On Becoming A Woman…


Toronto / March 2020 - On the same day that the provincial budget watchdog reported that the province had underspent by $2B, three quarters into the fiscal year, the Attorney General informed Ontario’s network of sexual assault centres that the $1M in additional funding they received this fiscal year would not be coming for the 2020 fiscal year. This $1M was extended only after much advocacy by the Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres (OCRCC), and it represents only a quarter of the top-up funds promised by the previous government.

A day later, the centres with the support of the official opposition critic on women’s issues were successful in not only having the decision reversed, but also the amount of funds doubled.

According to media reports the centres shared that the funds were used to hire extra staff, extend service hours and implement new service approaches to meet the diverse needs of women seeking support. The use of the funds reduced wait times to see a Counsellor from eighteen months to six months. In the era of #MeToo and #TimesUp and an overall increase in awareness of consent in personal relationships, sexual assault centres, historically underfunded have seen severe spikes in service demands.

The earlier decision by the provincial government to withhold these funds needed for the critical healing work these centres undertake was shameful. The fact that the decision was released in the month that we celebrate and renew our commitments to the elimination of misogyny and all forms of discrimination against women (Cis and Trans) added insult to injury. Thus the promise now to restore as well as increase the funds is certainly welcome.

A few days before the above decision was released, the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal released its findings in the case of the six year old Black child who was handcuffed- hands behind back and legs and left on the floor in that condition for almost half an hour. The school had called in Peel police because this Black girl child was having a tantrum. Six years old. A girl child. African-Canadian.

Research and anecdotal observations tells us that Black children are almost always perceived to be older than they are. In our schools, they are more likely to be suspended or expelled for similar behaviour to non- Black children, have the police called more often and as this case demonstrates are traumatized through these interactions with the places where they are sent to learn and develop into caring and well rounded individuals. This is a shame. Anti-Black racism is alive and well in our schools.

In the same region of the province, the Ministry of Education was pushed to undertake a review of that Board of Education due to charges of anti-Black racism. With an initial false start (only one person on the investigative panel was racialized, none Black) that was eventually rectified, Ontarians had hope that the elected Trustees and senior school officials would become more appropriately responsive in combatting anti-Black racism. Instead, a couple of weeks ago, a parent and community member voicing her frustration with the continuing micro-aggressions and blatant racism being experienced by her children and others, had the police called on her. After the fact, the vice-chair of the Board claimed he felt unsafe.

We know dog whistling when we hear it. This white man in a position of power, physically separated from a parent in a public meeting states that he felt threatened by a Black woman speaking passionately from the audience. The old trope of the angry, violent Black woman being brought out once again. This is a shame.

The criminalization of Black women and girls, the callous disregard for the lives of women who have been violated and traumatized through sexual assaults and all the ways women- particularly Indigenous, Black and women of colour, refugee, disabled, poor and Trans women- are neglected and re-traumatized by systems and decision-makers must end.

At a gathering of Canadian feminists in Ottawa last month in preparation for the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (which has since been cancelled due to COVID-19), twenty-five years after the Beijing declaration with its many commitments to women and girl’s equality, including the elimination of violence against women in all its forms, we affirmed our collective commitment to uplifting those who are most marginalized in our communities. We mapped out what our individual groups and coalitions would be doing to advance the right of women and girls to safe spaces, body integrity, economic security and social and political inclusion.

We need our governments at all levels involved. We need to ensure that our tax dollars are being spent to lift the most marginalized amongst us. We need to ensure that all women and girls have opportunities to excel, have safe places to lay their heads and soft landing spaces to heal traumatized souls.

The facilitator at our Ottawa gathering had this poignant piece up on a screen at one point. I took a picture of it because it spoke to me then and continues to do so now. I share it with you here:

Deep frustration coursing through my veins
As I experience how insane
Our ignorance of the pain
Coursing through lifelines of women
Worldwide persists.
It is an illness with no name
Yet it destroys the foundation of the game
Of human existence.
In its persistence to maim the Spirit
Upon which our lives exists.
How have we come to accept this?
How does this blindness**persist?

In Solidarity

** apologies for the ableist use of blindness in this context.