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Dec. 6 a day to end violence against women

Wingham Advance-Times editorial

Canada has designated Dec. 6 the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women.

On Dec. 6, 1989, a man marched into l’École Polytechnique de Montréal and murdered 14 bright, ambitious young women, each of whom had the potential to change this world for the better, before killing himself.

By all accounts, the killer, unlike his victims, was somewhat of a failure. Although bright, he was a loner with a short fuse, who had problems with authority. His application to the Canadian Armed Forces had been rejected, and he lacked the credits needed for admission to l’École. He dropped out of another program and was fired from his job. And he blamed women for everything wrong with his life.

It is difficult to psychoanalyze someone who is dead. Many have speculated about the reason for his murderous rampage. What is known is that he murdered women because of their gender, targeting female engineering students, calling them feminists as if it were a dirty word. He was not the first to commit violent acts against women because they were women, and as a number of recent tragedies prove, he will not be the last. However, his crime may well have been the most blatant and brutal expression of misogyny in recent times. For that reason, in 1991, the Canadian government made Dec. 6 a day to end violence against women.

In this country, the majority of people involved in violent crime – perpetrators and victims – are men. The exception is domestic violence, where the majority of the victims are women. The Montreal Massacre’s killer did not know his victims, but targeted them because of their gender. Violence against women is often in the context of a relationship, which does not excuse it in any way, a point expressed during many Dec. 6 ceremonies over the years.

There seems to be a feeling among a number of young women this day of remembrance and action – along with the entire feminist movement – has become an anachronism. Young women in this country can choose whatever career they want, and rise to top management. They can marry, or not; have children, or not; purchase a house and get credit in their own name. They have the world at their feet.

And yet, in the past year in this province, we have seen a man, woman and their adult son convicted of the murders of three daughters and the man’s other wife. The four had apparently rebelled against the father’s control – the first wife had spoken of leaving him, while the girls showed a preference for Western dress and ways. We have seen another man convicted of almost beheading his wife for not treating him with the deference he felt was his right. All come from a culture where women are regarded as property, and killing a daughter, sister or wife who has “dishonoured” her family by stepping out of line (by not dressing modestly enough, not being obedient enough, or being rebellious) – an honour killing – is not regarded as a crime.

It is in this culture, though.

So is “tuning up the little lady to teach her who is boss,” or “getting drunk and roughing up the girlfriend,” or whatever euphemism we use for the crime. Men beating up or even murdering their domestic partners is not limited to people from Middle Eastern, Muslim cultures.

Nor is it limited to the dregs of society. Perpetrators and victims of domestic violence come from all walks of life, all occupations, all income levels. They include people on welfare and Hollywood stars; drug dealers and community leaders, urban dwellers and rural residents.

The economic downturn has reduced the options available to women in abusive relationships. Women’s shelters have experienced funding cuts. Affordable housing is harder than ever to find. Jobs are scarce. At the same time, many families are under tremendous stress, increasing substance abuse and the violence that so often accompanies it.

While women have a high level of equality and freedom in this country compared to elsewhere, they still suffer gender-based violence. Dec. 6 serves as a reminder that no woman should fear for her safety and life because she is a woman.

Even in our enlightened society and time, too many do. The National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women is no anachronism.

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