Every year, when the Ontario Association of Interval and Transition Houses (OAITH) releases their Annual Femicide Report
, I brew myself a cup of tea, find a cozy blanket, a quiet space in my house, and read.
I read about women like Natalie Bartlett from Sarnia. She loved travelling, music, and going to concerts. She was a mom who had two little girls, who will now spend the rest of their lives without her.
I read about Ava Burton, from Whitby, who is remembered as a spiritual and loving mother, who loved to create and paint. She had a deep affinity for butterflies.
I read about Bernice Nantanda Wamala, from Toronto, who loved to smile and laugh, dance and play. She will be remembered as someone who was full of life and love. She was three years old.
I read every profile of those who were killed in Ontario as a result of femicide. This year, there are 58 of them. The list is heavy. It honours those who died, but also describes the cause of death, those who have been charged in relation to their deaths, and all those who will miss them. Sisters, sons, mothers, brothers, friends, and entire communities.
Prior to Covid, every year on December 6th we held a ceremony (The National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women
) to grieve these losses; along with the 14 women who were killed at Montreal’s École Polytechnique in 1989. Not only was this a time for us to come together and acknowledge these lives, it was also an opportunity for awareness, education and conversation with our entire community. The hope always being that next year there will be no names added to the list.
But this hope is never realized. In fact, in the first three months of 2021, there was a significant jump in femicides over the first three months of 2020:
While this news is horrifying for everyone, for those of us who work in the gender-based violence sector, it’s not surprising. The isolation, the tensions, the economic challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, are all additional stressors escalating tension and violence. We’ve witnessed the impacts of COVID-19 in our own organization over the last two years.
Unfortunately, COVID-19 has also resulted in the cancellation of our in-person December 6 ceremony in 2020 and 2021. It seems then, more important than ever, that we take some time to review, reflect, and talk about these names, these people we’ve lost, and how we ensure their legacies are honoured.
The opportunity we had for education, awareness and conversation has changed. While we can’t do it in person, we still have the responsibility to make sure that it happens.
I invite our entire community to find some quiet time in your day, and read the Annual Femicide Report
. It’s important for all of us to take a moment and remind ourselves of why this is such an important issue. It’s important to educate ourselves about femicide, gender-based violence, and gender-inequity. And it’s important for us to walk bravely into tough conversations with our colleagues, with our family, with our friends, and with our community. We need to understand and illuminate how power structures continue to disempower the women and families we live and work with every day.
But most importantly, we need to read about Krista, Cileana, Cheryl and Jasmine. We need to honour the lives of Leah, Bernice, Christine and Daisy. We need to acknowledge all 58 names on that list. And then, we get to work.