Women speak out against violence and poverty

On December 6, 1989 a gunman walked into L’Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal, separated the women from the men and shot and killed 14 women, injuring 13 more.

The Canadian government commemorated the tragedy by designating Dec. 6 as the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women.

“It’s not just about the L’Ecole Polytechnique memorial, it’s also a day of remembrance and action,” said University of Calgary Native Centre administrative coordinator Cheryle Chagnon-Greyeyes. “It’s a matter of remembering those people who died and the reasons why they died, the fact that they were women. The action is to make change, to give hope.”

Each year the day has a different theme, focusing on a specific issue of violence against women. This year the theme of violence and poverty was chosen.

Women who live in poverty are more likely to be abused, explained Chagnon-Greyeyes.

“Poverty isn’t just a lack of money, poverty can be a lack of spirit.” said Chagnon-Greyeyes. “It can be living in fear. The separation, feeling impoverished. Violence towards women are all of these things, it’s the feeding of fear. Often abusers will isolate their victims–poverty by financial control.”

Chagnon-Greyeyes noted that the L’Ecole Polytechnique story has been told, but stressed the importance of sharing these stories with youth and giving the message of hope, instead of blame.

“I saw a 17-year-old girl yesterday in the inner city with a big black eye,” said Salvation Army administrative assistant Laurie Middaugh. “But I also saw a woman standing beside me at Safeway and I realized the whole side of her eye was bruised, and that was in Garrison Woods. It can happen to anyone.”

Middaugh was a speaker at this year’s memorial held at the Rozsa Centre. She shared her story of abuse that led to her fleeing a past relationship with nothing but the clothes on her back and $300 in the bank.

“People have always seen me as having a regular life,” she said. “When this happened to me, and I was working at the Salvation Army on the eighth floor, in an executive office, their reaction was like, ‘Wow! What? That happened to Laurie of all people?”

“It happens to everyone.”

Middaugh said it was painful to publicly share her experience, but said it was worth it if she touched just one person.

“It’s the subtleness that leads to violence. When it’s someone you love, you rationalize it, you lessen what’s really going on.”

In addition to Middaugh’s speech, the memorial featured native drumming and the lighting of 14 candles to symbolize the slain women.

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