On January 21, 2017, 5 million people of all walks of life came together on all 7 continents of the world. On Saturday, January 19th 2019, just short of two years later, a crowd of approximately 500 people braving the cold and snow rallied together in the old Sears parking lot at the Lambton Mall. Organizers of the event acknowledge, “The land on which we gather is part of the traditional territory of the Chippewa, Odawa, Potawatomi and Delaware Nations. These Indigenous Nations, known as the Anishinaabeg and Lunaapeew, agreed through their ancestral languages to the mutual sharing of the land, with obligations and responsibilities to the environment.” Each person in attendance was witnessing history in the making as they stood in solidarity marking Sarnia – Lambton’s own inaugural Women’s March.
The theme for the 2019 marches was ending violence against women. According to the World Health Organization, 1 in 3 women worldwide has experienced either physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. The Canadian chapters focused specifically on missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and two spirited individuals and locally, speakers Nancy Peters, Karen Mathewson, Martine Creasor, and Ronee Capes spoke about the disproportionate amount of violence women face and the challenges endured by those affected by this fact.
So, what are the facts regarding violence against women, and why are so many taking to the streets?
The discussion is complex, with various social, economic, geographic, and cultural factors each playing a role from case to case worldwide. To put it into perspective in a Canadian framework, more than 3,300 women on any given day (along with their 3,000 children), are forced to sleep in emergency shelters to escape domestic violence, with approximately 200 women turned away nightly due to shelters being full. According to the General Social Survey on Canadian’s Safety, 636,000 incidents of sexual assault were reported, highlighting the risk of sexual assault being higher amongst Canadians who are either young, women, Aboriginal, homosexual or bisexual, have poor mental health, or have had previous experiences with homelessness or childhood abuse. 70% of incidents were unwanted sexual touching, 20% were sexual attacks, and 10% were sexual activities where the victim was unable to consent. And these are just the facts that have been reported. Further research indicates that sexual assault is one of the most underreported crimes, attributed to a wide range of reasons including the shame, guilt, and stigma of sexual victimization, along with the normalization of unwanted sexual behavior. (To view more statistics and resources: Self-reported sexual assault in Canada, 2014 via Statistics Canada).
At the local rally, Creasor told the crowd that in Canada, 1 in 5 women experience abuse, and women represent 83% of the victims of spousal abuse.
Said Peters: “In Canada, 2,758 Indigenous women were reported missing in the first six months of 2018. […] If this does not enrage you or cause you unease, then you are simply misinformed.”
The weather was cold, but the energy remained strong. The speakers shared stories with the crowd of men, women, and children, combining personal and professional anecdotes, facts and experiences. Amidst the blowing snow and wind the crowd responded sometimes with cheers and at times with tears as they huddled together to support the movement of bold and brave women and allies speaking up not only for themselves, but speaking out for those who can’t.
Amid the crowd there was a sea of signs, some of which read: “So Bad, Even the Introvert is Here!” “Our Bodies Our Minds Our Power,” “Marching for Survivors Who Can’t,” “Well Behaved Women Rarely Make History,” “No More Stolen Sisters,” “I Need to Be Able to Tell My Children I Did Not Stay Silent,” “Nevertheless She Persisted,” “Stop Violence Against Women,” “Our Voices Have Power,” and “I’ve Been Holding This Sign Since 1975.”
Within that sea of signs were waves of red in the form of lipstick, coats and scarves.
The significance of the cosmetics?
According to Madeleine Marsh, “The first and most famous manifestation of red lipstick was in fact in New York when the suffragettes took to the streets, banded together, and as part of their defiance and fight for the vote, they all wore bright red lipstick.”
And the symbolism of the red scarves and clothing?
Mary Kate Jasper writes red dresses and scarves have been used in Canada through various awareness initiatives for years as a symbol to draw attention to the horrifying epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. Quoting Ruth Hopkins (Cankudatawin-Red Road Woman), a member of the Oceti Sakowin (the Great Sioux Nation of Dakota, Lakota, and Nakota), “But we aren’t just numbers. Missing and murdered native women have stories and faces, families who miss them desperately, and come from communities who are crying out for justice.”
After the local speakers finished addressing the 500-person-strong crowd of people young and old who stood in the wind and blowing snow, armed with their signs and stories and flashes of red, the drummers from the Sarnia-Lambton Native Friendship Centre came out front and center. Beating their drums, they led the way for all those walking the path of the first ever Women’s March in Sarnia-Lambton: a truly powerful and symbolic moment for all who attended, marking just how far we’ve come, and leading the path forward for how much further we need to go.
No more silence.