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Day of MourningWhile there have been gains made in the campaign to end violence against women, the guest speaker during the Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women says those gains have barely scratched the surface.

Speaking during a noon-hour luncheon at the Amherst Lions Club, Kiara Bubar said gender-based violence is just as much an issue as it was on Dec. 6, 1989, when a gunman massacred 14 women at a Montreal engineering school.

“Much of what happens with gender-based violence, sexual-based violence and domestic violence happens behind closed doors,” Bubar said. “It doesn’t happen in the open and it’s not always a huge show of misogyny, but it happens and to let it sit in the shadows, or in the darkness, lets it fester.”

Allowing these violent tendencies to fester can sometimes result in unthinkable actions, such as the mass shooting the Polytechnique Montreal 33 years ago when the gunman, blaming women for his misfortune, separated the women from the men and murdered 14 students. Bubar said there are two things to combat in the fight against violence against women.

Too often, she said, shame is rampant because women are too afraid to come forward while the secrecy of it taking place behind closed doors prevents action from being taken to address the violence.

“Women don’t go into a relationship hoping it will be abusive, or hoping they’ll be taken advantage of,” she said. “It’s something that happens. It starts small and becomes bigger. That’s when they become trapped.”

Compassion, she said, is the biggest weapon against shame and being outspoken, even if it’s a lonely voice, helps end the secrecy. It’s important for people to not only listen to victims of abuse but to take them at their word. She said it takes a lot of courage for a woman to come forward with reports of abuse.

“Every time we turn away from those acts, we’re encouraging them to keep happening,” she said. “The two best things to combat shame and secrecy are compassion and to bring it all into the light. It’s believing victims and supporting them because it’s so hard to come forward when you’ve been a victim of gender-based violence.”

Bubar also said it’s important for people, especially those in a position to question others, to fight back against misogynistic comments and attitudes that are culturally ingrained in society.

“The more people who do that, the less acceptable it is. That will really change the whole culture,” Bubar said.

Dawn Ferris, executive director of Autumn House in Amherst, said the importance of Dec. 6 cannot be forgotten.

“We’re still dealing with this,” Ferris said. “There is a direct connection between what used to be perceived as the private safety of women in their homes and what we’re now knowing there’s a connection between that private risk and the public risk in that these men who do mass murders have histories of misogynistic behaviours in their homes.”

Ferris said the goal is to work toward the day when there is no violence, adding it’s not a pipedream. Key to making this a reality is to “get in front of the men and the boys who are being raised in a patriarchal, misogynistic culture.”

Cumberland County Mayor Murray Scott said it’s important to talk about gender-based violence all year, not just on Dec. 6.

“As a former police officer, I see the importance of talking about this year-round and not just talking about it, but making real change,” Mayor Scott said. “We need more change and it’s important for our society to accept responsibility and be a voice of change.”

Amherst Mayor David Kogon said what took place 33 years was a terrible tragedy, but one that has to be remembered because violence against women is abhorrent.

“We shouldn’t be tolerating this. The more we speak about it, the more people – women in particular – can speak out about situations to find the help and compassion they need to get out of their situation, which isn’t as easy as it sounds.”