Thirty years on, it’s time to have the conversations that can save lives

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December 6 is the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. It is the day that, 30 years ago this Friday, shocked our country by the demonstrated hatred of one man against women and their rights in this country. It is the day that, 30 years later, many people refer to as that “mass school shooting that women’s organizations still mark every year with vigils, etc.” to talk about violence against women. These statements beg the question of why, which can be interpreted two ways: Why did this happen? And, why do we still need to talk about it?

December 6 was given that title because what occurred at L’Ecole Polytechnique in 1989 was the action of femicide, the intentional murder of women because they are women. The writings and reports of that day, the associated news coverage, all of it was very clear. One man’s hatred and outlook on women being to blame for the state of his life was reason to take the lives of 14 while planning and attempting to take many more. We can assume, by his actions, that femicide seemed justifiable. It would be comforting and convenient to believe that this was, and is, a rarity of thought. It would be reassuring to assume that these were the actions of one man, perhaps mental health issues, perhaps a troubled childhood, coupled with old patriarchal norms of society, that we’ve grown from. It would be encouraging to be able to mark that day in our history as a moment that caused us to stop and recognize violence against women to the point of causing death, so that it could not be repeated. Unfortunately, that does not seem to be the case.  

OAITH, the Ontario Association of Interval and Transition Houses, began publishing an annual Femicide List in 1995, based on names known to them of women, and sometimes children, who have been murdered by men in Ontario dating back to 1990. These are killings of women by men generally known to them, intimate partners, caregivers, etc., but in all cases where the women or their children were killed because they were specifically targeted. Fourteen women were killed on that day in 1989; over 780 names have been added to the femicide list in the 30 years since. Over 780 violent, targeted murders that did not need to occur. How many are too many for our comfort level? How many are too many before we make it stop? How many, locally, are too many? These are our communities and our homes. We have the power to influence this. We truly are the only ones who can.

Events marking the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women will be held this week, throughout our communities, throughout our country. Some people will challenge why woman abuse and femicide are being addressed separately from domestic violence or intimate partner violence. Aren’t they all the same? They are not. They are related, they overlap and the broader titles make us more comfortable, but the undercurrent from our patriarchal history that allows the killing of women to continue has not yet been resolved. And that is why we still need to talk about it and name it. We all know change takes time. Having difficult conversations is uncomfortable and takes courage. After 30 years, let’s have the courage to have the conversations that can save lives. Let’s create that change.

Marnie Hall

Executive Director

Manitoulin Family Resources