By Katherine Tam
Participants of the Take Back the Night rally promote thoughtfully protest against violence
The banners were ready, the festivities had been planned for weeks, the stereo blasted “Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves” by the Eurythmics and Aretha Franklin, and the marchers chanted “No More Patriarchy, No More War.”
There was a somber undertone to the usually festive and combative atmosphere of the annual Take Back The Night march, that took place at Ryerson last Saturday night. The terrorist attacks on the U.S. affected the evening’s tone, with many of the speeches during the march and rally urging not only compassion for the victims, but also for Muslims, women and children.They encouraged people to consider the implications of a backlash against Muslims after the attacks, and the devastation that war would bring to women and children. Marches agreed that this event was a good way to express their concerns in a powerful yet peaceful way.
“Aggression begets aggression,” says Dana Kamlin, a fourth-year social work student, who believes abusive relationships, like international ways, only continue the cycles of violence. “There will be a typical warlike response, and it will cause more havoc for women and children emotionally, physically, and financially because their voices won’t be heard.”
Last week’s horrific events affected participants in Take Back the Night on many different levels. “My parents can’t come home to see me march,” says Kaliopi Tsimidis, RyeSAC’s Community Services Coordinator and an organizer of the event. “They’ve been stuck in Greece since last week because only 10 per cent of all international flights are being allowed to enter Canada. My son is getting nightmares and I spoke to one student who says she’s afraid of seeing planes now because she doesn’t know if we’re the next target.”
While New York and Washington were on the minds of many participants, the safety of Toronto’s streets was the main issue of the annual all-female event. Over 300 participants marched north on Yonge St., and then back down Church St. through the heart of Toronto’s gay and lesbian community.
There have been Take Back The Night marches in downtown Toronto for the last 20 years, organized annually by the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre and Multicultural Women Against Rape. Take Back the Night originated in Germany in 1973 when a rash of rapes and murders prompted women to take to the streets at night to protest their lack of safety and ability to walk alone without fear.
I became a full-fledged international movement in Belgium in 1976 when a group of women who participated in International Tribunal on Crimes Against Women marched through the streets with candles to protest violence against women. The marches spread to Canada in the early 1980’s, with events across the country, and several within the Greater Toronto Area. Toronto’s downtown march began in 1980 after the slaying of Barbara Schlifer, a young law student who was sexually assaulted and killed on the day she was called to the bar.
Last Saturday’s march was the first time Ryerson was used as a base for the event, and some student participants said the choice of location was a credit to campus safety. “There’s 24-hour security at Ryerson, and there are outside phones, so I think security is doing a terrific job,” says Colette Agaliotis, a fourth-year social work student who volunteers at the Women’s Centre, one of the march’s main sponsors.
Aradhana Choudhuri, a student active in human rights causes for the past two years, agrees. “I can walk around Ryerson at 1 a.m., and I haven’t had any frightening experiences yet,” said the first-year aerospace engineering student. But not all female students feel safe on campus, and some think more could be done to make them feel secure. “There was a case last year when a student was making indecent sexual advances to women,” said Agaliotis. “Security took too long to inform us. We have a right to know things like that right away.”
Reports of campus violence over the past few years encouraged many students to participate in the march. “I heard that last year a student was assaulted in the library and someone was assaulted in the elevator,” says Beth Holloway, a fourth-year social work student who marched with her friends to express the need for increased security.
Violence against women takes many forms, from physical attacks to the perceptual sense of fear that influences many women’s lives. “I’m more concerned with students who aren’t getting enough information on how to recognize abuse in relationships,” says Kamlin who has lived through abuse as a child and in relationships with men. “University is exciting and new, but it can also be frightening.”
Kamlin says there were fewer participants in the march this year. She believes this is because of the lack of on-campus advertising, a general apathy among many people, and a belief that feminism is no longer needed because women have already achieved equality. “I think the first march after the Montreal massacre [in 1989] had about 1000 people,” she said. “The turn out this year was a little disappointing.”
The statistics show that much more needs to be done to increase women’s safety. Almost on-half of all women are beaten by their husbands or lovers, two thirds of sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim knows, 40 per cent of all rapes occur in the victim’s home, and nearly half of all violent crimes against women are not reported to the police.
The political implications of these numbers have had personal repercussions for Kamlin. “I remember going into a state park near Philadelphia. There was a beautiful walking trail, and I couldn’t go on it with my friend because she had to work. I wrestled for two days deciding whether or not to go on the trail by myself. When I finally did, the birds were chirping and the wildlife beautiful. During my walk I passed two men walking alone. Afterwards, I wrote an angry poem about how men don’t have to wrestle with the problems of doing things alone. To think that I sometimes have to deny myself that freedom makes me angry.”
But Kamlin believes the message of Take Back the Night will help address her fear and the security problems faced by many women. She says the event is a progressive way to retaliate against violence and fear – especially in the wake of the terrorist bombings and international declarations of war. “This march is an example of how one can take action without revenge.”