UNITE! Activism to End Violence Against Women and Girls

Trigger Warning: The following blog post discusses sensitive issues including gender-based violence. The University of Guelph offers a series of Wellness Resources which can be accessed here.  


In identifying as a survivor of gender-based violence, Marsha Hinds Myrie is working to generate power and coalescence among women who share her experiences, which have taught her several valuable lessons:

  •  The personal is political.
  • Survivors of gender-based violence, and particularly black women survivors, experience daily and lifelong challenges in having their needs understood and met. We must all be active partners in calling for an end to gender-based violence, and engage with survivors of violence to understand what they want and need.
  • An inclusive workplace is one that must reconcile with the facts of blackness—it must be a trauma-informed workspace where black women have enough mental health support, personal space, and time.
  • There is an urgent need for greater investments in fighting violence; we must think about the intersections between gender-based violence, blackness, disability, and ensure survivors of violence can determine and access what they need for their wellbeing.

UNITE! Activism to End Violence Against Women and Girls

Written by Marsha Hinds Myrie

Recently, I submitted my first grant to the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. In one of the supporting letters, my community partner in Barbados identified me as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and family instability. This prompted a wise and trusted senior colleague to suggest that the information was personal, and perhaps should be taken out of the letter. I have no heavy investment in or use for feminism as a black woman, but if there is one maxim I understand, the personal is political.

I have been practicing advocacy with women and girls affected by gender-based violence for 22 years. Those years were spent on the front line of the movement. I never wanted to be a United Nations-recognized advocate and I never wanted to be part of any contingent the Government of Barbados thought to honour or send overseas. I made a conscious decision very early in the work, and in my approach to the work, to shed the middle-class veneer associated with foremothers in women’s organizing in Barbados who had used their middle-class privilege to be saviours and providers to working-class women.

This myth removes middle-class women from the effects of intimate partner violence, sexual violence and the damage and danger all of us are susceptible to by virtue of being women.

By identifying as a survivor of the very violence I was working to pull other women and girls through and past, I shifted the uneven power dynamic that has been a longstanding feature in the ways that women themselves can be responsible for oppressing and overshadowing other women.

I cut through the remnants of ways that women were divided and separated in plantation economies which hindered coalescence and sisterhood among women.

This kernel is important to my understanding of women’s liberation. In The Point is to Change the World: Selected Writings of Andaiye, book editor Alissa Trotz names section four, “The Political in The Personal.” In the section, Andaiye provides several examples of the politics behind sickness, diagnoses, and control over wellbeing and medical decisions. Andaiye is not shy about sharing her experience as a multiple survivor of cancer. She outs herself and her association with cancer at a time when people still spoke about the diagnosis in hushed tones or not at all. 

Andaiye highlights the constant negotiation that cancer survivors experience in trying to find understanding for their experience and space for their voices and needs, which is similar to the experience of survivors of gender-based violence—it is daily and lifelong. When we speak about survivors of intimate partner violence or sexual violence, focus remains on moving a woman out of immediate danger.

We have not yet started to let the reality sink in that once a woman or girl comes into contact with violence, they permanently remain a survivor. It is a process that affects the ability of that woman or girl to be a productive citizen, mother, friend, and employee.

I cannot hide my status of survivor from the Social Science and Humanities Research Council. I certainly cannot hide it from my employer, the University of Guelph, and that should be alright.  Not only are we uniting during these 16 days of activism to end violence against women and girls, but we are also said to be actively engaged in a process to diversify and make inclusive our research spaces and universities.

Statistics in the Caribbean put the rate of women affected by gender-based violence at one in every three. Canada has a strong historical connection with the Caribbean as a source population for immigrants, with just over half a million Canadians claiming Caribbean heritage in the 2016 census. It stands to reason that including Black Caribbean women in the Canadian academy will give jobs to women who are victims and survivors of gender-based violence. A part of living life in a black female body is the disproportionate experience of violence that black women face.

An inclusive workplace is one that must reconcile with the facts of blackness—it must be a trauma-informed workspace where black women have enough mental health support, personal space, and time.

An inclusive workplace is also one where employees see themselves as engaged partners in calling for an end to gender-based violence. By linking the outcomes of violence against women to the bottom line the problem becomes a central one to all employees, and not just the concern of a few women advocates. The University of Guelph is a respected industry partner and its brand and values both lend space to a frontal and pivotal role in uniting against gender-based violence. As we think about the theme and period of 16 days this year, I call for us to make it safer for victims of violence to identify and speak their truth. I call for engagement with us to understand what we want and need, rather than plans for us that do not include or engage us. 

I am very excited to be forming a partnership with the Live Work Well Research Centre. I am keen to start to think about the intersections between gender-based violence and how women and girls are forced to live with disabilities they contract from experiences of violence.

I think this kind of work can increase the urgency and the understanding of the necessity for a greater investment in fighting violence. Violence against women robs its victims and survivors of wellbeing. It turns simple acts into hard and complicated negotiations.

I think if we sit with all of this through the next sixteen days, and beyond, we will realize that the imperative must be nothing more than swift and urgent action.