Girls, Aboriginal women should be remembered on special day

By Robert Washburn

It is easy to be distracted this time of year. The commercial push associated with the Christmas season, children’s concerts, crazy weather and the hustle and bustle.

That makes it all the easier to forget National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women on Dec. 6. It is when we collectively remember the fateful day in 1989 when 14 women were massacred by Marc Lepine at the Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal.

No doubt there will be those who will gather at the sculpture in Victoria Park to contemplate, remember and raise awareness locally.

While many suffer, a report released by Statistics Canada in July notes two shocking facts for Canada: reported violence against girls under the age of 12 is becoming more predominant and violence and abuse against Aboriginal women remains in the shadows of our society.

The report, Measuring Violence Against Women, highlights the practice of female genital mutilation,  as in the permanent or temporary changes to human sex organs, as a growing phenomena. Most often it is perpetrated by family members, including parents, step and foster parents, as well as uncles and other extended family members.

Equally shocking are the number of sexual crimes against girls. Nearly half (47 per cent) of all violent crime against girls under 12 reported to police is sexual in nature.

The other disturbing trend is the number of First Nations women who are victims of violence. These women face larger socio-economic issues, making them more vulnerable. The study consistently found Aboriginal women have a higher likelihood of facing violence and abuse compared to the rest of the female population.

At least 668 aboriginal women and girls are currently missing or murdered, according to the Native Women’s Association of Canada.

It is vital all women in Northumberland feel safe and free from violence and abuse, including physical, emotional and psychological harm. On any given night, 3,000 women stay in shelters across Canada. And, while shelters are full, it means every day about 420 women will be turned away.

But, it is likewise significant to pause for a moment and think about the girls in the county who are not safe. They face harms from those who are suppose to be their protectors and care for them, giving them security. Instead, they destroy these young people, causing damage lasting years, if not the rest of their lives.

It is not just women who must advocate for change. Men in Northumberland must also share the burden to educate young boys and peers about violence and abuse against women and girls. Far too often, men feel they can degrade women when the other gender is not present. Worse, some men even demean women in public or in social situations. This should never be acceptable behaviour and it will only change when men tell each other it is unacceptable.

The beauty of the sculpture in Cobourg contrasts the ugliness of violence and abuse of women and girls. While it is daunting to imagine how the world can be changed, it is possible to take action in our own community.

On Friday, let’s pause and not forget the women of the Montreal massacre, all women in Canada, particularly Northumberland, but especially girls and Aboriginal women who face violence and abuse. Let’s promise to make their world a bit better.

Originally appeared Dec. 6, 2013