CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. - When it comes to stopping gender violence, Paxton Caseley says people need to speak up and intervene to deescalate the situation.
“Above all, be the change that you want to see,’’ Caseley told a packed crowd gathered Thursday at Confederation Centre of the Arts’ Memorial Hall in Charlottetown.
The memorial service marked Canada’s National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. The theme of the P.E.I. purple ribbon campaign is “Time to step up. Be ready to prevent violence against women’’.
Candles were lit in remembrance of the 14 women murdered in the Montreal massacre of 1989 and for each of the 10 P.E.I. women who have been murdered since that year.
Caseley, who was the guest speaker at the memorial, is the chairwoman of the Our Turn UPEI chapter, a national student-led movement aimed to end sexual violence on post-secondary campuses through a survivor-centric approach. It focuses on prevention, support and advocacy.
Caseley said gender-based violence is everywhere, every day. It’s the demeaning or sexist joke that someone might make; it’s the ways in which women are objectified and oversexualized in the media; it’s the constricting gender roles and expectations that are forced on women from the time they are born.
“When we idly stand by and don’t speak up, don’t question these things we are giving permission for violence to occur,’’ she said. “We are enabling the sexist remarks and reinforcing the superior attitudes of the person who is making these demeaning jokes.’’
Sitting idly by allows women to be diminished, erased, minimized, she added. It means society is telling women their intelligence and tenacity are not as valuable.
“Not only does it mean that our voices and opinions and concerns not hold as much merit or importance, but it also means that when we do speak up about inequality or our right to feel safe and free of harassment and abuse and violence we are not being taken seriously.
“Instead, we are diminished, we are subjected to gas lighting, we are asked what we were wearing and we are told it probably wasn’t as bad as we thought.’’
Caseley said bystander intervention doesn’t have to be dramatic or heroic. It’s as simple as telling someone a degrading comment makes them feel uncomfortable. It deescalates the situation, creates a pause and might result in some internal reflection.
The memorial also included Mi’kmaq prayer offered by Julie Pellissier-Lush, the Gaia singers, pianist Dylan Menzie and a powerful poem by Lily Levesque, 18, which she wrote when she was 16 years old and a victim of violence.