The Antigonish community comes together in solidarity to protest sexualized violence
On Thursday September 28th students and local community members gathered together to protest sexualized violence. Take Back the Night is an international protest organized by communities around the world who want to create safer spaces and end sexual violence. The event was organized in collaboration with the Antigonish Women’s Resource Centre and the Students’ Union and had guest speakers, an open mic, and a march down Main Street with people chanting and cheering to “take back the night” and feel safe on their streets.
The many speakers at the event importantly drew attention to the gendered nature of sexual violence with disproportionate numbers of women being assaulted by male perpetrators. This does not mean, however, that other genders do not experience this violence. The speakers also noted the disproportionate levels of violence experienced by Indigenous and LGBTQ+ communities.
Mary Lafford, a Paqtnkek Mi'kmaw Nation Elder, discussed the tragic numbers of murdered and missing Indigenous women in our country and around the world, noting her personal mourning of a family member. As the first speaker, Lafford set the tone for the evening noting the devastating realities and effects of sexual violence, but also providing hope in the power of us all coming together in solidarity with one another.
Karen Nembhard, a third year Honours Psychology student with a minor in Development Studies, spoke next with her eloquent words bringing the crowd to silence. She spoke of subtle forms of violence enacted through social norms, the complexities of what being a ‘woman’ means and drew in the crowd by having people yell out at what age they first remember being sexualized — with answers echoing back as young as the age of seven.
Last, but certainly not least, Jenn Laudadio, a local high school teacher, spoke of the troubling aspects of sexuality and violence that we see in our society today. Perhaps most impactful were cuecards she read out that had been written by her grade 10 students noting 'dick pics', slut-shaming, bullying because of sexuality and comments on girls’ bodies that are their daily reality.
The event then moved into the open mic session of the evening with a variety of individuals, both male and female, coming forward to speak in front of the crowd. There were personal experiences of sexual violence shared, stories of survival, declarations of solidarity, and expressions of anger with the constant sexualization that permeates through our society. A brief look around and you saw more than a few people brought to tears.
With this emotion built up people then took to the streets, posters in hand, chanting to end the patriarchy, have safer streets, and for gender equality. Perhaps the most notable was “hey hey, ho ho, the patriarchy has got to go”. While charming by nature, this chant also has a deeper understanding of the institutionalized and perpetuated norms that exist in our society that acts as a facilitation for sexualized violence. The large crowd marched through campus, down Main Street, and back to the Bloomfield Centre, with an Antigonish Community Transit van bringing up the rear so that all could participate regardless of physical abilities. With the amazing and much larger crowd than expected, the cookies at the reception were gone within seconds, but people stayed around to hug and chat and revel in feelings of strength and solidarity.
While it certainly wasn’t an all-happy event with difficult stories and upsetting realities shared, I would say the overall sentiment was one of empowerment. Stories of survival did not have devastating ends, but were expressed with hope for the future and the change that is happening. The unbelievable turn-out and frustration expressed about the fact that this is still a reality is a testament to that change.
Take Back the Night is part of the fight for equality and for safety — something that would benefit everyone in our community. To everyone that took part: thank you for joining this fight. We have a long way to go, but together we can get there much faster.
If you would like to learn more about sexual violence, better understand your rights, or learn how you can help survivors, the government of Nova Scotia has put together some great online training and resources that you can access for free! If you are experiencing violence or have experienced violence, there are many resources available to you. Please reach out for help:
StFX Health and Counselling Centre: 902-867-2263
Antigonish Women’s Resource Centre: 902-863-6221
Aspiria (for phone-line support): 1-877-234-5327