March’s unforgiving chill didn’t stop International Women’s Day demonstrators from coming out in droves to march in solidarity.
The energy was palpable, the mood was upbeat and the placards held high as people gathered on March 7 at the corner of Bloor Street West and St. George Street to march through downtown Toronto to Ryerson University’s campus.
The demonstration came just one day after Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne revealed a plan to combat sexual violence. The plan includes commitments to address sexual assault policies on post-secondary campuses.
Other prominent issues such as gender equality, violence against Aboriginal women, childcare and consent were also focused on.
Humber Sport Management student Mandee Borne, 23, said progress is needed in regards to gender equality.
“I feel women’s issues are really important because we aren’t where we think we are,” said Borne.
She cites the so-called “tampon tax” as a glaring example of gender inequality. The issue has recently been reignited after a petition calling for Canadian tax law to reclassify tampons as “essential” – and hence free of consumer tax – and amassed over 50,000 signatures since January.
“A perfect example that I didn’t even know about is they charge us GST on our feminine products, which I don’t find appropriate at all, especially since they don’t charge tax on things like birthday cakes and sperm,” said Borne. “That makes no sense to me.”
Pam Ross stood out from the crowd of demonstrators while holding a hand-painted sign that simply said “Consent is Hot.”
“I’m here because I have three daughters in university and the message of consent is really important to me,” said Ross, executive vice-president at Toronto’s Sunnybrook Hospital Foundation. “I thought this was a great venue to talk about it.”
People of all ages, genders and ethnicities — led by a pick-up truck blaring upbeat dance music and a mistress of ceremonies on a loudspeaker — walked proudly for about an hour.
As the march wound down to a stroll and participants filtered into Ryerson University’s Student Centre for the International Women’s Day fair, professional housecleaner Annie Morrison, 26, explained why she feels passionately about violence against Aboriginal women.
“Not enough people are paying attention even though we know it’s a huge issue in Canada and I think there is momentum moving towards taking action on it,” said Morrison. “It’s more important than ever to continue to support the movements when they’re happening.”
Morrison noted while the demonstration was largely about politics (there were “Stop Harper Now” posters as far as the eye could see), she thinks awareness about issues like sexual abuse needs to start closer to home.
“We need to also look at what businesses can be doing about sexual harassment in the workplace, I think that’s an important piece that we need to keep in mind,” she said. “It’s not just about government action.”
Toronto high school student Sarah Walker, 18, was spotted holding a sign stating “My Pussy, My Choice” in pink glitter. Walker said that in the last year, she’s become more socially aware, particularly of the injustices towards women, citing gender equality and consent as issues dear to her heart.
“I’ve had teachers that have made sexist comments and I’ve brought it to the office and the office hasn’t done anything about it,” said Walker.
Walker added that rape culture and the prominence of victim blaming needs to change.