Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women: a student perspective

- Kim Dias

On Dec. 5, participants walked in silence around campus to reflect on gender-based violence. Photo: Kim Dias.

On Dec. 6, 1989, an armed gunman entered Polytechnique Montréal (known as École Polytechnique at the time) and shot 28 people, murdering 14 women and injuring 10 other women and four men. On Dec. 5, 2018—almost 30 years after the massacre—UVic came together for the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women, a day to remember the women who died in the massacre as well as countless others who have suffered violence.

The UVic community officially gathers on the last day of class every year to commemorate the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women, which is held nationally on Dec. 6. Classes during the 11:30–12:30 time slot are cancelled so students can attend.

We gathered on the lawn outside of the Student Union Building (SUB). Volunteers offered buttons and purple or white ribbons to pin to our coats. Purple ribbons represented awareness of domestic violence and abuse. White ribbons represented men working to prevent violence against women.

Purple ribbons in a basket on a table
Volunteers offered purple and white ribbons. Purple ribbons represented awareness of domestic violence and abuse. Photo: Kamilla Milligan.

The agenda for the day was to listen to several speakers then take a short walk around campus. The walk would end in Cadboro Commons, where snacks and hot drinks waited for us. There were also colouring pages. I curled my hands around my mug of hot chocolate and watched many people crowd around a table to colour-in affirmations. The sweet, simple, sometimes-so-hard-to-remember "I am okay" was my favourite.

"Violence is not love"

The four speakers of the day were Dr. Valerie Kuehne, Vice-President Academic and Provost; Suzie Thomas, who was invited through the First Peoples House to offer a welcome to the territory; and UVic students Sage Lacerte and Dana Neily. Standing near the back of the crowd outside the SUB, I couldn't see their faces, but I could hear the strength and emotion in their voices as they spoke on violence against women.

Each woman spoke with intelligence and compassion, and I especially appreciated the acknowledgement that LGBTQ2S+ people and women of colour are disproportionately likely to experience violence. But what really stuck with me were Sage Lacerte's speech and Dana Neily's poetry.

Lacerte spoke about the Moose Hide Campaign, a movement of Indigenous and non-Indigenous men standing against violence towards women. It was started in 2011 by Lacerte's father and sister. When Lacerte, quoting her sister, said "violence is not love and it is not acceptable," I felt her words right in my chest.

Afterward, Neily literally brought people to tears with her spoken word poetry. Her poem was about all the types of violence against women and the strong bonds that can exist between women. While she spoke, I saw several people around me wiping their eyes.

Walking in silence

After the speakers, we walked in silence around campus, led by a multitude of volunteers. Signs were placed at the edges of the path: "December 6th marks the anniversary of the murders in 1989 of 14 young women at L'École Polytechnique de Montréal. They died because they were women," read one. Another gave a definition of gender-based violence: "[violence] perpetrated against someone based on their gender identity, gender expression or perceived gender."

Sign that reads December 6th marks the anniversary of the murders in 2989 of 14 young women at L'Ecole Polytechnique de Montréal. They died because they were women.
Signs like this one were placed around campus. Photo: Kim Dias.

As we walked, I took the time to reflect on the women in my life. My mother, my sisters, my grandmothers, my aunts, my friends. I thought of the violence they have experienced. I thought of the violence I've experienced. I thought about how many times I have been scared to walk alone—how many times every woman has been scared to walk alone.

But on that day, none of us were alone. I didn't know anyone in the crowd around me, but I felt safe. I felt supported. Every time I made eye contact with a volunteer, they held my gaze longer than someone usually would. You okay? their eyes would ask, and I would nod, and they would smile, and we would walk.

In his suicide note, the Polytechnique gunman blamed feminism for ruining his life. I and so many other people have found the exact opposite—feminism has saved our lives.

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Author Kim Dias is a creative writing student in UVic's Faculty of Fine Arts.


In this story

Keywords: human rights, feminism, student life

People: Kim Dias

Publication: The Ring

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