“I come every year to honour all our women.” Harriet Prince
Every year in Vancouver on Valentine’s Day thousands of people participate in the Memorial March that starts at Main & Hastings in the heart of the Downtown Eastside. Canada’s poorest off-reserve postal code, the Downtown Eastside has been a killing field of sorts for hundreds of women—most of them aboriginal—who are the victims of murder, violent assault, homelessness, drug and alcohol addiction and HIV-AIDS. As the Memorial March winds its way past flophouses, run-down hotels and back alleys where women have been found dead or assaulted, aboriginal elders stop to perform a smudge ceremony, and leave a yellow or red rose in a gesture of remembrance and love.
The death of women in the Downtown Eastside, as well as other parts of Canada and the world, is evidence of ongoing systemic violence perpetrated against females on a daily basis. But there is a global women’s movement, One Billion Rising, which was formed several years ago to stem this tide of violence. On the same day that Vancouver’s Memorial March mourned the death of our most vulnerable, poor and powerless women, One Billion Rising supporters from more than 200 countries danced to demand an end to gender inequality around the globe.
The world must work together to end the political, social and physical abuse endured by millions of women on a daily basis. Even Western women are vulnerable to losing ground in the hard-fought battle for gender equality that began in earnest a half century ago. Fighting for the rights of women in the developing world is a fight to maintain our own freedoms against institutionalized and pernicious patriarchal forces.
Two young girls drop rose petals along the Memorial March route.
“I am honouring my ancestors and all the people who have been tragically taken away from us.” Kim King
First Nations elders lead the Memorial March through the streets of downtown Vancouver.
A woman sings a traditional First Nations lament.
Traditional Valentine’s Day roses become a symbol of love, loss and mourning for the victims of violence.
Ariana TV (ATN) transmission towers above Kabul, Afghanistan. ATN, a private television network, was launched in 2005. It focuses on informative, cultural and entertainment programming.
Saad Mohseni, chairman of the Moby Media Group, the largest media organization in Afghanistan, recently penned an article about the importance of the media to the future of democracy in Afghanistan. Within five years of the 2001 fall of the Taliban, Mohseni writes, Afghanistan saw the growth of “the freest media sector in the region,” which allowed “civil society to flourish.” This development of a free press, Mosheni added, was “our greatest accomplishment since 2001.” As a result, gender inequality issues and violence towards women became part of the public discourse and awareness around such things as polio vaccinations and voter registration was disseminated. With the upcoming national election in April, it is vital that a new president and his government extend protections to the media. As a safety net, Mohseni adds, the international community must place conditions on aid to protect press freedoms in the years to come.
Mohseni’s position resonates profoundly with Journeys to the Edge. Nurturing, protecting and respecting a free media is something our organization is actively trying to support in Afghanistan by giving the J2E Emerging Journalist Award to Mubareka Sahar Fetrat of Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital city. Sahar, only 18, but already a prolific documentary filmmaker, has been accepted into Vancouver’s Langara Digital Film Production course, an intensive four-month program that will enhance her filmmaking skills, allowing her to become an even more significant figure in the Afghanistan media when she returns home. It will also help prepare her to realize her dream of running Afghanistan’s first female-headed production company.
Two months into 2014, Journeys to the Edge is still working with Sahar on obtaining a Temporary Resident Visa. She has made the initial trip to Islamabad, Pakistan, which is the closest Canadian visa office to Kabul (something that needs to be changed!) but must return for a second visit with additional documentation. It is a long and challenging process, but we remain highly optimistic that Sahar will be here in time to start the Langara College program this September.
The future of Afghanistan lies with its youth, of which Sahar is an excellent example. Like their counterparts in other parts of the world, they have “an insatiable appetite for entertainment, news, and current affairs,” writes Mosheni. They are the leaders and the peacemakers of tomorrow. It is important for the West to keep this in mind, and continue to support the nation in tangible ways.