Speak up, speak out and unite!

I had the honour of speaking at a Take Back the Night event in Halton this week. Here is an excerpt from my comments:

I first started to think about what I would say tonight back in May, before Doug Ford was elected premier of Ontario. I thought I would talk about the #MeToo movement, the power of women’s voices and stories in bringing sexual violence out of the shadows and into the light, the strength each of us gains in hearing other women talk about the sexual violence in their lives.

And I do want to talk about that, because it is important. Without our stories, we would not have sexual assault centres. Without the voices of individual women – women like you and me as well as Hollywood women – even more men would continue to get away with raping and sexually assaulting women.

When we speak up and speak out, when we back each other up, we strengthen ourselves in our own healing and moving on. We help other women who have felt silenced find their voices and speak out. We teach girls and boys that sexual violence is not okay; that it is something to be loud about; that it is not a secret to be kept locked up.

The power of what we can accomplish knows no limit when we speak up and speak out.

Power in collectivity

But right now, in this province, we need to use our voices to speak out more broadly, because Ontario has a government that wants to silence us and to shut down the important work of ending violence against women. And that is what I want to talk about for the rest of the time I have with you tonight.

This government has told Ontario’s teachers that they cannot use the 2015 sex ed curriculum; a curriculum that talked to students in an age-appropriate way about consent, that told kids it was okay to be queer, that talked about realities of the social media crazy world in which we live, that helped kids and young people be safe in themselves, in their relationships and in their communities.

Instead, teachers are supposed to use a 20-year-old curriculum that was written before same-sex marriage was legal, before schools and other institutions started to have gender-neutral washrooms, before anyone had heard of sexting or cyber-bullying.

We all know that when women are poor, they are more vulnerable to violence. Nonetheless, this government has ended the basic income pilot – which put money into the pockets of low-income people — midstream. This has left participants facing severe economic hardship, as many had made decisions to return to school, move into better housing and so on based on the income they were guaranteed. Now, there will be no research on which to make longer term decisions about whether a basic income program is good for Ontario. Once again, women are left poor.

Where is the GBVS?

Earlier this year, Kathleen Wynne’s government introduced a Gender-Based Violence Strategy for Ontario. Was it perfect? No. Did it give us everything we need to end GBV? No. Were there aspects to it that we did not like? Yes.

But, it was a strategy that would have made things better. It was a strategy that should be rolling out right now, providing more money for community-based services like sexual assault centres and women’s shelters, expanding the sexual assault independent legal advice program across the province, putting more money into the Family Court Support Worker Program.

And it has ground to a halt. Why? Apparently, because Doug Ford thinks it is more important to spend who knows how many millions of dollars on an audit, and until that is done, his government has implemented a “pause” in spending; even on items that were approved in the pre-election budget. In other words, the money is sitting there, but is not going to be spent, at least for now.

So what can we do?

We can speak up and speak out.

We can stay united. A cut to one of us is a cut to all of us, and we need to have one another’s backs.

It will be a long four years with this government, and we need to be ready for that long haul. The only way we will survive is to stick together and to speak out in one voice, even from all of our diversities.

Marge Piercy closes her beautiful and powerful poem, The Low Road, with these words, which can inspire us to find our points of commonality rather than our places of difference:

“It goes on one at a time. It starts when you care to act. It starts when you do it again after they said no. It starts when you say we and know who you mean and each day you mean one more.”

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