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


The abortion debate: behind Canada’s bilingualism

The idea of having a Conservative government under Andrew Scheer reopening the debate on abortion comes as a shock, as most Quebecers believe it’s a vested right.

On Aug. 29, Tourism Minister Mélanie Joly tweeted a video of a pro-life organization leader, Scott Hayward, confirming that Conservative leader Andrew Scheer was on board with his cabinet ministers raising issues related to abortion. The claims of RightNow’s founder were received as mixed messages from the Tories, while a few party members were saying that such a debate was definitely closed.

The very same day as the video was shared online, Scheer expressed his position on the issue in a press conference, saying there is no contradiction in his discourse. Instead, he argued that “a Conservative government will not reopen this issue and I, as prime minister, will oppose measures that reopen this issue,

But as reported by CBC, RightNow, which is currently registered as a third party with Elections Canada for the upcoming election, has the intention of recruiting and training more than 50 volunteers to run as electoral candidates. This raised concerns among experts as to whether Scheer would have the authority over his caucus to truly shut down debate on abortion.

“In the past weeks, people have been comparing Scheer with Harper, saying Harper said the same thing that [he would not reopen the debate],” said Anne-Marie Rivard, a PhD student at Concordia, whose research mainly focuses on post-Morgentaler abortion rights in Canada, and political translation surrounding the issue. “The thing is that Harper had some control over his caucus, whereas Scheer being the new guy, I’m not sure he has the same type of stronghold over his caucus the same way Harper did. So when he says that he wouldn’t allow a private member to propose private bills, that remains to be seen.”

The anti-abortion group is tackling mostly English provinces such as British Columbia and Alberta, where such discourse seems to resonate the most. Indeed, the questions on abortion have always divided Canada’s francophones and anglophone provinces. According to a Léger survey, close to 90 per cent of Quebecers believe that abortion should be completely legal, whereas the percentage drops considerably in the rest of Canada.

Rivard argues that the disparity comes from Quebec’s Quiet Revolution in the ‘60s which provoked a great nationalist-separatist movement, but also a separation from the church. The wide religious dissolution also nourished feminism across Quebec, stronger than elsewhere in the country, said Rivard. Such an empowering movement arguably caused the approach to abortion in a more humane way and secured its access in Quebec. The province was even reimbursing and offering the procedure a few years before the 1988 Morgentaler’s decision to decriminalize abortion.

“Comparing the English and French vocabulary, I have found that words in English use baby instead of fetus or mother,” said Rivard. “Whereas when it’s translated into French or even just originally spoken, they will use femme instead. Even the term abortion, in French, you will often hear “interruption volontaire de grossesse” which, obviously, with the term volunteer, implies that it’s a choice.”

Talks about reopening the debate might then come as a surprise for most Quebecers. But what most people tend to ignore is that, while the Supreme Court decriminalized the procedure, it is still unprotected by law; nor is it a constitutional right. This is where anti-abortion groups such as RightNow could gain leverage if they were to be backed by a government, as there is no law governing its access.

Indeed, conversations regarding abortion are arduous to bring into a province where its citizens believe it’s a vested right. Such confusion also leads to the belief that its access is guaranteed because of its legality, which is unfortunately not the case in provinces such as New Brunswick, as shown in a 2016-2017 annual report by Health Canada.

Andrew Scheer, a known devotee of Catholicism, insisted on the fact that whatever his own beliefs are, his party will not reopen the debate. But will he be willing to actively support and even improve the system? The answer is yet to be determined.


Graphic by @sundaeghost


Texas abortion bill is anti-woman, not pro-life

How abortion punishment contradicts pro-life claims

Republican Texas state representative Tony Tinderholt has reintroduced a bill that, if passed, would criminalize women who seek out abortions, as well as open up the possibility for those women to be convicted of homicide. In Texas, this means that women who choose abortion could face the ultimate form of punishment: the death penalty.

The basic value held by those who are anti-abortion, also known as “pro-lifers”or at least the value they claim to upholdis that an unborn fetus has the right to develop fully and be born into the world. What’s strange is that, rather than focusing their efforts on this simple idea, a number of those who are involved with the extremist anti-abortion movement use violence to get their point across and make a statement.

There is a long and unfortunate history of anti-abortion extremist violence in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the United States. Vandalism, arson, assault, abductions, bombings, and shootings—abortion clinics across these countries have seen the worst. Sadly, this is far from being an issue of the past. In 2015 alone, a Planned Parenthood clinic in Claremont, New Hampshire was vandalized; a Planned Parenthood clinic in Pullman, Washington was intentionally set on fire; and three people were killed (along with several others injured) in a shooting at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

If extreme pro-lifers really are pro-life, then why do they use such violent—and sometimes fatal— methods in their attempts to make themselves heard? If one is truly pro-life, should they not value all lives, rather than only the lives of unborn fetuses? What about all the lives lost in these brutal anti-abortion attacks? Moreover, what about the lives of the women seeking out abortions in those clinics themselves?

