Sunday, December 6, 2009

December 6th, 1989

This has nothing to do with travel, really, but it's on my mind. And this is MY blog, so I get to write about whatever I choose to: that's the rule.

Some of you reading this may be too young to remember that date (hey, some of my Facebook friends were only born in the 1980's), and some of you have never lived in Canada so may never have heard of anything significant happening on that day.

But anyone who was, like me, a university student in 1989 (yes, my first year was 20 years ago) will remember this day. 14 women were killed by Marc Lepine at the Universite de Montreal's Ecole polytechnique on December 6, 1989. 14 women who could have been my sisters, or my dorm mates, or my friends ... or me.

I remember this day vividly. I can't believe it was 20 years ago.

It was the first time, I think, that I ever realized that evil in the world wasn't "out there" at some safe distance that could never touch me or the people I love. It's up close and personal, and if you are a woman, you are, sadly, more vulnerable to violence in the world, whatever culture or country in which you live.

Oh, Canada at least is probably a better place to be a female victim of violence that it was 20 years ago. The shocking events of December 6th at least woke people up to the reality of violence against women. Before then, a woman who was beaten was more likely to suffer in silence, and a woman who was raped was more likely to be belittled because she "asked for it". A woman who was harassed at work was someone who just couldn't take a joke: she was the one with the problem. You might stand a chance of being taken seriously now ... just maybe.

But it's not "fixed", not by a long shot, not even in Canada. And if you look around the world, the situation is much more grim in many parts. I shudder in horror when I read any news articles that suggest that a return to Taliban rule in Afghanistan might not be so bad, or that as many as 140 million women and girls around the world have been genitally mutilated; I shudder even harder when I hear the latter described as "circumcision" (as if it is as relatively benign as male circumcision), and a "cultural tradition" about which we have no right to get angry.

So be aware. If you know or suspect that this is happening to a woman you know, don't dismiss it as a personal matter, or a misunderstanding. When you read about the women and girls in distant countries who are raped as a strategy of war, or treated no better than chattel simply because they are female, don't be silent.

Get involved. Voice your outrage. It doesn't have to be this way. And the Montreal massacre never has to happen again.

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