Hundreds of people holding candles took to the streets of downtown Winnipeg on Sept. 30 for Take Back the Night, a worldwide march held in protest of violence against women and children.
The event began in the 1970s when groups of women with candles marched together and spoke out against the pervasive violence affecting the lives of women around the world.
This year, Winnipeg communities once again came together to take action and raise awareness. The march began at 7 p.m. on Langside Street from the Magnus Eliason Recreation Center and participants marched up Ellice Avenue and back onto Portage Avenue.
“It’s the biggest night for women’s rights all across the world. It’s not a Winnipeg thing. It’s not a Canada thing. It’s worldwide and you can feel the solidarity when people come,” said Ray Eskritt, a speaker at the event and co-hostess of Say it Sista, a feminist radio show on CKUW 95.9 FM.
The theme for this year’s Take Back the Night was “Shine a Light,” which reflects the belief that much of the abuse endured by women does not receive the attention it should.
“There’s so much violence against women and a lot of it is hidden because it’s against really vulnerable groups of people who don’t have a very strong political voice,” said Marika Olynyk, an organizer of the march.
Jennifer Portillo, coordinator of the Womyn’s Center at University of Manitoba, said the theme exposes the truth that violence happens every day and it encourages people to speak out about it.
“We need to stop letting silence justify acts of violence,” she said.
Portillo explained that those who experience acts of violence often do not feel comfortable talking about it, reporting it or even acknowledging that it occurred.
“Our society perpetrates the idea that unless a woman is attacked by the ‘stranger in the back alley,’ then it’s not really a legitimate experience,” said Portillo.
According to the Canadian Women’s Foundation, less than 10 per cent of female victims of sexual assault reported the crimes to the police.
“Violent acts against women, including sexual assault and rape, occur too frequently, to the point that we’ve become desensitized to the gravity of the situation,” said Portillo.
The march brought together community members from across Winnipeg and various inner city organizations, including an anti-violence group from Sage House, a support center for street-involved females.
Alaya McIvor, who is part of the anti-violence advisory group, has been attending the rally for the past six years.
“I’ve lost [ . . . ] sisters on the streets, so I come in support for them,” she said.
While some of those attending were victims of violence or sexual abuse, many others attended in the name of friends or family, or simply to support the cause. Many members of the march agree that street safety is a serious issue in Winnipeg.
The Feminist Legal Forum, a student group from the Faculty of Law at U of M, also attended the event.
“Our group is all about fighting for equality, and things like domestic violence are really important to us because it happens behind closed doors,” said Dayna Steinfeld, a representative for the group.
“We’re here to be a contingent from the law school to show that there are people who care about these things,” she said.
Anna-Celestrya Carr, an aboriginal student at the University of Manitoba, brought with her a banner covered in the handprints of men from the U of M campus who made a promise never to use their hands for violence against women.
“Hopefully if a man sees an act of violence, he’ll do something and make the responsible choice because he made a promise,” said Carr, who hopes to bring a banner to every university campus across Canada.
“Groups from all over Winnipeg are here and it’s a real momentum builder,” said Eskritt. “It’s an opportunity to talk to people who are doing similar work and replenish your soul for another year.”
According to the Canadian Women’s Foundation, every minute of every day a Canadian woman or child is being sexually assaulted. Half of all Canadian women have experienced at least one incident of physical or sexual abuse since the age of sixteen. In Canada, up to 360,000 children are exposed to domestic violence annually.
“Canada isn’t safe until the most vulnerable persons are safe,” said Eskritt.
The organizers of the march maintain that as long as people feel unsafe walking on the streets in Winnipeg, the march will continue to take place each year.