Posts Tagged ‘violence against women’


FLF Co-chairs Carla and Eli, along with members Mary-Ellen and Leila attended this year’s Slutwalk march in downtown Winnipeg. While the crowd was a little smaller this year (as compared to last), the sentiment remained positive and empowering. A commonly held misconception about the Slutwalk movement is that, rather than conveying any particular message, it’s really just an over the top, outrageous display of exhibitionism.

Two years in, we’re happy to report that this is far from the case. Sure, people are welcome to wear anything they’d like (that is part of the idea), but most people don’t attend the event because they want an excuse to whip out their nipple tassels. To the contrary, the focus is far from what people are wearing. Rather, the event centres on making a powerful, united statement against victim blaming in all its forms.

A shorter march this year meant there was more time for speakers, and these were speakers worth listening to. Those who spoke at last year’s Slutwalk set a very high bar, and this year’s speakers met that challenge. Starting with Chandra Mayor (who spoke brilliantly last year as well; you can read her tremendous speech about the word ‘slut’ here), the tone was set for thoughtful reflection, incredibly brave personal story telling and accept-zero-bullshit activism and advocacy. Mayor was followed by several women who told their own stories with grace and grit.

There is something incredibly powerful about both the telling and the hearing of these stories; for those who have been lucky enough not to be touched by sexual assault, it lends a striking air of reality to a devastating issue. For those who have been assaulted, there is hopefully some comfort in knowing they are not alone. Perhaps the lasting contribution that Slutwalk will make will be to provide a safe, public forum for victims of sexual assault to stand up and declare, “This was not my fault,” and for other people to hear it.

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According to the Globe and Mail, the Vancouver Police Department is considering a new set of guidelines that would instruct officers to prioritze sex workers’ safety over enforcing prostitution-related prohibitions. The propsed guidelines were written by Deputy Chief Warren Lemcke, and highlight the historic distrust of law enforcement by sex workers, and a need for officers to show them respect. “Sex work involving consenting adults is not an enforcement priority for the [Vancouver Police Department],” state the guidelines.

It’s interesting to note that the guidelines come in the wake of the Pickton Inquiry, which is investigating why the VPD failed to recognize the ongoing abduction and murder of sex workers by Robert Pickton. Evidence before the inquiry has shown the tendency among officers policing Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside to not only disregard violent crime against sex workers, but also to personally harass, over-enforce and even to commit assault themselves against sex workers, up to and including the recent past. While the guidelines do seem progressive, considering them in context highlights the fact that they may be more in the realm of damage control than a sincere attempt to protect the phsycial safety and dignityof sex workers. That being said, sex work safety advocates seem to be excited by the prospect of the new guidelines, and it does seem possible that they could lead to positive change.

The guidelines will be considered before the Vancouver Police Board tomorrow, and we look forward to seeing if they are adopted. We’ll keep you posted!

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The FLF also pauses to remember all the women who have died in violence whose names we do not know. Our missing and murdered women. All women who face violence as a daily reality. We remember Montreal, and we honour all those affected by violence. We dream of a day when this violence is truly just a memory. We hope that in some small way, the money we raised for Osborne House with the generous support of the law school will help. Keep taking action. Let’s end violence against women.

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On December 6th, take time to pause and remember. This December 6th will mark 22 years since the Montreal Massacre. The day is memorialized as the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women.

A sunrise memorial will be held in the rotunda at the Manitoba Legislative Building at 8 am. Ms. Francine Pelletier, acclaimed journalist and feminist, will speak about her first hand experience as a journalist in Montreal at the time of the Massacre and her personal connection as a target on the murderer’s hit list. Refreshments will follow the memorial. Contributions of new unwrapped toys for children at the North Point Douglas Women’s Centre are welcome.

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In light of today’s excellent roundtable discussion on R v Rhodes and December 6th being only 5 days away, I’m finding this editorial in the Globe particularly interesting. Judith Timson makes the argument (obvious to me, but sadly still not obvious to many) that “women’s rights are human rights” in the context of the so-called “Honour killings trial” that is currently unfolding very publicly in Kingston.

