Whitehorse unsafe for women

When Winnie Peterson lived along the Yukon River the only thing she worried about was the strength of the current sweeping her away. "The riverbank used to feel safe," she said.

When Winnie Peterson lived along the Yukon River the only thing she worried about was the strength of the current sweeping her away.

“The riverbank used to feel safe,” she said. “Now, local women have identified it as being dangerous.”

The president of the Yukon Aboriginal Women’s Council made the remarks on Friday evening during the 17th annual Take Back the Night march.

More than 60 women gathered for the march at Teegatha Oh’ Zheh Park, which sits at the foot of the clay cliffs off Main Street.

Holding signs that read Women Are Not The Weaker Sex and Honk For Gender Equality, the women walked down Main Street and along the riverbank before snaking their way back to the Old Fire Hall for a celebratory concert.

The route was a deliberate choice by organizers to reclaim city spaces where women don’t feel safe walking alone.

Angel Carlick’s death two years ago brought Lacey Scarff to the march.

“I’ve seen a lot of harshness on these streets,” said the 26-year-old.

There are parts of the city that you shouldn’t travel at night, said Scarff, who is concerned about the safety of women in the community.

“There’s so many things happening at the clay cliffs, it’s crazy. At night you don’t walk there alone.”

She’s most worried about her aboriginal sisters.

“The reality for sisters here is harsh – alcohol, abuse, low self-esteem – these things make it difficult and put them at greater risk,” she said.

Peterson agrees.

“Aboriginal women suffer violence because of their gender and identity. And we believe many of these cases aren’t documented.”

Violence can happen at any time and it can come from people you least expect, said Marney Paradis, who was attending her first march.

“I’m here because an ex-boyfriend of mine recently dragged a 15-year-old off the street and raped her,” she said.

“It’s really horrific, this girl now has to live with that memory for the rest of her life. It’s not right.”

It’s not just a problem of certain individuals.

“It runs deeper than that – it’s systemic,” said Paradis.

It’s about men who have been brought up to believe violence is OK and women who “have been trained to be so small that they’re weak,” she said.

The Take Back the Night march is a worldwide event that protests violence against women.

It usually winds through areas of the city where women feel unsafe walking.

But the RCMP believe there is no one space in particular that is more unsafe than others in the city, said spokesperson Don Rogers.

“What needs to be taken into consideration is whether an area is well-lit as opposed to a trail where there may be underbrush, or not a lot of light,” he said.

“Whitehorse trails are generally safe and when something happens it is more the exception than the rule.”

Rogers questions people who say they have been victimized.

“Have they been drinking?” said Rogers. “Are they alone in the dark? If so, then the odds may be greater that something could happen.”

But regardless of circumstances, people should feel safe walking in the city, say march organizers.

“We shouldn’t feel scared walking day or night, we should be able to trust the people around us,” said Julianna Scramstad, program co-ordinator for the Victoria Faulkner Women’s Centre and one of the event’s organizers.

“We’re doing this march to raise our voices.”

This year, organizers chose to march along the waterfront because they heard from many women that they were scared to walk there at night.

The section of riverbank between the Old Fire Hall and Shipyards Park is of particular concern because it’s dark and there are less people walking that stretch, said Scramstad.

It is also the only part of the Millennium Trail that remains unfinished.

“The city not having paved that part of the Millennium Trail, it articulates space that we don’t value,” said Scramstad.

“When you invest in space then it becomes space that people feel safe using.”

Women’s safety is an issue city and territorial officials need to take notice of, said Peterson before the march.

“Lawmakers must pay attention and seize opportunities for change so that women can live free from fear and violence.”

Aboriginal sensitivity training for police, improved economic security for women via micro-credit programs and access to safe, affordable housing would all help make the place a little safer, said Peterson.

Contact Vivian Belik at

vivianb@yukon-new.com

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