Marching together for safer streets

Spencer Fernando

On Sept. 19, I had the opportunity to attend the 35th annual Take Back the Night rally.

This was the first time I had attended the march—which started at the North End Bell Tower on Selkirk Avenue—and I was initially unsure of what to expect. What I found was a powerful sense of community, and a commitment to making our streets safer for women and for everyone.

Before the rally began, the crowd gathered together to listen to speakers, including Michael Champagne, the founder of Aboriginal Youth Opportunities, and some amazing First Nations drummers and singers.

Take Back the Night is an annual march held in many parts of the world to advocate for safe streets for everyone, as well as raise awareness about violence against women.

On the one hand, it is very empowering to see a community of people come together and rally for safer streets and a greater respect for women in our society.

On the other hand, the fact that there is still a need to march for safer streets, and the fact that women still often face violence, is a dispiriting reminder of how far we have yet to go to create a society that is truly safe and inclusive for everyone.

When you really get down to it, Take Back the Night is about something fundamental: the right to live without fear. We cherish our freedom in this country, and an essential part of being free is being safe from harm. For too many people—especially women—in our city and around the world, safety remains out of reach.

As long as there are women who have to look over their shoulders as they walk down the street, and as long as there are women living in fear of assault and abuse, our work as individuals and as a society is not over.

In Manitoba specifically, the rates of sexual assault and violence against women in our province are twice as high as the Canadian average. While this cannot be fixed instantly, one of the most important steps towards making a positive change is to raise awareness. This is part of what makes Take Back the Night an important event. It is not just about those who march, but those who read the news reports and learn about the march, and who become conscious of the progress we still need to make.

While things may seem dispiriting, there are reasons for hope. One of the strongest reasons for hope was seen at the Take Back the Night rally itself. People of all backgrounds marched together, united in their commitment to end violence against women and make our streets safe.

This is how change happens: through persistence, outreach, and a commitment to a positive vision for the future, and I was honoured to be a small part of that at the Take Back the Night march last month.

Despite how difficult or intractable the challenges may seem, there is reason to be optimistic. If we hold on to a vision of an end to violence against women and of safe streets, we will move towards that goal, and one day, we can reach it.