Canadian Federation of University Women members Colleen Kenyon, Gwenn Alves, president Kathy Shaw, and Carol Harding with their REDress display outside the Meridian Community Centre. DON RICKERS

REDress display at MCC acknowledges killed and missing Indigenous women

Red dresses fluttered in a cold wind outside the community centre last Friday, with the symbolic purpose of bringing awareness to a global initiative called 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence and Violence against Women. The Canadian Federation of University Women (CFUW) of Welland and District placed the dresses as part of their involvement in the program.

The REDress Project focuses on the issue of missing and murdered Aboriginal women, and is on display in public spaces throughout Canada and the United States The representative use of red dresses was originated by Metis artist Jaime Black in 2010.

A brief ceremony included participation by Pelham Mayor Marvin Junkin, local CFUW members, and Shyann Jenkins, from the Niagara Regional Native Centre.

“We chose the REDress Project as one of our activities because we need to educate people and have conversations to create greater general awareness on the issue of violence against women,” said CFUW president Kathy Shaw.

Shyann Jenkins, from the Niagara Regional Native Centre. DON RICKERS

The CFUW has slated a number of other events during the 16 Days of Activism. On Tuesday, Dec. 7 at 7 PM, they will be hosting a Zoom talk by Kayla Mayer, the Anti-Trafficking Team Lead at the YWCA in St. Catharines, who will provide an update regarding human trafficking in the Niagara area. This meeting is open to the public.

Founded in 1919, CFUW has 100 chapters across Canada, with a mission to improve the status of women, promote human rights, support public education, and advocate for social justice. The organization contributes approximately $1 million annually to scholarships for women. The CFUW chapter for Welland and District was established in 1941.

The organization has prepared a toolkit which details the CFUW’s 16 Days of Activism program, available online at:

https://cfuwadmin.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/2021-Toolkit-16-Days-of-Activism.pdf

Gender-based violence (GBV), as broadly-defined by the United Nations, includes domestic violence, sexual harassment or assault, child marriage, psychological or emotional abuse, human trafficking, financial abuse, stalking, femicide, and female genital cutting/mutilation.

In Canada, Indigenous women and girls, women with disabilities, newcomers, youth, seniors, GBTQ12S+ and non-binary individuals and those living in rural or remote communities are disproportionately impacted by gender-based violence. Thousands of women and children sleep in shelters every night because their home isn’t safe, say advocates.

Niagara Regional Chair Jim Bradley said in a press release that the Region’s Women’s Advisory Committee and Regional Council formally support the 16 Days of Activism campaign.

“While gender-based violence is always a serious concern, the last 20 months of the pandemic has seen a steep increase in reports of domestic violence across our community,” said Bradley. “The necessary social isolation required to slow the spread of Covid-19 has had the unintended impact of exacerbating unstable and exploitive situations in Niagara. During periods of quarantine, crisis lines across the country nearly doubled their call volume, and law enforcement found that domestic violence calls spiked by nearly 12 percent.”

A recent RCMP report found that First Nations, Inuit, and Métis women and girls are four-and-half times more likely to be murdered than any other woman in Canada.

Niagara’s geographic location as a border region brings with it many tragic instances of human trafficking, said Bradley, with almost all of the victims being women, and more than one in four under the age of 18.

“These victims are controlled through grooming, coercion, isolation, shame, threats and substance abuse — we would all do well to be more aware and better educated on both the scope of this issue, and how best to recognize the warning signs.”

Bradley stressed in his message that ending gender-based violence begins with a focus on prevention through education.

“We must support victims, and ensure adequate resources and supports are available in our community. We must work to address the social norms and power imbalances that, in-part, allow gender-based violence to occur. Finally, we need to ensure our law enforcement agencies and judicial system holds perpetrators accountable.”

The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence movement is an annual international campaign that runs November 25 through December 10. It was started at the inaugural Women’s Global Leadership Institute in 1991, and is one of the world’s largest organizing strategies in the prevention and elimination of gender-based violence.

Additional details on the 16 Days of Activism are available at the website https://16dayscampaign.org

 

Updated to correct the spelling of Shyann Jenkins’ first name.