On December 6th, 1989, Marc Lépine went on a shooting rampage at the École Polytechnique in Montreal, killing fourteen engineering students and injuring many others before committing suicide. While the case resembled many other school shootings, it has been for long a symbol of the need to fight violence against women since Lépine’s victims had one thing in common: they were all women. In his suicide note, Lépine blamed women for the failures in his life and explained why he wanted to kill women in particular and why he chose an engineering school, considered a male domain, as the site of his last stand against women and women’s rights.
After the massacre that shocked a nation, tributes were erected across Canada and women’s groups were able to lobby for the successful introduction of a long gun registry to control the availability of firearms. Every year, on this date, the subject of violence against women and women’s rights in general resurface but if you read the coverage of this year’s anniversary on the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, or even the CBC, a sad reality comes to the fore: how little has changed and how we have actually suffered set backs. The Toronto Star editorial points out how feminism has become a pejorative term while the Globe and Mail interviews one of the survivors who sees a recent bill to discontinue the gun registry (which has been passing successfully through the House of Commons) as a “slap in the face”. Twenty years later and women are still murdered by their fathers, husbands and boyfriends. Even in Canada, women are still paid less than men for doing the same job.Our conservative government has quietly cut support to the Status of Women Canada, which provides funding to community groups working to combat violence against women. The government has also made it more difficult for women to fight for equal pay.
People like Stephen Lewis, Greg Mortenson, and Nicholas Kristoff have all been pointing out that the great human rights issue of the 21st century is the treatment of women across the globe, particularly in the developing world. Many of the challenges affecting the globe today such as terrorism, over population, health crisis, poverty, etc can be addressed by supporting and educating women. Greg Mortenson, who has dedicated his life to building schools in remote areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan, has shown that when you educate a boy, he leaves his village seeking better opportunities but when you educate a girl, her whole village benefits as she applies that education not only to her own family but to the whole community. Stephen Lewis’ work to draw attention to the plight of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa has shown that the epidemic is also gendered – women are infected in disproportionate numbers and it is grandmothers who bear the burden of raising the next generation. In Half the Sky, Nicholas Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn lay out the three main issues plaguing women around the world today: sex trafficking and forced prostitution; gender-based violence including honor killings and mass rape; maternal mortality, which needlessly claims one woman a minute.
In this holiday season, think about how you can get informed and help at the local or international level. One simple way is to lend money through Kiva to women in the developing world who are trying to raise their families and ensure the education of their children. You can find many other suggestions in the Half the Sky Movement website, the Stephen Lewis Foundation, or Greg Mortenson’s site. At the very least, honour the women killed in Montreal in 1989 by educating your boys and girls to see women as being as worthy of life and respect as men, and if you are Canadian, write to your MP about the gun registry.