When it comes to the concept of punishing a woman by death penalty for her choice to have an abortion, the same line of questioning should be used to critique this bill. If someone is against abortion for the sake of the sanctity of human life, but they are fine with implementing the death penalty as punishment for abortion, can their arguments really be taken seriously?

No part of the term “pro-life” seems to track with the concept of imprisoning a woman for life or sentencing her to death for making reproductive choices for her own body. In fact, a belief in the death penalty could be considered extremely “anti-life”.

The proposal of these cruel, sexist bills under the guise of a “pro-life” mindset is misleading at best and—at worst—utterly inhumane. Tinderholt is using this abortion bill as a mirage to veil the truth of the matter: that the extreme end of the anti-abortion movement was never about protecting human life. It is, and always has been, about stripping women of their reproductive and human rights.

Archive Graphic by Zeze Le Lin

Student Life

Let’s talk about sex

Medical abortions: coming to a physician’s office near you?

So, this week isn’t about sex per se, but rather about a potentially revolutionary pill that could help you deal with the unwanted aftermath of said sex, up to nine weeks later.

According to an article published on December 24 in the Globe and Mail, Health Canada is currently deliberating on legalizing a pill containing mifepristone, a drug which, combined with another medication which is already available by prescription from any physician, can medically terminate an early pregnancy by inducing contractions.

According to Planned Parenthood, once the mifepristone is taken, it stops the production of progesterone, which causes the lining of your uterus to break down. When combined with the second drug (of which there are currently several available varieties, the most common of which being misoprostol), the uterus will begin to shed, causing the pregnancy to end. It could take up to three weeks for the pregnancy to be expelled. Basically, it’s just like getting a particularly heavy and crampy period.

Health Canada is taking their sweet time with the decision to legalize mifepristone—it’s been something like 800 days that they’ve been agonizing over whether or not to make the pill available through any hospital or clinic—normally, they have a window of 300 days to reach a decision, according to the same article.

The delay is questionable, as mifepristone is already legally available in over 60 countries worldwide, including our notoriously conservative neighbours in the United States.

The decision should be reached by the second week of January, so if all goes according to plan, the drug could become available much sooner than later.

Abortion is currently legal in Canada, though depending on where you live, it can be almost impossible to actually access a clinic where they are performed. According to Global News, almost half of the 94 abortion facilities in the country are located in Quebec, while British Columbia and Ontario have relatively accessible facilities in city centres as well as in selected rural areas. However, there are only eight abortion facilities throughout the Prairies, four in all of the Territories, and four throughout Atlantic Canada. Prince Edward Island doesn’t have any.

Especially for these girls and women living outside of main cities in Canada, making mifepristone available from any doctor could mean the difference between spending large amounts of time and money to travel cross-country to the nearest abortion clinic (or resorting to less safe, less preferable options), and being able to pick up the prescription from their local doctor and receive the medical abortion.

And instead of having to endure an invasive procedure in some sterile-looking office, getting rid of an unwanted pregnancy could be just as simple as visiting the clinic and popping a pill.

Of course, this is not to say that medical abortion is any less of a potentially difficult and emotional decision to make as a procedural one would be. But, in creating this new option, it would make that decision just a little bit easier, just a little bit more comfortable for a lot of women.

Statistics Canada reported last year that roughly 31 per cent of Canadian women have had an abortion in their lives. Making it that much more accessible, and that much less invasive, could simply make better a process that is already extremely common and extremely safe.

All of which to say, stay tuned for updates. We could have a revolution on our hands.


Student Life

One Kind Word can make all the difference

Canadian book tells women’s stories.

“The support I would have appreciated: one kind word from anyone. When I counsel women at the clinic now… I do what I can to communicate to these women that making a choice is another step towards empowerment—that they are choosing for themselves.”

These are the words of Lori, one of the 32 women who contributed to One Kind Word, a collection of stories from all walks of Canadian women about the experience of having an abortion.

Martha Solomon and Kathryn Palmateer, the curators of the project, hope to help erase the stigma that still surrounds abortion today.

“We wanted to tell the stories of these women, and show their faces so that people could see that they’re just like you and me,” said Palmateer, who is also the photographer for the project. “They’re our moms, our neighbours, our friends, our sisters, our teachers.”

Each woman in the book has a two-page spread dedicated to her. One side of the page is for the written anecdote of her story, and the other side features a face-on, black-and-white portrait.

“An important piece of the aesthetic was that the women could be seen, and not hidden in the shadows, not shrouded in darkness, because their stories so often are,” said Palmateer.

Solomon and Palmateer embarked on the project of collecting women’s abortion stories in 2008, after Palmateer saw an article in The Ottawa Citizen that detailed wait times of upwards of five to six weeks for a woman to have an abortion in Ottawa.

