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Join Ryerson in mourning women killed due to gender-based violence

National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women honours those killed at L’École Polytechnique and throughout 2020
By: Michelle Grady
December 03, 2020
A mother and a daughter sit on a bed together, looking out the window

December 6 marks the 31st year since the L’École Polytechnique tragedy in Montreal. In advance of  this year’s memorial, Farrah Khan speaks about how far we’ve come in facing down gender-based violence and what we have yet to face.

On December 4, Ryerson will host a virtual memorial for the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women that will provide a chance to mourn the women killed 31 years ago at L’École Polytechnique in Montreal on December 6 and the women killed in 2020.  

With Canadians being asked to stay home to help fight the spread of COVID-19, there’s been a surge in the reports of gender-based violence. Some violence against women shelters are seeing their calls double, external link in Ontario, while Statistics Canada reports 1 in 10 Canadian women say they are “very or extremely concerned”, external link about the possibility of violence inside the home during the pandemic. The pandemic does not impact all communities uniformly. Loss of income, loss of work and isolation are risk factors for gender-based violence.    

Ryerson’s event, hosted by Consent Comes First, the Faculty of Engineering and Architectural Science, Student Affairs, CESAR, Human Rights Services, OVPECI, and Ryerson Athletics and Recreation, is an opportunity to reflect and renew our commitment to end men's violence against women and consider how gender-based violence impacts all of us.

Farrah Khan, manager of the Consent Comes First office, talked with Ryerson Today about this year’s event and the need to expand the scope of the conversation to include the systemic issues that allow for violence to flourish.  

Since the Polytechnique tragedy, what have we learned?  

I think we’ve seen that the conversation on the École Polytechnique massacre shifted from the idea the man killed the women simply because they were women to the women who were killed because of misogyny and the hatred of feminism. It is vital that we talk about the systems such as white supremacy, toxic masculinity, colonization, ableism and cisheterosexism that create a fertile environment in which hatred can fester and more men’s violence against women can happen as a result.  

I think it’s also important that we’ve learned we need to see a shift from men's violence against women as a private concern to a public issue that we all have to address. COVID is raising this issue and our team is talking about the fact that we're deeply concerned about the safety of faculty, staff and students who might be at risk or are experiencing violence in the home. And that home is not always a safe place. Gender-based violence does not appear out of a vacuum, it grows through a normalization of rape culture that permeates the structures and institutions on which our society is based. This country was founded on the colonization and genocide of Indigenous Peoples, a program that used and uses gender-based violence as a tool. As such, the attitudes that create and allow for gender-based violence are embedded in the organization of this nation.    

Why is it important for us to mourn on this date, 31 years later?

This event is important because it's an opportunity to not only mourn the women who have been killed on December 6, but also women and girls who have been killed over the past year. It is an opportunity for us to recommit to what we're going to as a campus community to address this.

The day is important because we are still seeing horrifying acts of violence against women, from Missing and Murdered Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people, the massacre that happened in Nova Scotia just in April, to the Toronto van attack in 2018. We know that 37 women and children were killed in Ontario alone this year. These actions are underpinned by colonization and misogyny and it’s important to name that.  

Can you speak more about the systems that allow violence to flourish?

We have to recognize that sexism, homophobia, colonialism, white supremacy, transphobia all create an environment in which violence can thrive. These acts of violence don't come out of thin air, they're all connected to each other. So when we allow a sexist joke to happen in a classroom, or we perpetuate stereotypes about Indigenous or racialized women, when we say that something's wrong or natural when actually it's not, all we're doing is allowing for ideas of sexualized violence and other forms of gender-based violence to continue to thrive. So I think it's important to see this as within the continuum of our work.

For racialized clients, the rates of sexual violence are not only much higher, but the pathways to seeking support and justice are also far more narrow. Black, Indigenous and people of colour are limited in getting the support they need as a result of pervasive stereotypes in the health care system, and the criminalization they face in the police and judicial system. As we commemorate December 6th, it’s important we do so with the intention of increasing access for equity-seeking groups to ensure the violence they are facing is met with an appropriate, fulsome and stratified response that speaks to their needs.  

How will this event be different this year?

This is the first year we're doing a teach-in component. The planning committee believed that it is an opportunity for our Ryerson community to talk about how they can support each other when someone discloses gender-based violence.  

We have to know what to do when a student, a friend, a colleague says to us something's not right, or we start noticing warning signs. So at this year’s memorial, we are focusing on reading the names of the women that have been killed due to men's violence against women. But we’re also creating an opportunity to learn more about the warning signs and how to respond when violence is unfolding.

What challenges persist?

I think the fact that we don't have affordable housing is one challenge. If we’re telling people that they need to leave but have nowhere affordable to go, violence persists. If people are not housed they may be forced to stay in unsafe places or be forced to take unsafe actions to get shelter. The fact that we still have a gender wage gap means that women, especially Black, Indigenous and racialized women who are paid less than white women, may not feel safe to leave for financial reasons.  

We know that 87 per cent of low-income lone-parent households are led by women in Ontario. So we need to be asking how we’re supporting people around income security.  

The pandemic has exacerbated other forms of gender-based violence too. We can see it in terms of financial abuse, spreading salacious rumours about victims including their medical status, isolating children from online support or connections available through schools.  

So yes, we have to stop the violence, but there it is not a simple answer. There are many many things we need to do to make it safer for people to leave, or safer for people not to be in these situations.  

What role can Ryerson have in that?

From a university perspective, it's not only having offices like ours that support people affected by sexual violence or policies to address forms of gender-based violence, it is a university-wide commitment to intersectional gender equity. This means culture changes in our campus community.

It is also vitally important that community members recognize that it is not an if but a when a person will disclose they have been subjected to some form of gender-based violence. That is why it is vitally important to learn how to address a disclosure. CCF provides guidance to peers of people affected by sexual and gender-based violence through our BRAVE training. Within it, we provide five simple ways to actively listen, respect confidentiality, provide connections to resources, validate and empathize with survivors.  

To register for the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women memorial on December 4 at 12 - 1 p.m., visit the event page.  

For more ways to support people affected by sexual violence, visit the “Give Support” page on CCF’s website.  

Consent Comes First continues to support the community by shifting work to the virtual environment through support, advocacy, online groups, i.e. Writing a New Story, a student-led peer-support group for Black students, We Heal Together, programming Curiosity Labs, How I Dress is Never A Yes, external link, Ryerson Reads and our student-led peer advocacy group Consent Action Team.  

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