On Dec. 6, the National Day of Remembrance and Violence Against Women, the University of Calgary held a memorial to commemorate the murder of 14 women at L'Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal in 1989. On that day, Marc Lepine, armed with a rifle, terrorized a class of 60 engineering students. Lepine separated the women from the men, declared his hate for feminists and shot at the group. Lepine killed 14 women.
During the U of C memorial, 14 female students lit a candle for each woman killed.
The Women's Resource Centre, along with several other campus groups, have coordinated the memorial since 1990. Each year, a committee picks a theme, this year's being "Making a Difference Every Day."
Community Centre for Engaged Learning director Erin Kaipainen, who oversees the WRC, sat on this year's committee. Kaipainen said that feedback from the victims' families indicated a desire to "move beyond just remembering tragedy" and take action, which determined the theme for this year.
"Making a Difference Every Day" translated into a statement of positive action for each of the 16 days of Activism Against Gender Violence -- an international campaign that highlights an issue of violence each day from Nov. 25 to Dec. 10. Kaipainen explained the purpose of correlating these two events is to make the connection between violence against women and any violation of human rights. The WRC also sold hand-made beeswax candles during the event to raise money for their programming.
U of C president Elizabeth Cannon, Students' Union president Lauren Webber, Janet Pieschel from YouthLink Calgary and Bianca Giurgiu from RESOLVE Alberta all spoke on the issue of gender inequality and violence. The memorial functioned as a forum to increase awareness about contemporary issues of violence against women. Cannon said women make up 24 per cent of undergraduate engineering students, compared to the national average of 17 per cent. However, Kaipainen emphasized that these numbers are comparatively quite low, when considering over 50 per cent of the undergraduate body is women and in the graduate demographic these numbers drop.
"[It's important to] take stock of where we are now and recognize that there still is a lot of work that needs to be done," said Kaipainen.
First-year biology student Katie LeBlanc was aware of the Montreal massacre before she attended the memorial on Monday.
"I think as a female in the field of science it's almost a responsibility to know these sorts of events and how they've shaped where we are today," she said.
LeBlanc said the memorial was a source of awareness for gender-based issues. She referred to Janet Pieschel's speech which explored the underlying causes of social- and gender-based violence as originating within the family unit.
"These kinds of ceremonies are essential to even just raise awareness of issues that are still going on," said LeBlanc, who added they are "a vision of where we need to go in the future."
The 16 days of activism against gender violence ends this Friday with a write for rights campaign against human rights abuse at the WRC 11 a.m. - 3 p.m..