Four women of NOW on the meaning of December 6

Because we are women: December 6Today marks the anniversary of the massacre at l’École Polytechnique de Montréal. 24 years later, the echoes of that terrible day are still strong. And they’re especially resonant on a day when we also mourn the death of Nelson Mandela.

The struggle for justice and equality has many faces. But there are strong common threads in both Mr. Mandela’s life and the daily work of multitudes to end violence against women.

In the same way that Margaret Mitchell’s male colleagues laughed when she raised the issue of domestic violence in the House of Commons, Nelson Mandela was demonized and dismissed on the editorial pages of the same newspapers running glowing eulogies today.

This is work that demands bold vision, persistence… and an enduring faith that ridicule and contempt can’t withstand the power of determined people. Today, we remember those who died on that day in 1989 in Montreal, and renew our commitment to building a world that treats our mothers, sisters and daughters with respect, justice and dignity.

Here, four of the women of NOW share a little of what December 6 means to them.

Kristen Keighley-Wight:

I was only a child when the massacre occurred… so it’s not the memory of the day I reflect on. Instead the horrific story cues up thoughts of all those times I’ve felt victimized, dismissed or vulnerable because of my gender. I remember the moments of shaking after being personally threatened because of a political role I had taken on; I think about the times I’ve been quietly nodded at before the person turns to the man in the group to ask what he thinks instead; I lament that I’ve been forced to feel anything less than safe in dark and empty spaces.

But mostly, this day of remembrance encourages me to renew my resolve to change things. It is a reminder to use the voice I have, to help others find their voices and power, and to work with men and women alike to end the violence women face.

And it is something we just have to do. Because I want my niece — my sweet, loving, one-year-old niece — to grow up never having to hold the memory of an event like this one commemorates. I want her to grow up always feeling safe, valued and equal to all around her.

Rupinder Kang:


She cries
she hurts
silently she calls for help
but “I can be stronger”
she thinks in her mind
“I won’t let it happen again”
But the reminders on her face, her arms and her legs
will barely have faded before it happens once more.
Alone with her thoughts, her reasons and fears
she cries
and she hurts
again and again.

Maya Russell:

I was in I think Grade 12 and the news hit me like no other. No other disaster has shaken my world in the same way, until the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Centre. The realization, as a young person, that people with my anatomy are hated by some men was horrifying to me.

It was a hate that at first I felt I’d never seen before. But after those cold-blooded murders I started to recognize it everywhere.

I remember wanting to talk about it, to get people talking, to recognize the tragic loss of those young womens’ lives. I asked the Principal to read a message on the school P.A. system and have a moment of silence.

My request was turned down because that would be ‘too political.’ I found that heartbreaking and enraging.

But here’s the lesson I’ve held on to — that difficult conversations are going to be uncomfortable for people. And you have to be willing to shake things up. And shaking things up for justice, equality and change is worth it. In the memory of the young women killed at École Polytechnique, the women murdered in the Downtown Eastside and for women who live with violence everywhere, I’m committed to shaking things up.

Joanne Deer:

I was in my first year of university at Dalhousie.

One of my girlfriends was in her first year at a university in Montreal — I held my breath until knew it wasn’t her school, that it wasn’t her.

But it could have been. Just like it could have been me. It could have been any of us.

As the anniversaries pass by, 10, 15, 20 — and now 24, I can’t help but feel angry that this not yet purely a day of “remembering” and honoring the memory of those 14 women, but still a day of “action”. Of renewing our commitment to end violence against women. Again. And again.

This year I am also thinking of young women like Rehtaeh Parsons who faced gender violence of a different, ‘new’ sort, but that led to the same tragic result.

So today at some point over the course of December 6th, I’ll make the transition from sadness to frustration to anger to determination and hope.

Because I must. Because it has to stop and it won’t stop until we make it.

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