PG women take back the night
by Tyson Kelsall
“Women unite, take back the night!” was chanted amongst the group of roughly 150 women and children who marched around Prince George’s downtown core on Friday 20 September. “Take Back The Night” is an annual tradition where there is tangible action to bring awareness to violence and sexual assault against women. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, 1 in 3 women worldwide have been abused or raped, and only 50% report it to the police.
Dr. Si Transken, a social work professor at the University of Northern British Columbia who read a poem to begin the walk, says the importance of nights like these rests in that, “it is a ‘herstoric[sic]’ forum in which women can feel safe, comment on the preceding year’s episodes of social injustice, remind each other and the next generation of women (and men) that we are 100% sovereign Beings[sic] who deserve to walk anywhere, at any time, dressed or decorated in any fashion, and remain safe. No one is entitled to touch us or verbally harass us, regardless of whether we are wearing red, a short skirt, lipstick, etc. The famous slogan is ‘No means No!’”
Take Back the Night first occurred in Italy in 1976; Prince George began taking back the night in 1991. The march holds particularly powerful in Prince George, where Macleans claimed in 2011 that the reported sexual assault rate is 84% above the national Canadian average.
Prince George is also the gateway to the ‘Highway of Tears’ where several women, most of Aboriginal descent, have gone missing or have been murdered. As Crystal Phillips noted in the pre-march speech, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has recently gone against the wishes of the United Nations who recommended that Canada develop a national review to end violence against Aboriginal women. This summer, the Canadian provincial governments, the Native Women’s Association of Canada, and Amnesty International also called on the Conservative government to fund an inquiry on missing Aboriginal women, still to no avail. The Liberals, NDP, Green Party and National Assembly of First Nations have all supported the idea of an inquiry.
Dr. Transken claimed at the march that the Conservatives’ lack of action is because of a fear of exposing some dark realities; “Harper and other conservatives like him (and there are many) realize that… collecting such data about the truths that are going on around us would necessitate him actually throwing money at doing the moral thing. The truths that would come out include: land claims must be resolved (and thus more First Nations women would have some economic strength); policing must be expanded in numbers and in consciousness; court systems must hold abusers accountable (and provide meaningful counseling and feminist insights to perpetrators); effective transportation must be provided to isolated or rural communities so women don’t have to turn to hitchhiking or riding with people who make them uncomfortable. There are also dozens of other social supports that would enhance the well-being and empowerment of First Nations women – but Harper and the other levels of government and community leaders would have to admit their mistakes, change their ideology, and part with substantive resources. They don’t want to do that.”
Other speakers at the event included Frank Frederick Sr., an elder of the Lheidli T’enneh First Nation who gave an opening prayer to the occasion, Associate Professor in Social Work, Dawn Hemingway, who spoke about opening up the relatively untouched subject of violence against women aged 49 and over, and Tom Wainwright of the Northern John Howard Society, who instructed men about making anti-violence a lifestyle and take action beyond themselves. Lanna Tosoff, the coordinator for the event, acted as the master of ceremonies.