With nearly 500 tombstones staked into the lawn behind her, Shannon Freud told the story of her friend Melissa, who was killed seven years ago by an abusive boyfriend. She was just 22.
“My intentions by reading this story,” she said, “are to warn others who may be in Melissa’s situation.”
On each tombstone, made from sheets of paper covered with plastic coating, was the name of a woman, including Melissa, who had lost their life in a senseless act of violence in Ontario since 1989.
This was all part of a yearly event organized by a group called Women Won’t Forget. Held at the Philosopher’s Walk on the University of Toronto campus, it was just one of many memorials across Canada to mark the National Day of Violence Against Women on Dec. 6.
Earlier this month, the nation stopped to mourn the 14 women murdered at Montreal’s Ecole Polytechnique, so many years ago, by the deranged gunman Marc Lepine. Since then Dec. 6 has become symbolic for all women who have fallen victim to violence, violence that remains a daily fact of life for many women.
At the University of Toronto memorial service, victims gathered and shared their stories of abuse. Poet and visual artist Neena Saloiya, was introduced to the gathering as a woman who does not let her disability hold her back.
Indeed, the blind woman stood before the crowd of around 150 people and recited two deeply personal poems about abuse she has faced. She read from brail sheets clutched to her chest, while her seeing-eye dog lay obediently beside her.
Though she faltered at points, while her fingers tried to find their place, her voice was strong and full of conviction.
While speaking, MPP for Parkdale-High Park, Cheri DiNovo, motioned to the tombstones.
“I know that there’s a story for each and every one of these women behind me,” DiNovo said.
Time for a change
Later in the evening, as names and stories of about 20 women who were murdered in just the past year were read to the crowd, one thing was glaringly obvious, most of the women’s killers had a history of violence and even restraining orders against them.
Freud, who is also a crisis councillor and one of the evening’s coordinators, believes that many changes are required to the current system to prevent such events from happening again.
“There needs to be more protection for more women,” she said. “Agencies (police and children’s aid) tend to conflict with one another and in the end women fall thorough the cracks.”
She also said she would like to see stricter restraining orders brought against men who have abused their partners.
DiNovo also called for a change in women’s rights in Canada, citing economic dependence on men as one of the biggest obstacles facing a woman in an abusive relationship.
“The most dangerous place in the world for a woman is in her own home,” she said. “We have to correct the system that makes this possible.”
To make a donation to the December 6 Fund visit: www.dec6fund.ca
Filed from The Centre for Creative Communications