. And let us not forget nor diminish the progress and the victories of life we have seen and initiated since then.
More information about the ribbons and what they represent can be found at www.whiteribbon.ca or www.womensheart.org.
The Women’s Centre on campus is a 24 hour safe space for women, the only of its kind in Prince George.
The National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women takes place on December 6.
Follow IWAU 2017 on Facebook or Twitter to keep updated on events coming up in the new year.