by Emma Kirke

Canada changed forever on December 6, 1989, when 14 young women were murdered in a gender-based act of violence at l'École Polytechnique de Montréal. Beginning in 1991, the country has marked a day of remembrance to annually renew commitment to ensure such a tragedy will never happen again. 

The National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women intentionally includes the word ‘action’ in the name, highlighting the responsibility to ensure that we continue to root out misogyny in Canadian society and around the world. Specific to the STEM field, the annual occasion highlights the need to continue to open doors for women in STEM and keep them open for those following behind by providing the required support to keep women in these fields.

Gender-based violence does not come out of nowhere. We see its roots in messages reflected in our media that objectify women and members of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community and the rigid gender norms imposed on children. While gender-based violence does affect all Canadians, people experiencing other forms of oppression like racism, colonialism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and ableism are more likely to experience gender-based violence. 

Much of this violence takes place in private spaces. In 2018, a national survey found that 44% of women had experienced some form of intimate partner violence in their lives. The percentages rise for those experiencing other forms of oppression. 

At post-secondary institutions like the University of Waterloo, 1 in 7 women have been sexually assaulted since the beginning of their studies. The negative consequences of gender-based violence reach far beyond individuals who experience it with potential long-term health, social, and economic impacts that can lead to cycles of violence and abuse within families, and sometimes the broader community. As a result, gender-based violence holds us all back.

Within the Centre for Peace Advancement, Lunaria supports workplaces in identifying and address harmful gender dynamics and shares this blog post about gender-based violence. All Grebel University College staff have been trained in responding to disclosures of sexual harm and will take incidents seriously. Across campus, the Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Office helps people impacted by sexual harm navigate their options. It equips others to proactively build cultures of consent and listen well to survivors, trusting their experience and respecting their right to choose what happens next

In speaking about gender-based violence, we cannot leave out the targeted shooting of the nightclub in Colorado Springs a couple of weeks ago. Just as a shooter sought to “fight feminism” by targeting young women at l’École Polytechnique in Montréal, another shooter sought to target a unique safe space for members of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community. Hate breeds hate just as love breeds love and neither emerge in a vacuum. 

By fostering a culture of mutual respect and trust, we enable every member of our community to reach their potential and make their contribution, whether in the STEM field or beyond. 

On December 6, the University of Waterloo, in partnership with the Canadian Federation of University Women Kitchener-Waterloo, will be hosting their annual ceremony of remembrance to honour the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women.   
The University welcomes all to come together in person or online to reflect on and honour the lives of 14 young women, and take action against gender-based violence faced by those who identify as women.