Friday November 25th marked International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on our annual calendar. This United Nations initiative is the official opening to the UN Orange the World campaign which has been run annually from November 25th to December 10th since 1999. According to the UN website, “Orange Day calls upon activists, governments, and UN partners to mobilise people and highlight issues relevant to preventing and ending violence against women and girls, not only once a year on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on 25 November, but every month.”
The Peterborough community did their part to begin the mobilisation on Tuesday, when an interactive panel discussion was held at the Peterborough Lions Center. The discussion included panelists from three organizations, the Grandmothers Advocacy Network (GRAN), Kawartha World Issues Center (KWIC) and Canadian Federation of University Women. The discussion focused mainly on the advocacy of each group, their current projects and recent triumphs in the struggle to end worldwide violence against women.
GRAN spends much of its time advocating for the grandmothers of sub-Saharan Africa. They advocate for those grandmothers whose lives are devoted to caring for the millions of AIDS orphans in a region where 80% of all women suffering with HIV/AIDS live. They believe that the experience passion and expertise of older women can be a powerful catalyst in effecting change.
GRAN’s representative Janet Siddall, a retired Canadian diplomat who spent much of her career working in Asia and Africa, explained their three core priorities as, “access to medications, education for all, specifically for girls who are frequently denied it and seeking an end to violence against women.” As a small group GRAN partners with credible organizations with those goals in mind.
Siddall explains “What we really do well is we meet, we march and we engage with the cabinet ministers to raise awareness and support of our goals within Parliament.” GRAN has had recent success doing just that and meeting with key cabinet ministers and parliamentary secretaries, “It’s nice when your Prime Minister calls himself a feminist and you come knocking on his door as a feminist, to see that door open.”
Maddie Webb the Advocacy Coordinator for the Canadian Federation for University Women came from Ottawa to discuss the work that CFUW is doing across the country. The organization is made up of volunteer members from universities across the country. CFUW has worked extensively on homegrown issues of violence against women and gender equality. They were one of the groups who lead the call for an inquiry into the deaths and disappearances of missing and murdered Indigenous women, a call which has been answered by our current government.
CFUW is currently working on a survey which its members will conduct on universities in Canada. The survey, rather than focusing on the student experience, will ask questions of the administrations to determine what, if any, actionable policies Universities are using to combat sexual assault on campuses. The survey is set to take place in 2017 and CFUW is hopeful its results will help shape the policies of university administrations across the country for the prevention and proper handling of cases of sexually assault on campus.
Mari Phkhakadze, a Trent international student and representative of KWIC rounded off the panel and discussed not only the advocacy work KWIC focuses on, but her own personal experiences of gender based violence. In her introduction Phkhakadze distanced herself from the imposed ideas of gender by stating, “I am who I believe myself to be.”
A native of Georgia, Phkhakadze witnessed the entrenched culture of gendered violence. One of her friends, the victim of a violent marriage was killed by her spouse in a domestic violence incident. It was this, among other reasons that lead Phkhakadze to start an educational camp for girls, with the goals to educate and empower young women and change the mindset that a woman’s only role was as a wife. Here in Canada, Phkhakadze works with KWIC to put on events and support initiatives of social justice in the community. You can hear her KWIC podcast by checking out their website and listening in to learn more about how KWIC is advocating for women on campus and in the Peterborough community.
These three engaging panelists and the issues each of their associations are advocating for, created a lively discussion on the issues of gender-based violence both locally and internationally. One of the key concerns discussed was the issue of disproportionate violence against Indigenous women in Canada and what we can do as allies to stand as witness and supporters of victimized Indigenous women.
The City of Peterborough is doing its part to recognize issues of violence against women in our community. On Friday Nov 25th, Mayor Darryl Bennett announced that for the duration of the UN Days of Orange campaign, City Hall will be lit with orange flood lights. If you happen to be passing City Hall at night and witness the building lit up, take a moment to reflect on issues of violence against women at home and abroad. We can each do our part individually to reject the social norms that allow this violence to continue. It is as simple as following UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon’s advice when he says, “Break the silence. When you witness violence against women and girls, do not sit back. Act.”