TORONTO — On Aug. 22, demonstrators gathered in the Parkdale-Roncesvalles area to march against violence against women in a Take Back the Night rally, occasioned by the escalation of sexual harassment in the west end during recent weeks.
“Whose streets?” a protest leader asked through a megaphone. “Our streets!” the crowd shouted back.
Although the official Take Back the Night march was cancelled due to physical distancing regulations, the summertime demonstration borrowed the appellation “because it’s familiar and in a similar spirit,” according to Maddy, one of the event’s organizers.
The internationally held night-time march symbolically reclaims the nocturnal urban streets, through which women cannot walk alone without fearing for their safety. Now in its 40th year of operation in the city, the protest is organized annually by the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre, which itself is operated by women and non-binary individuals.
The Take Back the Night demonstration is intersectional in its focus, fighting for all survivors of gender-based violence, sexual assault, and institutionalized violence.
“We as survivors demand lives free of sexual violence, murder, living in poverty, police injustice and any violence that is directed towards women and children,” the website reads.[2 ]
The Sat. night demonstration began with speeches from Myst Milano and Aliya Pabani, as well as an evocative musical performance by local electronic artist NYSSA.
“Masculinity has failed us,” Milano said to a crowd of supporters. “The police have failed us. The system has failed us.”
According to Milano, the intersections of identities and experiences must be prioritized in the crusade against violence against women and sex trafficking. In her speech, she urged supporters to hold institutions and those in power accountable for their actions.
“If you live at the intersections of being a black woman, you fear being murdered,” she said. “Trans women fear being detained and misgendered, ridiculed by the system sworn to protect them.”
In her statement, Pabani addresses the emotional toll endured by women who have sustained abuse or harassment in order to maintain a countenance of strength and normalcy. “The truth is we can’t always be so strong,” she said.
As the sun set, demonstrators readied themselves for the long pilgrimage ahead. Those who identify as women marshalled the protest, while male allies “held up the rear” by tailing the procession.
Rotem, one such male ally, said he was happy to oblige to the task as a supporter of the movement. He told INN24 that he always calls out sexism whenever he witnesses it.
“It’s absolutely horrifying,” Rotem said about the increased sexual harassment in the city. “I think it doesn’t get enough media exposure.”
Kavita, another protestor, said that there is a seasonal spike in violence against women during hotter months, when men misconstrue summertime attire as an invitation for harassment. She said that mandatory face coverings may have also emboldened perpetrators, exacerbating such gender-based violence on public streets.
She held a picket that read, “We keep WAP safe,” conveying the objective of protecting sexually active women and defending their right to safety and comfort in sexual encounters. Kavita’s sign references the Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion single, “WAP,” which is itself an anthem of sex positivity and female empowerment.
The pandemic has compounded violence against women not just in public but also the private sphere.
According to a report published by Western University’s Centre for Research & Education on Violence Against Women & Children, “Gender-based violence is a predictable and consistent side effect of economic, epidemiological, and environmental crises such as COVID-19, although evidence of increased [gender-based violence] may or may not surface immediately.”
The report indicates that pandemic-induced stressors like physical isolation measures and financial insecurity may foment additional domestic discord, leading to higher rates of intimate partner violence.4 Western University notes that isolation also reduces channels of communication for victims and children to access support services and healthcare.5
Protesters were passionate and dedicated to the cause, parading through the streets late into the night as the horizon darkened and the temperature dropped.
She said the Take Back the Night march is indebted to the momentum created by the Black Lives Matter movement in late spring, particularly in how it encouraged open dialogue about systemic racism and institutional failings that often go unchecked.
“What should be in the scope of policing, if it should exist at all?” Maddy asked. “How can we come up with more adequate services and ways to respond to threats of harm?”
Take Back the Night marches are held every year in Toronto. Find out how to involved on the organization’s website.
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