Home Commentary Women’s History Month is off to a terrifying start

Women’s History Month is off to a terrifying start

by Diane Yeung March 27, 2021
Women’s History Month is off to a terrifying start

The month began with the death of Sarah Everard, followed by a mass shooting and reports of femicide in Canada

As little girls, we were warned against straying from the confines of our gendered boundaries, because if we did, we would surely be punished for our curiosities — that transgressions of any kind would inevitably result in deadly consequences. What nobody prepares girls for is that the same boundaries we are told to operate within serve as challenges for boys and men. That we don’t have to earn gendered violence against us; it may happen anyway. In a month intended to celebrate women, Women’s History Month is off to a terrifying start.

The history of International Women’s Day (IWD) dates back to the early 1900s. Its cultural significance was strengthened by the participation of the United Nations in 1975, includes movements supporting women’s rights in countries all over the world, and has now expanded into a month-long celebration. While Canada celebrates IWD on March 8 along with the rest of the world, Canada’s Women’s History Month is observed in October. However, popular recognition and commercialization of IWD has coloured the way that women are celebrated globally. But despite these admirable goals, this Women’s History Month has been marred with terror.

On the night of March 3, 33-year-old Sarah Everard left her friend’s home in South London, heading on a 50 minute walk home. Sarah left at 9 p.m., well before what girls are told is the cutoff for their unspoken curfew. We learn that she was on the phone with her partner, Josh Lowth, for 15 minutes before it was cut short. She was dressed for an evening walk, wearing a rain jacket, pants, knitted hat and a face mask. When the Metropolitan Police raised concerns over Everard’s whereabouts on March 6, women understood the danger Sarah may have been in, silently praying for news that she made it home that night.

Everard did everything right — she was dressed in a way that would satisfy the “but what was she wearing?” crowd; she was walking home early enough for the “but was she out too late” crowd; and she was careful enough to walk on a main road while on the phone with her partner for the “but was she reckless” crowd. Everard was last seen on a CCTV camera alone at around 9:30 p.m. that night. When remains were found on the evening of March 10 in a wooded area 56 miles away from where she was last seen, we prayed harder. The body discovered was confirmed to be Everard on the morning of March 12.

To date, a 48-year-old police officer has been taken into custody in connection with Everard’s murder. When thousands of women gathered on March 13 in South London for a vigil in her honour, peaceful observers were met with violence from police. As footage of arrests circulated, public outrage prompted London’s Mayor, Sadiq Khan, to declare the force from police “unacceptable,” and that they were “neither appropriate or proportionate.”

On social media, women began to share their experiences of sexual assault, only to be met with resistance from the “not all men” crowd. The widespread refusal to acknowledge mens’ complicity of gendered violence surprised no one, yet women continued to perform emotionally laborious tasks in defending their right to safety. Little did we know, Everard’s murder was just the beginning of the grim weeks to follow.

On March 9, Texas lawmaker Bryan Slaton introduced a bill that would allow the death penalty for those who would have abortions. HB 3326 would allow anyone having or performing abortions to be charged with homicide, a crime punishable by death under Texas law.

On March 16, a 21-year-old white gunman opened fire at three separate Asian-owned businesses in Georgia, killing eight people. Seven of the victims were women, six of whom were Asian women. The mass shooting occurs after spikes in hate crimes against Asian Americans and Asian Canadians since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In Canada, a report by the Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability found that one woman or girl is killed every 2.5 days in Canada. #CallItFemicide reports that 90 per cent of cases of an identified killer are male, with more than half of them being the partners of their victims.

Women’s History Month has yet to conclude — but thus far, it has served as a stark reminder that violence against women continues to eclipse the celebration of their societal and cultural contributions. Author and activist bell hooks said, “What we do is more important than what we say or what we say we believe.” If Canadians and Americans believe at last, that women deserve the right to feel safe in their own bodies, then much has left to be done.

 

Photo collage by Kit Mergaert

Related Articles