VIEWPOINT: Despite progress, more work is needed to end violent behaviour towards women

By Karen-Luz Sison

One year has passed since the historic Women’s March in Washington, D.C. and more than 600 other cities all over the world.

In one year, women by the thousands publicly vocalized their experiences of sexual violence through the powerful #MeToo campaign.

In one year, powerful men in the entertainment industry — most prominently the movie mogul Harvey Weinstein — were taken down by women coming forward about incidents of sexual assault and misconduct.

In one year, the incredible momentum from these events led to the creation of the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, a U.S.-based war chest dedicated to subsidizing legal fights by people who have experienced sexual violence in the workplace.

While the movement has been driven by events in the U.S., feminist advocacy has been making waves in recent years in Canada, too. Consider Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s famous reasoning behind his construction of Canada’s first gender-balanced cabinet: “Because it’s 2015.”

And, of course, feminist determination to create more change and sustain progress was on display in Centretown in recent days at the second annual Women’s March from Parliament Hill to the Bronson Centre.

It appears that in such a brief stretch of time, so much change has taken place. The core question is, will it last?

Despite the breakthroughs of the past year, it’s important to remember that there’s a long way to go before discriminatory and violent behaviour towards women truly ends.

With hundreds of years of misogynistic ideas ingrained in society, issues such as violence against women and apathy regarding missing and murdered Indigenous women are still often misunderstood. Marginalized communities can face discrimination within mainstream feminism and are still finding their place in the movement.

Pop culture has seen an outpouring of support for the feminist movement — especially through social media from the millennial generation. But patience and a sense of perspective about the gains to date are required.

Not to understate the significance of protest and the shifting public discourse, it’s often easier and faster to crank out Tweets and Facebook posts about social issues or to give up a single day to march in the streets shouting for justice.

While hundreds thousands of people joined demonstrations globally on Jan. 20, it’s typically a much smaller number of people who do the hard, behind-the-scenes work to continue furthering the causes symbolized by that single day.

It’s more frustrating and time-consuming to take the time to do the trench work of social justice: lobbying for changes in policies or just having open conversations with people who don’t understand or accept the reality of various social problems.

And the polarizing global political climate that ignited the Women’s March shows that this tough-slogging on anti-violence issues still desperately needs to happen. Otherwise, policies don’t change and gender equality remains elusive.

While big shows of solidarity like the Women’s March are empowering and encouraging, people need to be patient enough to generate lasting change — otherwise the movement behind the march will fade as quickly as it arose.

It took more than 100 years for the diverse feminist movement we see in Canada to find its voice since the first suffrage movement in the early 20th century — and people are still trying to figure out how to practise feminism better.

In this second Women’s March through Centretown, organizers chose not to wear “pussy” hats — an iconic symbol of last year’s march — so as not to appear to exclude self-identifying women who do not have vaginas. Organizers also requested members of marginalized communities — including Indigenous people, people of colour and LGTBQ+ people — to be at the front of the march if they so chose.

History has shown that positive change can take hold in spite of deep systemic barriers — it just takes a lot of time.