Marching through the heart of downtown Brandon on Thursday, dozens gathered in solidarity to call for an end to gendered and sexual violence in Manitoba.
In the most recent statistics, Manitoba ranked second in police-reported family violence, said Kim Iwasiuk, director of counselling and advocacy at the Women’s Resource Centre. She says the only way to combat these numbers is to talk about domestic, gendered and sexual violence and push for active solutions to support survivors.
“It’s a time for our community to be able to come together and just show support for folks who are survivors.”
Take Back the Night is an annual march and rally against gender-based violence to help women “reclaim” the night. Organized by the YWCA, Women’s Resource Centre and Brandon University, the first Brandon march since 2019 attracted about 60 participants.
Iwasiuk hopes people walked away from the rally with a call to action to go out and make a difference in the community.
“We need to make sure that we’re lobbying government and social service programs, justice systems, to be able to support survivors.”
Talking about violence remains “vitally important”
It is “vitally important” to acknowledge gendered violence continues to exist in many forms, said Kelly Saunders, Brandon University political scientist. There can be a presumption in Canada that these battles have been won and fought, she said, when the fight remains ongoing.
“These kinds of events are important to remind us that the work has not been completed yet,” she said. “This should not be happening in a country like Canada in 2022 and yet it does and so I think it behooves all of us to bring about the change.”
More importantly, she says, Take Back the Night calls attention to how gendered violence continues to disproportionately affects marginalized groups including Indigenous, LGBTQ and women of colour, showing the need for nuanced and intersectional discussions to create change in society.
Allies can make changes in everyday life to combat these systemic issues, she said, by “speaking truth to power” and calling out inappropriate language or jokes rooted in sexism and bigotry.
Community members can also press decision-makers to bring in better laws, she said, and push police forces to make sure they are investigating and arresting perpetrators of violence.
“I think we’re seeing that shift happening because we’re calling it out and we’re naming it and that’s the first step,” Saunders said. “We all have that responsibility to say no, this is not appropriate.”
Better resources needed for survivors
Brandon University students Renee Ferguson and Janis Kim felt compelled to walk in the march because they said everyone knows somebody who has experienced sexual violence. Ferguson described gender-based violence as a pervasive problem in the community, institutions and the world.
“We know a lot about the issue and we talk about it a lot … but it doesn’t go anywhere unless you actually take action,” Ferguson said. “We wanted to show up as a group and bring that kind of awareness to the community.”
While it’s important to acknowledge these types of violence disproportionately affect women, Ferguson added, people cannot forget gendered and sexual violence affects people of all genders.
One of her greatest concerns is support and resources are often not made easily available for students to access when it comes to combating gendered and sexual violence. These barriers can make it hard to address the ongoing pain and hurt caused by these issues.
“I personally, and … people that I know, have endured sexual violence and the consequences that come from the normalization of sexual violence in everyday life,” Kim said.
There are all types of toxic behaviours online and in community spaces, that allow for more severe instances of gender-based violence to grow and become normal in daily life.
Kim says gendered and sexual violence issues are conversations that needs to continue every day, especially in public spaces, if society truly wants to change. She added the need for community funding for women’s resource centres and creating actual solutions that bring direct benefits to people who are continually affected by this issue are essential.
“I don’t think that it’s like completely hopeless, but … how many years have we been talking about this march since the ’70s?” Kim said. “How much longer are we going to have to keep talking about it for people to actually listen and the people in power to actually listen and make corrections into our institutions?”
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