On Dec. 6, 1989, 14 women who were students at École Polytechnique in Montreal were murdered because they were women. In the days following the Montreal Massacre, vigils were held across Canada to remember the victims and to raise awareness of violence against women.
In Charlottetown, a crowd of women and men attended the vigil in front of the provincial government buildings. We stood together in solidarity in the frigid December night, our tears mingling with the wax dripping from the candles we held in our numb fingers.
In the immediate aftermath of the Montreal Massacre, we felt a tide of change. We believed that the time had come to collectively find the way to eliminate violence against women.
Every year since 1989 the P.E.I. Advisory Council on the Status of Women has led a purple ribbon campaign against violence against women, beginning on Nov. 25. The campaign culminates with a memorial service on Dec. 6 to remember the 14 women killed in the Montreal Massacre, and the now 10 women on P.E.I. who have been murdered by men since 1989. This year the theme for the Purple Ribbon Campaign is “Don’t stand by. Stand with. Everyone has a part to play in preventing violence against women.”
“Standing with” the women who have experienced gender-based violence means listening to them, believing them and acting to assist them in getting the help they need. “Standing with” means that we discourage the misogyny that manifests itself through sexist jokes and derogatory language demeaning to women. “Standing with” may mean safely intervening if we witness or suspect acts of violence.
During the past year, sexual violence against women has dominated the news headlines. Almost every day we learn about new accusations from women of sexual assault or sexual harassment or both by men. Most of the reports in the headlines are about political leaders, celebrities, movie moguls, comedians, news reporters and other privileged and powerful men. Many of the men being accused have multiple victims who are now coming forward to name the perpetrators, often after decades of silence.
Recently, women were encouraged to “stand with” other women in solidarity by tagging their messages with #metoo on Facebook, Twitter, or other social media to indicate that they, too, had been sexually assaulted or harassed by men in their lives. Within a few days, an astounding number of women and some men began their social media messages with #metoo. Some women described the incidents of sexual assault or harrassment they had experienced; others simply wrote #metoo.
The voices of all these women speaking the truth about sexual harassment and assault again feels like a moment of change, but it is only part of the answer. For real change to occur, we need to remember that everyone has a part to play in preventing violence against women.
Men, it is time for you to speak out loudly against gender violence and to work together to eliminate the misogyny and sexism that are the root of that violence. Boys have to learn from their male role models that there is no place for the “boy talk” that demeans and objectifies women.
In P.E.I., the group ManUp has been formed by men to “stand with” Island women in the protest against violence against women. We applaud this and all efforts to prevent and eliminate violence.
Everyone has a part to play in preventing violence against women. Wear a purple ribbon during the Purple Ribbon Campaign. Listen, believe survivors, speak out against misogyny and violence against women. Act and be the change.
Mari Basiletti is the chairperson of the P.E.I. Advisory Council on the Status of Women.