Many people, and even those who already identify as pro-choice or as feminists, have moved on from the fight for pro-choice and accessible abortion. Thankfully, in Canada and increasingly worldwide, abortions are legal. People are under the impression that we’ve already won that fight, Palmateer said.

Yet, the fight is far from over. “Even now, women all over the world are not able to make that choice. Even a lot of women here in Canada, who live in the North or in rural communities have very limited access to abortion clinics,” she said.

Of course, the picture is brighter than it was a few decades ago. This is abundantly clear while reading the stories of the women in the book. For many of the younger ones, the decision was theirs and theirs alone to make, and they had easy access to a safe, specialized clinic for the procedure.

One thing that comes across very strongly through the stories of all these women is that there is no right or wrong when dealing with making this decision, or how you should feel after you’ve done so.

“Some people seem perturbed that I was not more ‘cut up’ by the whole experience, which frustrated me,” wrote Kitty.

One woman, Melanie, lifts up her shirt in the photograph to show a Hebrew-letter tattoo on her lower stomach. The tattoo reads, “I shall be with you in spirit,” Melanie wrote. “It’s a tribute to the spirit baby.”

“We were striving for a diverse range of stories—we wanted to make sure we had older women, younger women, pre-Morgentaler, post-Morgentaler…” said Palmateer.

For many of the women who had their abortions in the pre-Morgentaler days, the decision was not even theirs to make. Some had to go through referrals by three doctors in order to be deemed a candidate for abortion; some had to resort to hush-hush procedures by illegal providers.

“My grandmother told me the story of her abortion,” said Palmateer. “This was the ‘50s, and she went to her doctor, who was very pro-choice and he told her he thought this was the right decision for her. She lucked out because she had a pro-choice doctor, but ultimately it was his decision.”

Palmateer hopes to continue this project with an increasingly diverse array of women in the future. “We want to get it into the library system, we want to get it into course readers for women’s studies programs, we want to get it into clinics across the country.”

For the moment, One Kind Word is available for purchase through its publisher, 3 O’Clock Press, or at Amazon.com.ies to de-stigmatize abortion


Trudeau: pro-choice is the only choice for liberals

The Liberal Party forces their members to vote pro-choice, and frankly, that’s really okay

The Liberal Party of Canada does a Liberal move, and for some reason, everyone is upset.

It’s, admittedly, a bit more complicated than that. Justin Trudeau, Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, has decreed that any and every Liberal MP, regardless of their own moral compass, will never be allowed to vote against a woman’s right to have an abortion. For a supposedly left-leaning party, this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. You would think its members would applaud such a move, if anything.

Not so.

Six former members of his own caucus wrote an open letter to Trudeau, demanding that he rescind his position on forcing MPs to support a woman’s right to choose. This has raised an interesting question for the Liberals: what’s more important? An MP’s right to vote according to their conscience? Or the right to have an abortion?

Some MPs are firmly in the former camp. “I have had a lot of Liberals come up to me and say, ‘I don’t quite understand, isn’t the Liberal party about freedom and about defending people’s rights?’” admitted Trudeau, speaking to CBC’s The Sunday Edition with Michael Enright.

“The firm position of all previous Liberal Leaders, including Pierre E. Trudeau, has been that, on moral issues, Liberal Members of Parliament were able to vote according to their respective consciences,” wrote the former MPs, who — to their credit — managed to include a low-blow reference to Trudeau’s deceased father in the process. (Class act, fellas.)

However, Trudeau has remained steadfast. “If [Liberal MPs] vote in favour of restricting women’s access to abortion, that’s taking away their rights. And that is something that we will not accept in the Liberal party. We are the party of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and that’s a serious, serious position that Liberals have to defend.”

Which brings us back to the ultimate conundrum: is the trampling of the rights of a very small group (Liberal MPs, a current grand total of 37) justified if it defends the rights of a much larger majority?

It’s worth noting that what Trudeau is trying to do is not revolutionary. The New Democratic Party (NDP) has long held the pro-choice view, and it was announced back in May that the NDP caucus will never include an anti-choice MP.

This kind of “subjugation” is, for better or for worse, a part of our political system. On many issues — particularly sensitive ones — the MPs are forced to toe a party line. There’s a role in Parliament devoted to making sure your MPs vote a certain way: the party whip, named because they “whip” their MPs a certain way.

Party discipline is, simply, a part of Canadian politics. If you think that’s unfortunate, then ask yourself: when was the last time you voted for your borough candidate, and not for the party they represented? Did you ask your borough MP their opinion on abortion, environment, or foreign policy? Or did you see what their party’s position was? How would you have felt if they ended up voting against the very position you elected them for?

Everyone should have the right to their conscience, of course. But if you sign up under a political banner, then you damn well better carry it.

Exit mobile version