The Status of Women Council of the NWT wants Yellowknife to get loud.
The council is organizing Yellowknife’s 22nd annual Take Back the Night rally on Thursday as the venue of choice for the noise.
“The original marches … started with women going down the streets knocking on pots and pans asking where their sisters had gone,” said Samantha Thomas, executive director of the council, adding that decades after those marches, she’s still asking the same questions.
“It’s still a problem … It is something that happens in Yellowknife, it’s something that happens across the territories. I think that women are still seen as a commodity and that our bodies are owed to other people … we need to break that.”
Take Back the Night rallies first started in the 1970s in response to the idea that for women to stay safe, the best course of action is to stay indoors at night or only travel in packs. Bree Denning, executive director of the Centre for Northern Families, says she hopes the march will help people realize this is nonsense.
“At a certain time of the night I’m no longer, at least in some people’s eyes, entitled to be safe on the streets,” she said. “The focus remains on the women and not on the people that perpetrate violence.”
According to Statistics Canada, as of 2013, the rate of violence against women in the NWT is nine times the national average. But these numbers are far from accurate – research shows sexual assault is one of the most underreported crimes. Status of Women Canada estimates as many as one in three women will be sexually assaulted in Canada. Sexual assault also accounts for one-third of all violent crimes committed against Indigenous women.
Thomas said Take Back the Night isn’t only for women.
“Men are also part of the solution,” she said, “Just to counteract rape culture – that boys are not these emotional balls of uncontrollable sex drives, that they are people too. They can choose to be respectful or they can choose to be disrespectful. I think it starts that dialogue.”
Both Thomas and Denning hope young people in particular attend the event.
“I think it’s important to involve the next generation of girls and young women and make sure they know what the march is about and come out and claim the space as well,” said Denning.
Last year nearly 200 people attended. Thomas says she expects a similar number to join this year. The march will begin at 6 p.m. at city hall. Mayor Mark Heyck, activist Gerri Sharpe and Minister Responsible for the Status of Women Caroline Cochrane are scheduled to speak.