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Take Back the Night is an annual event held in different countries around the world that aims to end sexual violence against women. I attended the event at the 519 Church Street Community Centre on September 20, 2014. It included a rally, a community fair, and a march on city streets.
People were encouraged to attend the event in order to show solidarity with victims who have suffered from violence. The main goal of the event was to create awareness regarding the dangers of sexual violence against women as well as its adverse effects on families and society. Another aim was to eradicate other forms of violence against individuals based on their race, social and economic class, as well as sexual affiliation.
The event was sponsored by numerous organisations, namely, the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre, Anne Johnston Health Station, Regent Park Community Health Centre, Women Abuse Prevention, Council Fire, Parkdale Community Health Centre, the Redwood, George Brown College, and No One is Illegal.
The event’s speakers and issues covered
The event had several speakers who represented the various organisations that had sponsored it. The speakers gave moving speeches urging the participants to join in the fight against sexual violence. The speeches elicited mixed reactions among the participants. Suzanne talked about the murdered and missing women crisis. According to her, poor housing was its main cause. She was among the many women on the housing waiting list of the city’s mayor.
She was speaking from the perspective of a marginalised woman. Unfavourable circumstances forced her to live with some other women in a single room. Suzanne joined other vulnerable women, and together they formed the Downtown East Women Group. The group was created after the media failed to pay attention to an incident in which a woman had been sexually molested. As a way of protesting, the group distributed pamphlets and conducted night patrols along the city streets.
Suzanne said that the aim of the group was to improve the welfare of vulnerable women by offering food, shelter, and clothing. According to her, their major achievement was a petition they presented to the mayor of Toronto requesting better housing facilities.
The petition was prompted by high demand for 24-hour shelter services that would help women without considering their race, religion, or social class. During the event, Suzanne announced that the group was in the process of organising rallies that would advocate for more and safer shelter services.
Sariah, an immigrant from Pakistan, told a story how she had been physically abused by her husband. Immigrating to Canada was the most critical decision of her life because she was forced to leave her family, friends, relatives, and country. The main challenge she experienced in Pakistan was the point of view she held. She sidelined women and considered them as inferior to men.
She decided to leave her husband and country in order to protect herself. In many countries, immigrants experience many challenges that make their lives unbearable. They are exploited and abused by people who promise to offer them assistance. As a result, they become depressed due to emotional abuse, isolation, and homelessness. These experiences affect their health and wellbeing. Sariah received assistance from many Canadians who did not acre about the fact that she was an immigrant.
A member representing the Take Back the Night organising committee talked about lack of independence among immigrants. According to her, the most affected group comprised the people who had moved to Canada illegally. She urged participants to unite as a community in order to help immigrants improve the quality of their lives by avoiding sexual violence.
Deb from the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre opened her speech by noting that even though the event was held for 34 years, violence against women was still rampant. She argued that the government was partly responsible for the rising number of violence cases because it oppressed immigrants and took away their land. Moreover, she argued that violence against women was on the rise because the state had declined to play an active role in its eradication.
Several unidentified speakers also gave touching speeches. The first speaker expressed anger and sadness because of situation in the country with regard to violence against women and minority groups. She did not see the need to hold the event annually because women rights should be upheld in any civilized society. She repeatedly asked the crowd why the event had to be held every year.
The second speaker was also saddened by the fact that women could not walk freely in the country. She asked the participants to join their efforts to eradicate violence against women. The third speaker urged women to always exercise their strength and resilience in the face of violence. After the speeches were successfully given, participants were offered to take part in a march through the city streets. Participation was important because it was a way of showing that the attendees supported the event’s goal of ending violence against women. In addition, it showed that they understood its adverse effect on society.
Role played by the government
Many speakers blamed the government for failing to protect women and other vulnerable groups. They called on the government to resolve the innumerable cases involving missing and murdered women. The speakers asked the government to form a commission of inquiry that would investigate more than 1,200 cases of dead and missing women.
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Many participants were disappointed because the government had not expressed any interest in addressing the issues that were discussed during the event. The Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, denied the comment given on the government’s stand regarding the crisis. The federal government and the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs are responsible for addressing the challenges that women face.
This annual event had approximately 400 participants. However, due to a heavy downpour, the number decreased as the event progressed because many people left. Participants included people of different age, sex, language, and culture. There were more female participants than their male counterparts. The majority of the attendees were elderly women and female students. There were also natives in attendance as well as immigrants from many countries around the globe.
I talked to several participants who gave me different reasons for attending the event. A woman in her 30s told me that she came there to show solidarity with victims and take a stand against sexual violence that existed in the country. Another 50-year-old woman told me that she had attended the event for ten consecutive years in order to protest against rising cases of violence against women. She hoped that the government would take action in order to eradicate the vice.
The event had limited media coverage. Television channels shied away from covering the event. Only two newspapers (The Star and City News) covered it. The reports that they published were accurate and described most of the day’s events. The newspapers reported that the marches were prompted by rising cases of sexual assault in various neighbourhoods within the city. However, they failed to talk about the speeches given by different speakers during the event.
The goals of the event were attained even though the organisers concluded the event early due to a heavy downpour. The major accomplishment of the event was a march that took place in the streets of downtown Toronto. Many women participated and carried banners that urged the government to take action. The march raised awareness about sexual violence and passed the main message of the event to the city residents.
Speech presentation was the main method of persuasion used during the event. The method was effective because all the speakers were very persuasive in passing their message to participants. Presence of media at the event would have augmented the efforts to achieve the event’s goals. The website of the organising foundation could have mentioned the efforts had it been regularly updated throughout the year.
The organisers should have listed the speakers on the website in order to arouse interest in people and encourage them to attend the event. I experienced a feeling of solidarity and responsibility during and after the event. This was after realising that I had a critical part to play in fighting sexual violence. The event made participants feel challenged to take active roles in fighting violence against women.