What has given me pause is commentary from Constance Backhouse (one of the FLF’s feminist heroes). In an e-mail to Timson, Prof. Backhouse points out that what is on trial in Kingston is femicide and argues that “I think our culture has just as bad a record.” Timson acknowledges this, but seems to miss the point a bit, especially where she envisions “reading the riot act” at our borders and telling prospective new Canadians that “we don’t even  call women whores here” (really? clearly its been awhile since Timson strolled through a high school, a locker room or a newspaper’s annonymous comments section).

I feel a certain level of uncomfortableness at the coverage of this trial in Kingston. I am staunchly anti-violence and it makes me sick any time a woman faces violence, whether from a stranger or, the violence that is more common in Canada, from someone she knows. At a basic human rights level, every woman deserves to live free from violence, absolutely irregardless of actions or dress that a man may disapprove of, or take advantage of. Yet, I wonder if there isn’t a significant amount of racism that enters into the discussions of violence against women in the specifically Muslim context. I often read a significant amount of “their violence is worse than ours” into the media coverage. I find arguments that new Canadians need to conform to Canadian ways hypocritical – as we discussed in our roundtable today, one need look no farther than R v Rhodes to see how Canadians accept violence against women through victim blaming. This is what Prof. Backhouse seems to have been trying to tell Timson. But all in all, I feel very conflicted. (As an aside, if anyone can explain to me what Timson means by saying the trial embodies a “feminist morality tale” I would be very interested to know).

We’d love to hear from you on your thoughts about the Shafia trial, “Honour killings”, violence against women, or any other issues this post and the Globe editorial raised for you!

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Despite the sunny weather this August long weekend,  I spent a lot of time thinking about the dark issue of missing and murdered Aboriginal women in Canada – an issue that is in the shadows on the Canadian landscape. CBC Radio’s ReVision Quest this weekend featured an excellent documentary examining the apparent indifference of Canadian society to missing and murdered Aboriginal women, despite the fact that estimates range from 580 to 3000 missing and murdered women. Why don’t we care? Why is this issue ignored? What can be done to end the plague of violence against Aboriginal women?

Find the program here

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Interested in international law, human rights, indigenous rights, feminism, rights related to economic, social and cultural rights and/or the right to self-determination or issues of violence and discrimination? Don’t miss this exciting roundtable, held jointly with the Manitoba Aboriginal Law Students’ Association!

On February 10, Céleste McKay will be joining us to discuss “The Human Rights of Indigenous Women.”  The roundtable will be held from 12 -1 in room 308.

We are truly honoured to host such a special guest. Céleste McKay is a Métis woman from Manitoba, with a background in social work and law.  In 2007, Céleste received her LL.M. degree from the University of Ottawa which focused on the international right to health of Indigenous women in Canada.  She has worked in the areas of human rights, policy, research and advocacy work, both nationally and internationally, primarily on behalf of Indigenous women’s organizations. Céleste is a Consultant on Human Rights and International Affairs.
Check out the following website for further info:

Join us for this opportunity to learn more about Céleste’s international and domestic work promoting the human rights of indigenous women. If you’d like to do some reading and thinking in advance of the discussion, please read pages 14 – 20 and 28 – 33 of  Mairin Iwanka Raya: Indigenous Women Stand Against Violence. A Companion Report to the United Nations Secretary-General’s Study on Violence Against Women

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* Note: this piece was originally published in the September 25, 2005 edition of The Manitoban.  It is being reproduced here with permission from the author to coincide with tomorrow’s Take Back the Night. Also note that this year’s organizers have also extended an invitation to march to both men and women. Illustration by Alexa Dirks*

What it means to be a man

Every year, a debate encircles the Take Back the Night March in Winnipeg over whether or not men should be invited to participate. Some feel strongly that the March, as a show of solidarity, empowerment, awareness and celebration, should be restricted to women. Others believe that real reduction of violence against women can only be accomplished with male participation.

This year’s planning committee decided to invite men to participate on the periphery of the September 22 event, to offer support, solidarity and remembrance of loved ones affected by violence. It is becoming clear that men do, and must, play an active role in making the streets and lives safe for women. In fact, men should be playing a bigger role in creating change not just on the streets, but in the locker rooms, the dorms and around the pub tables with their friends.

