Lisa Faye, Executive Director of the St. John’s Status of Women Council and Women’s Centre, was invited to giving the keynote address at the Memorial University of Newfoundland December 6th vigil for 2022. You can find her full speech below.
Good evening everyone. Thank you to the Memorial University Sexual Harassment Office for inviting me to speak tonight.
Wow, 33 years since this awful event. And here we are, yet another national day of remembrance and action on violence against women. Another day to remember those who have been lost, to encourage those who are living with violence, to take action to change the systems that allow this to go on. 33 years. It sounds like a long time and yet we have so much farther to go in ending gender based violence.
Remembrance and action.
It’s hard to focus on remembering as we live with ongoing violence. Violence in our homes. Violence on George Street. Violence when taking a cab home in the evening. Violence when we decide to leave our partners. Violence by police officers. Violence when speaking up for our rights. Violence when we’re doing nothing but going about our everyday lives. But it is important to remember.
I imagine these 14 young women telling their families that they were going to university to study engineering and I imagine mixed reactions. Pride, wonder, uncertainty. Myself, I grew up in a home impacted by violence and, when I said I was going to head off to university my own mother had two feelings – sadness and hope. With only a grade 10 education, she saw no safe way to leave. With a university education though, she truly believed I would always have the financial independence to make the best choices for myself.
To leave if I had to.
Tonight I’m thinking about Indigenous women and 2 spirit people in our country. I’m thinking about the families of the victims in Manitoba. I’m thinking about the people I heard remembered during First Light’s Sisters in Spirit event. I’m thinking of the stolen land we are all standing on right now and the violence that was part of taking that land. I’m thinking of the calls to action that came from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and the need for these to be implemented.
Tonight I’m thinking about the women and gender diverse people affected by incarceration. I think of the people sitting in prisons right now, while there is little effort to look at other models of justice that might be available. I think about transformative justice – a form of justice that allows us to respond to violence without inflicting further violence, a way of “making things right,” getting in “right relation,” a way of creating justice together.
Tonight I’m thinking about sex workers in our community and the violence they face as a results of a justice system that refuses to see the value in decriminalizing their work. I think about the laws that leave sex workers unable to speak up about the violence they face, the laws that leave them unable to screen clients fully, the laws that criminalize their work. I think about the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act – an act that protects no one, an act that makes sex workers less safe every day.
Tonight I‘m thinking of the mothers, friends, and community members that I heard speak at the Sisters in Spirit event hosted by First Light recently. I think about the story shared, at Confederation Building for the purple ribbons ceremony, a story of a mother whose daughter was murdered by her ex partner. I think about the stories that I heard at the Trans Day of Remembrance, about people who were murdered or who died by suicide due to the daily violence they faced. I think about those 14 young women killed in Montreal that day.
Tonight I’m also thinking of the people sitting here with us, living with violence. You are seen and you are not alone.
With this platform and this short amount of time, I want to focus on the second piece of what this day is for – a call to action.
I call on the University to make change. I want to see a University where my transgender friends can decide to transition and be supported to change their name and ID cards the very next day. This is a safety issue, it is an issue of respect, and, the truth is, it is a clerical issue that shouldn’t be hard to remedy. I want to see a University where people can afford to go to school and to get that education that is so precious when it comes to having the financial ability to make decisions about your own life in the future. I want this for international students as well, a group of students who face barriers to working in the province and incredibly high tuition fees. I want to see a University where students are empowered to protest, but also one where students know they have an open door to share their concerns and to voice the changes that are needed.. I want to see a University where both students and faculty have access to domestic violence leave – giving them the time needed to build a safety plan and to take the steps they need to take to leave violent relationships. I want to see a University that empowers people to speak out about sexual violence and doesn’t leave them to fill out a million pieces of paperwork and navigate a challenging bureaucracy. There is a need for change in this university and I am here calling for that change to happen.
I call on our government’s department of Women and Gender Equality to make change. For years the SJSWC has been calling for a gender based violence task force and I’m here tonight to ask for it again. There are laws on our books right now that do not make it possible for women and gender diverse people in our community to keep themselves safe. Earlier this year we heard about a woman whose violent ex partner had changed his name and so she struggled to keep track of him – an important part of her safety plan. I spoke to a woman earlier this year who could not take her violent ex-partner’s name off of her mortgage. Being unable to make this change left her vulnerable to financial abuse on an ongoing basis.. Everyday, the system gets in the way of people making brave choices, leaving violent relationships, and so we need to change the system altogether and, while we are ready to be partners in making this happen, it will take government to lead the way in establishing a gender based violence task force in our province to coordinate and oversee all of these systemic and legal changes we so desperately need.
I call on the Department of Justice and Public Safety to start now in building change and investing in new ways of looking at “justice.” Every year we invest more money in police services and every year we hear about violence inflicted by police in our communities. If we start today to look at forms of transformative and restorative justice, we can put in place the systems and structures needed to make that a reality. If we invest in in housing, in mental health supports, in supports for people who use substances – if we invest in building a community that works for people – then we can decrease funding to police services. I challenge everyone here today, to read the First Voice report – Building Trust, Restoring Confidence, a report that focuses on strengthening police oversight in Newfoundland and Labrador. Consider the recommendations outlined there, and to call your elected representative to advocate for these changes. Just search First Voice and policing and you can learn all about the calls to action. And, while you and I need to know what Indigenous people are demanding in our province, it is up to the Department of Justice and Public safety to make that happen.
I call on each person in this room to be part of ending gender based violence. The truth is, violence is everywhere around us. You know people affected by it. I know people affected by it. And so, it is going to take every single person here today in order to make change. I am calling on every person here tonight to take the SJSWC Empowering Them e-course and to encourage one other person in their lives to take it. It is free and it only takes 2 hours, but it will empower you to know how to safely check in with the people around you about gender based violence. You can find cards on our table in the lobby so you can find the course online. I challenge the government and the university to make this course mandatory for all employees. I encourage university professors to utilize it as part of their class work.
And to those of you facing violence, I encourage you to reach out. We are all ready to hear you and support you. I see you and I’m hoping for you.
So here we are. I think I have a few moments left. I want to ask us all to stop and think about our next step. Our next step in being part of the solution. I’ll give you time now and I ask you to make a promise to take action, be specific in that action. Whether it be to take the Empowering Them course or read the First Voice report on police oversight or to write to your local elected official about the importance of decriminalizing sex work or if it is to begin the hard work of setting up a gender based violence task force – what ever it is This promise is to yourself. It is to our community. It is to those 14 women who died.
Thank you. Thank you for being part of the solution.