An Overview of the Women’s Movement in 2016

Read aloud at December 6th event – Day of Remembrance and Action

In the face of women’s continued oppression, it’s important to reflect, just as we’ve done here today. As women are multifaceted beings, we can both mourn the women whose lives were taken this year, and all years, and also demand changes to make our society one that values women and supports women.

As a feminist, I often give thanks to the internet (which wouldn’t have been possible without Hedy Lamarr or Ada Lovelace and countless unthanked women).

The internet fosters connection between women all over the world. Only a generation ago, we had no choice but to accept as true all the things we were told about women in countries other than our own. But now we can speak to those women directly. Rather than feeling like we have the responsibility to ‘save’ other women, we now know we only need to use our respective privilege to amplify their voices.

I believe this direct conversation with global sisters has really changed the movement. Hopefully you are familiar with the term ‘intersectionality’, coined by Kimberle Crenshaw, which gives name to the particular ways oppressions can compound exponentially, meaning the oppression a black woman faces, at the cross section of race and sex, is different than that faced by a white woman. Added to that are other unique oppressions, such as mental or physical ability, class, sexuality, and more–and all of these experiences manifest differently, and co-exist differently. Acknowledgement of this is vital to women’s liberation.

In that spirit, I invite you to travel the world with me while I identify some of the major women’s movements of 2016. I’m sure you’ve heard of more that I don’t address, and I encourage you to take to your social media, your dinner table, or your town hall steps, to discuss these events.

In the United States, the water protectors at Standing Rock have been camping since April to join together against the Dakota Access Pipe Line. Rallying under the truth that ‘water is life’ and the hashtag NoDAPL, Indigenous women have been at the forefront of environmental protests since colonization. In October, Sky Bird Black Owl gave birth to her daughter, Mni Niconi, alone by choice, at Standing Rock. She says, “Having babies is my act of resistance; our reproductive rights as Native women have been taken away from us in so many ways.” Regarding her decision to give birth alone, she says, “I’ll birth where I choose. It’s not for any man to tell me where I can have my baby.”

Her experience is a perfect example of why intersectionality matters. While the fight for birth control and abortion access is imperative to women’s equality, this battle manifests differently for Indigenous women who are still fighting to have children on their own terms, without judgement, intervention, or interference. I’m pleased to be able to announce that this particular route of the pipeline has been effectively shut down, but the efforts against this pipeline and all pipelines that threaten water, food security, and sanctity of human and animal life must continue.

Another longstanding movement that has made global headlines is Black Lives Matter, which began as a reaction to the racist murder of teenager Trayvon Martin in 2013. Like Indigenous women, black women are battling for the right to access to equal education and treatment, both legally and socially, for themselves and their children. The founders of the movement, Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi, offer the energy, unity, and clarity that women are known for in justice movements. Garza states, “[#BlackLivesMatter] is an acknowledgment that Black women continue to bear the burden of a relentless assault on our children and our families and that assault is an act of state violence.” Even in Canada, in Toronto, the carding system has been likened to ‘stop and frisk’ and disproportionately impacts black women and men. White people have a social responsibility to use our privilege to decry these racialized outrages and support the voices of black women who have not even been granted the slowly-gained rights that white women have.

Moving now to Poland, on October 3rd, tens of thousands of women and allies walked out of their jobs, workplaces, and homes to join rallies at the parliament building and at town and city squares across Poland. The hashtags for strategizing, communication, and journalism were  #czarnyprotest and #blackmonday. The protests are a response to Poland introducing a barbarically restrictive abortion bill, where victims of rape and incest would be forced to give birth, and no exceptions made for fetuses with severe life threatening impairments, or mothers facing death from carrying to term–the law also criminalizes doctors for advising women of their rights. Women all wore black to protest the loss of their dignity and security. This massive and rapid organization was planned entirely on social media and by word of mouth.

Now we look at Argentina. On October 19, more than 50 organizations collaborated to demand justice after the brutal fatal rape of 16-year-old Lucia Perez. Using the hashtag #vivasLasQueremos (which means “we want them alive”), women flooded social media and took to the streets to share their devastation and demand a cultural shift. At the time of the protest there were 170 documented murders of Argentinian women that year. But these protests spread across the world, to strike against gender violence in Chile, Uruguay, México, Paraguay, Guatemala, Spain and France, all countries with high rates of femicide and structural inequality. The rallying cry across these countries and more was #niUnaMenos (“not one more”).

On October 24, Iceland staged a walk-out protest, again organized primarily over social media. Women walked off the job at 2:38pm to protest the 14% wage gap. This happened on the 41st anniversary of Iceland’s famous ‘women’s day off’ when 90% of women stopped all work, at home and at their jobs, to protest wage discrepancy and unequal treatment.

Then on November 7th France also had a wage-gap walk-out protest. Women left work at 4:34pm to bring attention to the 15-20% wage gap that French women contend with, with the reasoning that as of November 7th at that time, women effectively work for free for the remainder of the year while men continue to earn money. This event was started by feminist publication Les Gloriueses, and had the complementary intention of drawing focus to the unpaid second shift that women do at home, childcare and housework. The hashtag for this was #7Novembre16h34.

Let’s bring it back to Canada. On March 24, Jian Ghomeshi was handed a not guilty verdict. This highly publicised trial brought all the old rape myths out to play, and feminists spent the intervening months writing poignant and powerful thinkpieces. It seemed to many, like recent election results, that there was no way patriarchy could win this one. But when the verdict came down, it prompted an immediate march to police headquarters in Toronto, with women chanting ‘We believe survivors’. The case highlighted many legal biases and entrenched woman-hating written into the law. Women’s advocates began a renewed push for a trauma-informed justice system and for ‘balance of probabilities’ onus rather than ‘beyond shadow of a doubt’. #webelievesurvivors continues to be used for women all over the world sharing their stories, naming their abusers, and offering support to victims of rape.

The reason I read the hashtags out was to showcase how very powerful technology and social media can be when women use it to organize. There are concerted efforts to keep women off the internet, with credible threats, doxxing, harassment, and stalking. I propose this is because, at least in part, the power of women’s solidarity is a tangible threat to patriarchy. So to combat that, I also propose that women take to the internet in droves in ways we never have before. Start a blog, write political posts on your personal pages, get on twitter anonymously and speak your truths.

Uplift other women’s voices. Take it offline, too. Start a rally, a vigil, a protest. I promise you, even if you stand solitarily, you’ll never be alone. But more likely, you will have sisters standing with you. We don’t have to drive to Washington, or Toronto, to march–though if you can, do it! We have a community of women who need support right here in Muskoka. And if I’ve learned anything from my life online, it’s that our struggles may look different on the surface, but oppression works as a united front and so must we.

I’m honoured to leave you with the words of Emily Doe, the 23-year-old woman raped by Brock Turner. She says, “When people doubt you or dismiss you, I am with you. I fought everyday for you. So never stop fighting, I believe you. I hope that by [my] speaking today, you absorbed a small amount of light, a small knowing that you can’t be silenced, a small satisfaction that justice was served, a small assurance that we are getting somewhere.”


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