Saturday, September 23, 2006

Leena Miller
PACS 202
Enrichment Report #1
September 22, 2006

Take Back the Night

Thursday September 21st I participated in the annual Take Back the Night march in Kitchener-Waterloo. The symbolic march has a historical background. It started in the 1970’s in England when women and children were forbidden from being on the streets after 10 p.m. unless a man accompanied them. These restrictions started in an effort to end a series of violent sexual assaults. Outraged at the law, women took a stand and marched to reclaim their right to walk in the streets without fear. Now, as the coordinators of the march explained, “Marches are held annually around the world to bring awareness and empowerment to individuals, and to inspire action that will bring an end to violence, and more specifically the sexual violence that intrudes into our lives and communities.”
This year the crowd of between 100-200 women and children assembled at the Brewmeister Green in Waterloo at 6:30. The evening started with a welcome from the volunteer organizers. They explained the purpose of the march (as a quoted above) and some instructions to keep everyone safe. They emphasised that we were participating in a peaceful march, with a goal of ending violence and creating a safer community. During the gathering time at Brewmeister, the coordinators also gave participants the opportunity to come up and briefly explain why they were marching. One woman shared her celebration to have just officially ended a 20-year abusive marriage. Another woman shared about her experience working the KW Sexual Assault Support Centre and gave some statistics that the centre had collected: everyday 10 women in the region are sexually assaulted and the KW police respond to 14 calls concerning domestic violence everyday. I found these local statistics quite shocking, especially when you consider how many cases of sexual violence go unreported as well.
The march then started, and we walked from the Brewmeister Green, up King Street and then over to Victoria Park. Along the way women and children carried signs, chanted, cheered, and interacted with onlookers, passing cars, and each other. I felt that we were well supported by passing cars that gave us supportive honks and thumbs up. Many storekeepers also came out to wave and support us along the way.
One of the most memorable parts of the march was a little boy, about 7 or 8 years old, who came with his mom. This boy brought his scooter along, and rode up and down the length of the crowd starting cheers such as “2, 4, 6, 8, real men don’t rape!” all the time with a huge smile on his face. His enthusiasm was contagious. Hopefully the memory of the march will stay with this boy as a powerful influence of respect and love for women.
This was my first time participating in an all women and children’s march. It was an empowering experience for me. The march helps to build awareness in the community about violence against women, and also raised my awareness about these issues. It is important to highlight that the march is symbolic. The large major of violence against women and children does not take place on the streets at night. The majority of sexual violence takes place in private homes, by people that are close to the women and children being abused. The march is not to deny or take away from this fact. Rather it creates a public space were private acts of violence can be addressed, as well as a place were public acts of violence can be addressed. Moving the violence that occurs behind closed doors into safe, supportive public spaces can help victims to heal and acts to prevent sexual violence from occurring in the first place.
In much of the “peace” activism I have participated in, peace-oriented communities that I am a part of (such as Conrad Grebel College), and the PACS 201 course I took, sexual violence is overlooked. These spaces tend focus on violence between nations and large groups of people. I think it is crucial for these classes, communities and groups to also examine the violence that occurs in our own communities. How do we expect our society as a whole to be peaceful when everyday 10 women in our community (here in Kitchener-Waterloo) are sexually assaulted? To build peace on a national and international level we must first address the violence that occurs in our own communities. Take Back the Night is an important step towards creating a community where all people feel safe and supported.

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