Content warning: This article discusses sexual and gender-based violence.
To mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, members of the Prevention, Empowerment, Advocacy, Response, for Survivors (PEARS) Project and Vivir Sin Miedo TO hosted an event to raise awareness and stand in solidarity with women who have faced gender-based violence and discrimination.
The event on November 25 involved a clothesline project with messages of solidarity for those who have experienced sexual violence, as well as the performance of a feminist anthem by members of Vivir Sin Miedo TO. Vivir Sin Miedo TO is a feminist group focused on integrating Latin American feminist perspectives and building community among Latin American women in Toronto.
The clothesline project encompassed three clotheslines, strung near the front entrance of the Sidney Smith Building, with notes hanging from each line. In an interview with The Varsity, PEARS Project founder Micah Kalisch explained the significance of the notes on each line. The first line included notes on what people could do to prevent violence against women, the second line included notes for how people recovered after an event of gender-based violence, and the last line was “take a note, leave a note.”
“Anyone who identifies as a survivor can take a little note that someone has written or anyone can leave a note for a survivor to take,” Kalisch explained.
Art and activism
At 4:00 pm, members of Vivir Sin Miedo TO performed the feminist anthem, “Un violador en tu camino.” The anthem was created by the Chilean feminist art and performance collective LasTesis and has been translated into many different languages.
In an interview with The Varsity, co-founders of Vivir San Mideo Andrea Caceres, Sofia Karter, and Raquel Serrano said that they were inspired by how Latin American feminists have incorporated art and culture into their movements and said they wanted to translate that knowledge for Canada.
They added that their organization hopes to create a space for Latin American women in Toronto to discuss shared experiences and raise awareness of gender-based violence in Latin America.
“I think what we have experienced here, at least in Canada, is a lot of silence when it comes to gender-based violence,” said Caceres.
“So I think that it is about creating community. It’s about being here and being present representing our community in Canada, but as well refusing to be silent,” she said.
Kalisch told The Varsity that event was important for raising awareness and communicating to survivors of sexual violence that the PEARS Project can provide support.
“I think that one of the reasons doing events like this is so important is because it raises awareness and it helps to break the silence and the stigma that surrounds gendered violence,” said Kalisch. “Sexual violence thrives in silence and so being able to bring awareness to it helps to start dismantling that culture of silence and systemic silencing.”
Kalisch also expressed disappointment with the University of Toronto’s response to sexual violence on campus. She specifically referenced the university’s silence regarding the recent allegations of sexual harassment, racist microaggressions, and academic bullying by UTM Professor Robert Reisz.
“I think it’s just important for survivors to know that while the university continues to fail us, there is a powerful and compassionate community of survivors and allies who are going to stand together and support however we can,” said Kalisch.
International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women is the first day in the UN’s sixteen days of activism leading up to December 10, which marks International Human Rights Day.
Kalisch also noted that a significant day in Canada is December 6, which is the anniversary of the 1989 Montréal Massacre. The Canadian government marks that day as The National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women to commemorate the lives of the 14 women engineering students at L’École Polytechnique Montréal who were murdered by their male classmate.
If you or someone you know has been affected by sexual violence or harassment:
- Contact the PEARS Project at [email protected] for disclosures, trauma-informed support, and consultations.
- Contact the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre at (416) 597-8808.
- Call the Women’s College Hospital Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Care Centre at (416) 323-6040.
- Call the Scarborough Grace Sexual Assault Care Centre at (416) 495-2555.
- Call the Assaulted Women’s Helpline at (866) 863-0511.
- For further resources, including information about accessing U of T services, visit the ‘Resources for Myself’ tab on thepearsproject.wordpress.com.