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