Women in Crisis and Zonta Launches “16 Days” of Activism

Lit in purple, Market Square hosted the launching of “16 Days, 16 Voices of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence” on Friday night. Organized by Zonta Guelph and Guelph-Wellington Women in Crisis, the in-person ceremony marked the beginning of 16 days that will spotlight one new message everyday that will talk about gender-based violence and how we can all do something to fight it.

The 16 days in question are between November 25, which is the International Day to End Violence Against Women, and International Human Rights Day on December 10. For those 16 days, the City of Guelph will keep the lights in Market Square purple from dusk till dawn as a signal of support for women and girls who face violence.

“Violence against women and girls is one of the most widespread human rights violations in our world today, affecting women regardless of their age, background level of education,” explained Jensen Williams, the sexual and gender based violence education coordinator at the University of Guelph.

“While we often think of human rights violations as happening in other parts of the world, and that it couldn’t possibly happen here and in our own communities, in  Canada, femicide rates are on the rise with one woman being killed by an intimate partner every six days.”

Cindy McMann, public educator of Women in Crisis, read the territorial acknowledgement and tied that to the human rights issues that this campaign represents since gender-based violence falls disproportionately on Indigenous women and girls.

“As we lean into discussions around Truth and Reconciliation, we must lead to into actionable change and calls for justice,” McMann said. “This work requires the acknowledgement of the truths and harms historically and currently put onto Indigenous peoples and communities, and it’s important to understand the long standing history that has brought us to reside on the land.”

“We’re doing this campaign because when we’re faced with a really big issue, and there’s a tendency to think that this issue is immovable. But we’re not fated to live in a world with gender-based violence in it. It is not a natural disaster,” McMann added.

Ward 6 Councillor Dominique O’Rourke spoke on behalf of the City of Guelph saying that City Hall has made it a priority to do diversity and inclusion work that will, in the end, help the cause of ending gender-based violence. She also explained that the City’s goals to create more affordable housing playing a part in the cause as well.

“We know that a significant portion of gender-based violence takes place in private where people should feel safe, and that’s an aspect of our housing affordability and supply challenge that we don’t talk about very often,” O’Rourke said. “For many people in violent situations, they simply can’t afford to leave their abuser, or have a few affordable options.”

“I was horrified to learn of a case where a woman was ready to escape sex trafficking, but there was literally no housing for her other than the hotel where she was trafficked from in the first place, which is traumatic and unsafe, and we have fewer and fewer of even those spaces,” O’Rourke added.

Guelph MPP Mike Schreiner agreed about the connections between creating affordable housing options and helping women and others escaping violence, but he added that we should be fighting the inclinations towards violence as well with education and policy.

“I think it’s important to acknowledge that politics and policy play a critically important role in addressing gender-based violence,” Schreiner said. “It plays a role in our education curriculum and addressing toxic masculinity and issues of consent. It plays a role in the ways in which we fund our community health centres, rape crisis centres, legal clinics, victim services, and a whole host of other services that support women and support survivors.”

Along with the lights in Market Square, Women in Crisis and Zonta will be posting a new story to their social media each day for every one of the 16 days to spotlight one community leader’s message on how we can challenge gender-based violence. To check out the stories go to Facebook (@ZontaGuelph and @gwwic), Twitter (@GuelphZonta and @gwwic) and Instagram (@zontaguelph and @gwwic), or scan the QR codes on the poster below.

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