Far too often, tragedy has to strike for the public to understand the severity of an issue. This is the case for Dec. 6, now known as National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. On that day in 1989, students went to class at École Polytechnique in Montreal like any other, pursuing a better future through education in engineering. That future was stolen from them when a 25-year-old gunman came in and shot 28 people—including the class’ 14 female students.
After the shooting, mainstream media outlets concluded that these women were simply a madman’s unfortunate victims, and that they were not specifically targeted because of their gender. The reality was that the shooter’s motive was to target female students. He vocalized his motive of “fighting feminism” as he shot nine female students in their classroom, then moved to the corridors and cafeteria. The massacre has resulted in political action and advocacy surrounding the issue of violence against women—an issue that is still all too prevalent today.
Statistic Canada’s rates of victimization offer current statistics on violence against women. Because of their research, we know that of all violent crimes in Canada, more than one quarter have resulted from family violence; almost 70 per cent of family violence victims are women and girls. Aboriginal women in particular are exposed to higher rates of violent victimization. Women are victims of intimate partner homicide at a rate four times greater than men. Dec. 6 represents a time of remembrance for those who are subjected to violence and dismissed because of their womanhood; it is also a time of action.
As the years have passed, future generations may not know about the events on Dec. 6, 1989 and how these hateful actions spurred the need to support women’s equality and a call for the end of violence against them. Fourteen young women were killed and a nation was left to ask why; yet answers do exist. Research done by Status of Women Canada tells us that structural violence is the systematic way in which women are seen and treated as inferior to men. This oppression is deeply rooted in our history, politics, economics and society.We can also look to theories of power and control to explain why violence is perpetrated against women. Exposing violence against women for what it really is through dialogue, recognition and restabilization will benefit women both on and off campus.
According to the United Nations, the number of females pursuing a university education is higher than the number of males in most western countries—though, the presence of girls in certain programs and fields is still not even. The “Because I Am A Girl” campaign highlights that, in fields like engineering— the chosen field of many women killed at École Polytechnique—girls are still extremely underrepresented (15 per cent of engineers are female, while 85 per cent are male). The pursuit of a career outside the home competes with traditional gender roles and ideas of femininity. In the push for equality, women are struggling to live in a society free of violence. Taking part in events on Dec. 6 is one way to engage in conversations about equality and spread awareness about violence against women.
On Dec. 6 of this year, we ask that you remember these women. We ask that you take action by informing someone else of the date’s importance, and by advocating on behalf of women everywhere for a violence-free, hate-free society.
This year at UNB, the Women in Engineering Society will be holding a memorial service on campus on Dec. 5 at 2:30 p.m. in Head Hall C-13. All are welcome.
- Vanessa MacDonald, Maggie Newcombe and Larissa Rose (STU BSW students completing a placement with the Muriel McQueen Fergusson Centre)