By Julie Ireland, News Contributor
The day of the Montreal Massacre, our country changed. Organizers of this year’s remembrance events in Halifax are conscious that current students are living a generation after the Dec. 6, 1989 shootings. They also know that the time that has passed since then hasn’t made the lessons of that day any easier to learn.
On that day, Marc Lepine gunned down female engineering students at Montreal’s École Polytechnique, after saying to a class full of people: “I hate feminists.” He killed 14 women, and injured about a dozen others. The horrific event shook people into realizing that not enough was being done to end violence against women. In 1991, the Government of Canada declared Dec. 6 a National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women.
This year, the Halifax Women’s Community, with the support of many local organizations and business, launched the 20 Days of Action to End Violence Against Women. All proceeds from the events are going to the Purple Ribbon Campaign – a project of the Transition House Association of Nova Scotia. The events connected local, national and international efforts to end violence against women, and lead up to a candlelight vigil on Sexton campus, Dalhousie’s own engineering campus, to be held on Dec. 6 in memory of the 14 victims.
Emily Krehm, Oxfam Canada Outreach and Policy Intern, says the Montreal Massacre may not be fresh in people’s minds, but remembering it is necessary in order to move forward.
“Violence against women is still pertinent,” she says. “There is still a lot of work to be done, as we are still living in a culture of silence. Many of the victims don’t speak out, and many of the crimes remain unreported.”
According to the YWCA Canada website, more than 50 per cent of Canadian women will experience violence in their lives.
The days of action began on Monday, Nov.16 with a screening of “Polytechnique”, a dramatization of the Montreal Massacre, directed by Denis Villeneuve, at Empire Theatres. Also on this day, the Rose Campaign launched. The campaign takes its name from the rose button created 20 years ago to commemorate the 14 young women who lost their lives. This year, they printed postcards people can pick up at the YMCA and send to Prime Minister Stephen Harper to ask him to take action.
On Nov. 25, Veronica Ngwerume spoke about violence against women in the form of the HIV and AIDS crisis in Zimbabwe. To coincide with the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, the Dalhousie Women’s Centre hosted “Changing the River’s Flow: Zimbabwean stories of ‘best practice’ in mitigating the HIV crisis.”
Ngwerume, the executive director of a rural health care organization in Zimbabwe spoke on ending violence against women by changing cultural practices through education and communication.
Currently in southern Africa, approximately 58 per cent of all people living with HIV and AIDS are women. Many of the cultural practices don’t allow women to have full control over their bodies. She said that, even if these women are not being physically abused, their situation is still an act of violence towards women. Ngwerume’s program educates through cultural dialogues, as well as by encouraging women to speak out and to get tested, and to ask their partners to get tested. Her programs also heavily promote condom use.
But her work does not stop at women, and in this lesson, she spoke to one of the greater themes the Days of Action hoped to convey.
“Including men is important. You start with a few and (the message) cascades,” She said at the event.
“Even if women know that crimes are being committed against them and speak out about them, the men also need to be made aware of this, or nothing will change.”
For, Ngwerume, keeping culture is important, but she believes that solutions can be found which allow women and girls to have more control over their own bodies.
The organizers of the 20 Days of Action want this message to spread into Canadian culture, as well.
Krehm says that ending violence against women is “not just a women’s issue; it’s a gender issue, and a community issue.”
“Everyone needs to be engaged,” she says.