Commentary: Sixteen Days for Human Rights

The period between November 25 and December 10 marks 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence. These 16 Days symbolically link violence against women and human rights and emphasize that such violence is a violation of human rights. The 16 Days begin November 25, the International Day Against Violence Against Women, and extend to December 10, International Human Rights Day, and are punctuated by several related observances – World AIDS Day, International Day of Disabled Persons, and National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. To bring awareness and change, the Prince Edward Island Advisory Council on the Status of Women organizes the annual Purple Ribbon Campaign. Its Face the Facts publications and events remind Islanders that in addition to women, other persons of certain identities are vulnerable to violence. We should not be silent.

The PEI Status of Women joins other equality groups and friends each year on December 6 to especially mark the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. December 6 is significant as the anniversary of the Montreal Massacre, in which 14 young women lost their lives because of their gender. Some people may question the longevity of this observance. However the perpetrator, Marc Lepine, was forthright in his hatred of “feminists,” in this case, women who wanted to enter a non-traditional career in engineering. Thus we hold the memory of this gender-based violence in silent reflection, and also speak out to end silences that obscure global violence that is rooted in various inequalities, affecting various persons as victims. We should not be silent.

In Canada, December 6 reminds us to “first mourn, then work for change.” Change begins with awareness. I wonder how many are aware, for example, that when the Harper government announced a $10 million fund to address “shocking” cases of murdered and missing Aboriginal Women, it did not provide any funds to the Sisters in Spirit, the grassroots organization which first pushed law enforcement to locate missing loved ones. A sizeable slice of funding will go to establish an RCMP missing persons database which will duplicate and extend the one created by Sisters in Spirit. The focus will not be on Aboriginal women, and the database will not be ready until 2013. We should not be silent.

On an international level, we as Canadians should care that rates of HIV infection are increasing, not decreasing, among women and girls. We should care that culturally, women often cannot negotiate condom use, or protest when their husbands engage in extra-marital sexual relations. We should care that, worldwide, women are twice as likely as men to be illiterate, limiting their ability to demand their rights and protection. We should care that human trafficking victimizes more than 800,000 people per year, 80% of whom are female, mostly destined for the sex trade. We should not be silent.

In PEI, our Police Commissioner, Gerard Mitchell, stated last week that money for poverty reduction, mental health, and addictions – not money for prisons – is the best way to prevent crime. Meanwhile, the Harper administration’s Law and Order agenda focuses on disallowing house arrest sentences for personal injury crimes and revising mandatory minimum penalties for offences committed with a firearm. These sound good on paper; however, a preventive approach through social policy would not require adding layers of policing, constructing new jails, and providing staff to run them. We should not be silent.

Also in this province, the recent Speech from the Throne has renewed the promise of a plan for Poverty Reduction in PEI. This is good news for human rights. The Council of People with Disabilities has reminded us that 65% of all households receiving income support in PEI are headed by an Islander living with a disability. Past statistics have shown that people with disabilities face alarming risks of violence. We should not be silent.

Although most older adults are not vulnerable most of the time, in 2009 there were 130 referrals to Adult Protection, 98 of them for seniors, covering verbal/emotional/financial abuse, and neglect. It is estimated that for every one report, five more occurrences of abuse of older persons go unreported. We should not be silent.

Recently, we have heard of the plight of a same-sex couple who were burned out of their Prince Edward Island home. Homophobia lies not far below the surface in the PEI community. We are not all homophobic, but this crime diminishes us as a people. Congratulations to those leaders and community members who have spoken out. We should not be silent.

For our part, during these 16 Days, the Status of Women spreads the word, and we Face the Facts. We shall not be silent: women’s rights are human rights.

Isabelle Christian is Chairperson of the PEI Advisory Council on the Status of Women

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