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


Montrealers honour Indigenous women

Hundreds gathered for 12th annual vigil to remember the missing and murdered

Dreary weather wasn’t enough to stop hundreds of people from gathering in downtown Montreal on Wednesday, Oct. 4 to honour Canada’s missing and murdered Indigenous women.

The two-hour memorial event, held at Place Émilie-Gamelin, was coordinated by the Quebec Native Women’s Shelter and Missing Justice, a grassroots solidarity organization focused on Indigenous women’s issues. Throughout the evening, there were speeches in both English and French from various activists and family members of victims.

According to a 2014 RCMP report, there were 1,181 cases of homicide or long-term disappearances involving Indigenous women between 1980 and 2012. In 2015, Statistics Canada released data suggesting that, while Indigenous people make up just five per cent of Canada’s population, they are the victims of nearly one quarter of all of the country’s homicides.

Chelsea Obodoechina, a representative of Missing Justice, spoke about these horrifying statistics at the vigil, noting that the issue extends beyond women.

Hundreds gathered to remember missing and murdered Indigenous women on Oct. 4. Photo by Mackenzie Lad

“This phenomenon […] is also affecting Indigenous boys and young men,” Obodoechina said. “And we keep them in our hearts tonight.”

According to the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC), Montreal’s annual vigil was one of many held across the country on Oct. 4. The NWAC claims that, when the vigils were first held in 2006, there were only 11 held nationally. Since 2014, over 200 vigils remembering missing and murdered Indigenous women have been organized across Canada every year.

Ellen Gabriel, a Mohawk activist, also spoke at the vigil and reflected on the increased participation, noting that there were only 20 attendees at the first event in Montreal 11 years ago.

Despite the increased attention to the issue and the launch of a 28-month national inquiry in 2016, Gabriel reminded the audience that there is a long road ahead before Indigenous women—and Indigenous communities as a whole—receive justice.

“There are more [Indigenous] children in the child welfare system today than there were in residential schools,” Gabriel said. “Justin Trudeau recently gave a speech to the United Nations talking about Indigenous people […] but he’s presented no solutions on his part.”

Throughout the evening, attendees lit candles and some even brandished signs with phrases including “Justice For Our Women and Girls” and “Sisters in Spirit.” One speaker at the event asked those gathered to raise their hand if they knew a woman with the same name as some of the women who had been murdered or gone missing in Quebec since 1980. By the end of her list of about a dozen names, the overwhelming majority of the crowd had their hands up.

Vigil attendees raise their hands to show they knew a woman by the same name as one of the women who had been murdered or gone missing. Photo by Mackenzie Lad

Cheryl McDonald, a Mohawk woman whose sister, Carleen, went missing over Labour Day weekend in 1988 in Akwesasne, also spoke at the vigil. She talked about how Carleen’s body had been found several weeks later by a hunter. Although McDonald was visibly emotional while recounting the story of her sister, her speech remained hopeful.

“We, as women, have to stop hurting each other before we can expect men to,” McDonald said. “I choose to live and leave a trail of love behind me.”

While it may have been a night of mourning, the speakers reminded the audience that it was also a night of remembrance, resilience and hope.

“We will remember these women,” Gabriel said in her closing remarks, “and we will continue to fight.”

Photos by Mackenzie Lad


Gym intimidation: pitting women against women

Our own body hate not only hurts ourselves, but each other

I went to yoga for my body and my mind that morning. And I left thinking about every other woman’s body there. Which ones were more toned, prettier or had the nicest clothes.

The entire point of yoga is to find the balance between your body and your mind. Any teacher will say so. Focus on your breath, forget anything else you have to do that day or week, and prioritize yourself.

I took that a little bit too literally. Starting in the downward dog position, I noticed my belly. The one I took time to build with beer, sweets and delicious pasta.

Thank God I went to yoga, right? I need to lose that belly fat. Why? Losing it for myself might be 40 per cent of why I am truly trying to have a fit body. The other 60 per cent belongs to looking good in front of men and women. I am putting more importance in the way other people see me than how I see myself.

Rather, I see myself through how others see me.

This is not simply an issue of not being comfortable at the gym or at yoga because of other women. The issue relies in women hating on other women. Women judging one another, and that needs to stop. We need to find solidarity.

Dr. Gail Dines once said, “if tomorrow, women woke up and decided they really liked their bodies, just think how many industries would go out of business.” I think it would be more than simply the businesses. If women were comfortable, would they still tease others for their bodies? Would I still feel uncomfortable at yoga?

Let’s go back one hour before, I went to yoga that day. I picked my clothes very carefully. Lululemon shorts, a pink sports bra, and a crop top. I felt confident in that outfit. Giving power to my image was giving me self-assurance.

Once I had noticed my pregnant-looking belly, I lost my focus. I could only notice its cellulite and its unattractiveness. I stared down every woman in the hot room. Were their outfits better? Did they look ‘hotter’ than me? I was judging all of them.

What I really saw, behind the clothes and my insecurities, were women. Women doing an exercise for themselves. Nobody was looking at me or at my body. We were a group of people, united in that one hour, with the same purpose, following the same norms, and that’s when I knew body differences and judgment had no place in this room.

I wondered if men carried around the same self-doubt in their everyday life and in their work-out environment. They compete as much as we do for the best body. Exercising is no longer about remaining healthy. It is instead turning into complying with the notion of “hot” that we have.

I believe that little imperfections are the perfections of our body. And the biggest imperfections are heightened by our insecurities. Women have built eating disorders because of other people referring to them as “cows” or laughing at their body. There should not be a norm for the body, and women and men should not reinforce that standard.

We are putting in an extra effort into dressing ourselves for a work-out simply for those that surround us. That is the main problem. We value how others see us more than how we see ourselves.

I will love my belly filled with the deliciousness I have eaten. I will stop comparing myself to other women at the gym. The starting point is to stop judging and begin accepting.

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