Remembering & taking action

Here we are, once again, facing December 6th, the National Day of Remembrance and Action, instituted in 1991 to commemorate the 14 women killed in the 1989 Ecole Polytechnique mass shooting.

But one minute of silence, one day when Canadian flags are flown at half-mast, one day of remembering, even one day of acting is not enough; in fact, it’s not even the beginning of what we need to do.

Don’t get me wrong. December 6th matters. We need to remember the always-too-many victims of gender-based violence. Those of us who are GBV advocates need to continue to hold vigils, speak at public events and give media interviews even as we consider the seemingly never-ending misogyny that surrounds us and shapes our communities.

This year, I find myself bearing witness both privately and publicly to the endless acts of lethal and other forms of violence against women. This year’s femicide list, put together annually by the Ontario Association of Interval and Transition Houses, totals 62: 62 women and children killed in the past year in Ontario because of misogyny. Of those, 19 were intimate partner homicides. A further six were killings of women by their adult sons, and one more was the killing of a woman by her adult grandson.

Those are alarming numbers, however you look at them, but this year, I’m thinking especially about the number of women killed by their sons and wondering how many of those sons grew up watching their father abuse their mother. We have to break the cycle.

Making real change

This year, I have felt drenched in the violence wreaked on women and children. I have also, some days, felt almost suffocated by my rage; rage born out of the knowledge that we already know what we need to prevent that violence from happening, and yet it continues to happen. Women and children continue to be hit, punched, strangled, kicked and sexually assaulted; to be subjected to coercive control tactics that make them hostages to their partners, and to die because we have failed to end gender-based violence.

The 86 recommendations from the CKW inquest – almost none of which have been accepted for implementation by those with the power to do so – give us a road map. We can also turn to the 17 recommendations from the Mass Casualty Commission that are focused specifically on intimate partner and gender-based violence for some direction.

It has to be said that we have had good recommendations before. Previous inquests into the murders of women by their partners or former partners and report after report from Ontario’s Domestic Violence Death Review Committee have recommended realistic and creative approaches to much-needed system change.

But those recommendations have no legal authority. No one is required to implement them. And so, they sit on shelves or in computer files, while women continue to die.

That’s why I think that the most important of all these recommendations are those that call for accountability systems. Without accountability, nothing else matters. Government can promise away, making grand claims about what they are doing, but if there is not an external body of experts in place, we really have no way of knowing if anything worthwhile is actually happening.

Taking action now

When change happens from the ground up, it’s better. When we don’t wait for the powers that be to do what they should, we can change the world, one small bit at a time.

Just think about the first recommendation from the CKW inquest – to declare intimate partner violence an epidemic. The provincial government has rejected that recommendation, but that has not been the end of it. On December 6th of last year, Erin Lee, the executive director of Lanark County Interval House, said at her community’s vigil that she was going to call on her county council to make the declaration. She did so the next evening, and the council did just that.

From one woman to one council to, now, 76 municipalities large and small declaring IPV to be an epidemic.

There’s nothing too big to aim for and there is no action – other than doing nothing – that is too small to get us started. Here are a few ideas: things you can do by yourself, with some friends, in your workplace or in a larger group.

You don’t need any special skills. What you need is passion and commitment – and a wee bit of courage to step outside your comfort zone.

  1. Learn more: about what gender-based violence is, especially coercive control, and its roots in misogyny, racism and colonialism.
  • When you see misogyny, sexism and GBV, name it, because that’s how we will change it. Call out sexist jokes and casual remarks that diminish the seriousness of GBV or blame victims. Become an intervenor rather than a bystander.
  • Read the recommendations of the CKW inquest: If you read one a day, you’ll have read them all in less than three months. Pick your favourites and discuss them with your friends, family or colleagues. Think about what you – individually and with others – can do to advocate for their implementation. Use the inquest recommendation implementation toolkit to help you get started.
  • Use your voice: on social media, write letters to the editor of your local newspaper, talk about GBV at work, school and home, take a public stand.

When each of us decides that we are part of the solution to GBV, then we will create that solution. Let December 6th, 2023 be the time you make that decision for yourself.

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