To look at this idea, let’s open it to the question: what does it mean to be “a man”? Every male confronts it as we grow up, enter adulthood, hang with our buddies — as we live our entire lives. Unfortunately, the answers often send us chasing an image lacquered in success, confidence and accomplishments that can be summed up in one word: pride.

When outside a bar spitting threats into each other’s faces we are boiling with it. When showing off our new toys to the boys we are revelling in it. When we refuse to say that we’re sorry for being a jerk to our partners/friends/parents we are hiding behind it — even if we know inside that we really were being a jerk. Whether you argue that the roots lie in biochemistry, mentality or socialization, pride is central to the lives of most men. Everyone has confronted a guy who puts his pride on the “number-one priority” pedestal and gets into trouble — because we all do it.

Our culture teaches us that the inescapable force of pride is to be used for our own interests to impress, awe and control. We are taught that “sucking it up — ” holding in and controlling emotions — is the key to making it in the world and appearing masculine and heterosexual. This makes it tough to confront other guys when you disagree with the way they act or speak, especially towards and about women — stepping out of line could lead to being ostracized or having your masculinity questioned.

Picture a bunch of guys sitting around talking about the night before. One of them starts telling a story about a girl he brought home from the bar: upon reaching his bedroom she was unconscious, but this made no difference to him. Do his buddies confront him on how wrong, disgusting and illegal his action was . . . or are they silent? Comfortable knowing that they are not a rapist, or an abuser of women, they do not see themselves as part of the problem of sexual abuse. Their silence, however, is the issue that we most need to address if we are to combat sexual abuse and achieve gender equity on a meaningful, systemic level.

It seems unfair to blame individual males for accepting the bystander mentality; as painfully easy as it is to go along with the guys, it is a cultural convention to stay out of your neighbour’s garbage. This is not to say that male behaviour cannot be changed, only that we must realize that sexism and abuse have been passed down from previous generations — we didn’t start it, but it is our job to work at stopping it.

Individual males need only look at our use of language to see the role of bystanders in allowing sexual abuse and gender inequality. Don McPherson, the retired NFL player that now spends his time as an activist against sexism, uses a simple story to demonstrate:

“Jack beats Jill. Jill was beaten by Jack. Jill was beaten. Jill is a battered woman.”

What’s missing in the conclusion of the story? Jack. The man has been disconnected from the problem, leaving Jill to shoulder the blame.

Rape, sexual assault, prejudice and verbal, emotional and physical harassment are commonly considered “women’s issues.” This distances men and allows them to take no responsibility for these crimes or any systemic sexism. But, if men are the perpetrators, then these are also “men’s issues,” and must be dealt with by men as allies with women.

Country singer Andy Griggs, a national spokesperson for the Family Violence Prevention Fund, explained the role of men to O, the Oprah Magazine, in October 2002.

“You hear a lot of women talk about sexual violence, but not men. It’s time for men to stand up and say, ‘I will not abuse women, and I will not support violence against them,’” he said.

It might be time to turn our pride on its head. Take a look at the slogans for the Strength Campaign from the Men Can Stop Rape organization:

“My strength is not for hurting. So when I wanted to and she didn’t: we didn’t.”

“My strength is not for hurting. So when I wasn’t sure how she felt: I asked.”

“Our strength is not for hurting. So when guys disrespect women, we say that’s not right.”

All men have women in their lives that they care deeply about, whether they are friends, partners, sisters, mothers or grandmothers. Participating in events like the Take Back the Night March is one way to ally support, but one night a year is not enough as change is needed within us as men, and within our social circles. Violence against women damages all women and demeans all men, so let’s take our pride in a different direction and use it to create a more equal and respectful community. That is what it is to be “a man.”

* Kyle Lamothe is a 3rd year student at Robson Hall. He spent his summer working as a research assistant for Prof. Schwartz and will be clerking at the Federal Court following graduation. If you ever invite him to a potluck, ask him to make his killer foccacia bread.

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