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During P.E.I.'s Family Violence Prevention Week, I am reflecting on the days of action and remembrance on violence against women we marked at the end of November and beginning of December with the Purple Ribbon Campaign.
The Dec. 6 Montreal Massacre Memorial Service of 2020 was very different from the commemorations that have taken place in the past. In a year when the coronavirus pandemic has changed the world in ways we could not previously conceive, the Memorial Service took on added significance.
Many of us are aware that women have borne the pandemic fallout. We have watched the news reports and read the articles highlighting the numerous ways that women have been disproportionately affected. Women have shored up the frontline as essential workers in grocery stores and as early educators. We have laboured in the trenches of homecare and hospitals, and we have mustered our last energy reserves to run households, work from home, care for family members and neighbours and educate our children. Women have lost their jobs in numbers far greater than men and have yet to be re-employed.
In the past year, women’s shelters, police, and governments have reported an increase in the incidence of intimate partner violence; it is more important than ever to understand that events that result in tragedies like the Montreal Massacre and Portapique often begin at home.
Ten women have been murdered on P.E.I. since 1989. For the family members that gathered for the candle-lighting ceremony to honour the murdered women’s memory, the reimagined service offered an opportunity to remember, to unite and to share for the briefest moment, their profound sense of loss over the murder of their loved one.
The emotion in the room was palpable; a pervasive sense of sadness tinged with reverence, each murdered woman brought back to life through the sombre reading of her name, a description of who she was, her likes and dislikes, qualities and passions. The essence of her humanity was captured in a glimpse through the eyes of those who knew and loved her. These women are so much more than a statistic, a name forever relegated to a list. They were mothers, daughters, sisters, aunts, grandmothers, students, employees, bosses, friends, and companions. They laughed, they cried, they felt joy and pain, they loved, they lived. As the relatives of the murdered women lit candles to honour them, we wondered at the enormity of the loss that they have endured and marvel at their resilience. We grieve for the impact of these murders on our whole community and we mourn the sense of safety that is shattered each time violence reverberates through our neighbourhoods, devastating families and stealing lives.
Year after year relatives return, they gather to pay homage and to honour their loved ones. United in their grief they are joined together by a violent act, lives forever tainted by tragedy. The annual commemoration serves as a potent reminder of all that is wrong in our society; a stark warning that the violence that occurred in Montreal and Portapique can and will happen time and again unless we make a concerted effort to prevent them. In a year when the coronavirus pandemic has forced us to reimagine many aspects of our daily lives, it is time that we use this opportunity to look at how our society is structured. How the imbalance of power on our streets, in our homes and in our communities, up into the hallowed halls of government, allows men to repeatedly enact violence against women, in a system that perpetuates the role of the female victim and male abuser. Perhaps for the first time, when we have the attention of government and more funding and effort is being directed towards violence prevention, we can finally find the impetus to address the systemic inequality that renders women weak and silenced and disempowered.
Family Violence Prevention Week each year asks us to consider the role we can all play in preventing family violence. Peace begins at home, but it is not enough to be non-violent in our own homes. We must address power imbalances and inequities wherever we see them, in ourselves and our neighbours, friends, families, and co-workers. We must lift up survivors with our strong voice of support for putting an end to violence.
Debbie Langston of Blooming Point is the Chairperson of the PEI Advisory Council on the Status of Women.