December 6 should be the International Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women


In Canada, December 6, is the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. In 1991, the Canadian government made December 6 the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women to commemorate the December 6, 1989, Montreal Massacre, also known as the École Polytechnique Massacre. On December 6, 1989, a man entered campus, sought and found a Women’s Studies class, separated the men and women, and killed 14 women, whom he identified as “feminists”. Those women were Geneviève Bergeron, Hélène Colgan, Nathalie Croteau, Barbara Daigneault, Anne-Marie Edward, Maud Haviernick, Maryse Laganière, Maryse Leclair, Anne-Marie Lemay, Sonia Pelletier, Michèle Richard, Annie St-Arneault, Annie Turcotte, Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz. Across Canada, people hold memorial services. Everyone in Canada knows of the Montreal Massacre, the worse mass shooting in the country’s history. But what about elsewhere? Where are the memorials for the 14 women, and for the horror of the event, in other countries? What is the geography of our compassion?

After the assault on the women of the École Polytechnique, rape laws were strengthened. Men formed the White Ribbon Campaign, which, according to the organization, is the world’s largest movement of men and boys working to end violence against women. The École Polytechnique established the Order of the White Rose, which created the White Rose Scholarship, a $30,000 prize given to a Canadian woman studying in an engineering Master’s or PhD program.

For days after the massacre, people brought white roses to lay at the site of bloodshed. It was a sea of white roses.

Michele Thibodeau-Deguire was the École Polytechnique’s first woman civil engineering graduate. She graduated in 1963. In 2013, when she was appointed Chair of the Board of Directors of the École Polytechnique, Michele Thibodeau-Deguire became the first woman to chair the Board. On Wednesday, she reflected on Canada’s National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women: “It was something that came out; people just wanted to show how they felt. And every year, white roses were brought here at the door of Polytechnique.” Along with the White Rose Scholarship, the Polytechnique sells white roses to contribute to a science camp for girls from marginalized communities. “From something horrible, something beautiful came out,” said Michele Thibodeau-Deguire.

Valerie Provost, a survivor of the Montreal Massacre, reflected, “In 1989, for me, for my classmates, everything was possible. We didn’t imagine that these doors could be shut, but that’s what Marc Lépine did. He slammed the door in front of us. My classmates will never enter the country of their dreams. No diplomas; no career; no professional achievements; no great love story; no children; no flourishing talents.”

Canadian feminist activist journalist Judy Rebick noted, “Today, rape is the only violent crime that has not declined to the degree that most other violent crimes have. In Canada, women reported 553,000 sexual assaults in 2014 according to Stats Canada. Fifty-three per cent of all women and 82 per cent of young women told pollsters that they experience sexual harassment in a 2017 Abacus poll. Levels of violence and harassment against Indigenous women, women of colour and women with disabilities are even higher. There has been a decline in domestic violence, but 32 women were killed by intimate partners so far this year in Ontario.” The Abacus report opens with numbers, “There are almost 15 million adult women in Canada and according to our latest survey, almost 8 million of them (53%) have experienced unwanted sexual pressure. The prevalence of this experience is highest among women under 45.”

For one day a year, across Canada, people discuss sexual violence, remember the names of the 14 women, remember the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, remember that the struggle continues. Why only Canadians? A review of major news outlets this past week has none in English, French or Spanish even mentioning the day. Canada remembers, the world ignores. What exactly is the geography of our compassion? Why must each nation, and each national community, be left to its own devices and ways of remembering? I live in the United States. Montreal is close; Canada is close, and yet, in the United States, there was no mention of the day. Commodities and capital flow across the border, in ever faster and increasing numbers. People move back and forth across the border as well. Why not memory? Why not the honoring of the martyrs of the war against women? It’s not only Canada’s war. December 6 should be the International Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women.

 

(Photo Credit 1: Feminist Current) (Photo Credit 2: Paul Chiasson / Canadian Press / CBC)

About Dan Moshenberg

Dan Moshenberg is an organizer educator who has worked with various social movements in the United States and South Africa. Find him on Twitter at @danwibg.