Edmontonians gather once again to support equal treatment for all women
This time last year was turbulent to say the least. Elections were allegedly being bought by Russia, fascists were roaming the streets with a newfound sense of authority, and women were being treated awfully in the media and in politics. But something special came out of this pressure-cooker social environment—resistance.
To think how far we’ve come since last January is startling, but the ball is only beginning to roll. On January 20 the March on Edmonton Collective will hold an anniversary march, along with hundreds of others across North America and around the world.
The collective was first created last year to organize Edmonton’s sister march, but the organizers had no grasp on just how many people would join them. Over 4,000 women and allies—most of whom had never been to a protest before—gathered at the Alberta Legislature last January. March On Edmonton was founded upon addressing hatred and bigotry in public discourse and eliminating gender-based harassment and violence, both of which echo their slogan: women’s rights are human rights.
Organizer Paula Kirman, who knows her way around a picket sign with over 12 years in Edmonton’s activism scene, says last year’s march was monumental. The 2017 march was by far the largest she’s seen (the second largest being Occupy Edmonton in 2011 with around 1,500 people in Churchill Square).
“I think specifically, we had very Albertan and Edmontonian reasons to march. It wasn’t just because of what was going on in the United States,” Kirman says. “There was a sort of this trickle-up effect of people feeling emboldened in terms of espousing and promoting attitudes and hate speech and verbal bullying of women in public life especially. We’ve seen that in the caucus right here in Alberta.”
Fellow organizer Alison Poste agrees, saying it’s less about Trump and more about the issues here at home, which is why they worked to have such an intersectional range of speakers for the marches.
This year’s rally will host representatives from several communities who will speak to their areas of activism. This includes president of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women Nasim Kherani, transgender and inclusivity advocate Stephanie Shostak, community labour activist Mimi Williams, disability rights activists Debbie Reid and Amy Park, as well as founder of the Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women Muriel Stanley Venne.
While issues of harassment and abuse have gained attention with campaigns like #metoo and #timesup, the organizers say other issues have yet to gain a similar spotlight.
Last year, Poste was horrified to see how few women were elected to Edmonton’s city council. With a fire lit under her after the March on Edmonton, Poste ran for city council in the 2017 municipal election.
Poste references comments that were made about her appearance or the fact that she doesn’t have kids—by choice—as something that would never be asked of a man and indeed were not asked of her fellow male candidates.
“I’m concerned about what young women are seeing in the media,” Kirman adds.
She mentions Minister Sandra Jansen (candidate for leadership of the Progressive Conservative party at the time) crossing the floor and the subsequent harassment and death threats she received afterward.
“What kind of message is this giving to young women who may be considering a career in politics or in public life?” Kirman asks.
With the general election coming in just over a year, issues like this are pressing, and require work without question. Edmonton’s city council currently has two women elected out of 12 wards. While Premier Notley’s NDP caucus set a record for the number of women elected (45 percent), we should be aware of and resist regression in this area. The March on Edmonton Collective is committed to non-partisanship and organizers invite every elected official in Alberta to remain unbiased.
Despite the ground that’s been made over the past year, the March on Edmonton Collective says they’re nowhere near finished. That’s the focus for this year’s anniversary march, spurring new activism beyond the streets.
The March on Edmonton Collective plans to use this year’s gathering to continue the forward momentum going. Poste and Kirman plan to do this by staying connected with the heaps of people that show up to the march, so they may act upon the values they march for with organizations like Win House, Equal Voice, Women Building Futures and the Young Women’s Christian Association.
“We need to make a really strong and powerful statement,” Kirman says. “That hate speech and violence and bullying are not acceptable in our society, but there’s still work to be done.”
Sat., Jan. 20 (1 pm)
Women’s Anniversary March on Edmonton
Alberta Legislature Building