Her eyes were hollow. I don’t think I can explain it in any other way. It was if all spirit had been drained from them. Looking into them for long had the potential, I am sure, to plunge the viewer into a depthless well of despair. Years of physical and verbal abuse had most assuredly shredded her self esteem and her personal integrity so profoundly that any light in her eyes had long been extinguished.
Over my more than six decades I have met Holocaust survivors, victims of torture under cruel Latin American dictatorships, a person who lived through the first atomic bomb blast in Hiroshima and numerous casualties of warfare. All had maintained a spark that with time for healing would be nurtured back into life. For many their suffering didn’t extinguish hope but ignited it and allowed it to flame anew into passion and a zeal for life.
It has been now over four decades since in a far off land I my path crossed that woman’s on her life journey. I can still see her eyes, though. Regretably I never saw her again. I don’t know whether someone or some event managed to help her rekindle hope. All I am left with is an image and through that, a realization of how profoundly we humans can hurt one another.
Women bear an inordinate share of the physical and verbal abuse perpetrated in our Canadian society and globally as well. This takes a real toll on the whole of society. There can be no excuse for abusive behaviour either at the personal or systemic levels.
The International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women next Thursday, November 26 marks the beginning of an annual time for reflection on this troubling reality. Ten days later on Sunday, December 6 we remember the event at the Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal in 1989 that claimed the lives of 14 women and wounded another 10 women and four men in just under 20 minutes. To assist that reflection Les EssentiElles and the Victoria Faulkner Women’s Centre will be launching their important Campaign to END Violence Against Women which I am honoured to be part of this year.
Cycles of abuse are woven deeply into the fabric of society. They demand societal responses as well as individual commitments to end violence. The reality that one in seven women in Canada live in poverty according to the Canadian Women’s Foundation (http://www.cdnwomen.org ) is symptomatic of the depth of the problem. Beyond the obvious fact that the children of poor women suffer the same consequences of poverty as their mothers such as poorer physical and mental health than the rest of society, the Canadian Women’s Foundation also points out that women in poverty are more likely to experience violence and abuse.
Federal, provincial and territorial anti-poverty programs are finally beginning to be articulated. A few days ago I got the word from a friend in Prince Edward Island that the government’s throne speech last Friday announced that it would release a Poverty Reduction discussion paper to begin the process there. As well on Wednesday the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities (HUMA) release its 285 page report entitled “Federal Poverty Reduction Plan: Working in Partnership Towards Reducing Poverty in Canada.”
Ending violence against women requires action on many fronts. These all begin with the fundamental understanding, though, that when any woman is battered or abused in whatever manner, we are all hurt.
Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.