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Huge turnout to women’s rights march in Fernie

Over 100 people marched in solidarity through downtown Fernie last Friday, honouring survivors of domestic and sexualized violence.

The Fernie march was one of many held in more than 100 countries around the world on International Women’s Day.

A group of women and male supporters met at The Arts Station before setting off on a march down 1st Avenue, to the Courthouse and back.

“As we were chanting, violence can really thrive in silence. We really wanted to get out here and be visible, and be heard by the community that violence does exist and we’re still working to fight against it,” said Fernie Women’s Resource Centre (FWRC) Executive Director, Lauren Fox.

“The turnout is so amazing,” she added. “It’s super inspiring. I’ve never been a part of a march before, so this was a very powerful experience for me.”

One individual at the FWRC, Nicky Benzie, was the driving force behind this march.

“I was really inspired by the women’s marches, the last couple of years,” said Benzie, FWRC office manager and outreach worker.

“I felt that the community of Fernie was ready to have an event like this and it’s the 40th anniversary of the Women’s Centre, so why not really take the momentum of what’s going on in the world and turn it into something we can do here.”

As more and more people gathered at The Arts Station, and numbers started to grow, Benzie said she couldn’t keep the smile off her face. Before the march began, she addressed the crowd.

Benzie acknowledged the Ktunaxa people whose land the group was occupying, as well as the deep and lasting impacts that colonial violence has had on indigenous groups, especially women and girls.

“I want to thank the Ktunaxa and all indigenous peoples in Canada for their continued resistance to colonial violence,” said Benzie. “It is with those survivors that we walk in solidarity with tonight.

“I want to remember the people who aren’t survivors,” she continued. “I mourn with the families of the 148 women and girls who died last year as a result of gender-based violence in Canada. I mourn with the families of the almost 4000 missing and murdered indigenous women and girls in Canada. It is with their memory that we walk in solidarity with tonight.”

International Women’s Day was first celebrated in 1911 and officially recognized by the United Nations in 1975. Decades later, communities around the world gather annually to support women’s rights and advance gender equality.

Forty years ago, a group of driven women realized that Fernie lacked a safe place for women and children to go, and seek support for their violent relationships. They mutually agreed they would not be silent and used their voices to create the Fernie Women’s Resource Centre.

“It’s been a great week to reflect on the history of the Women’s Centre and women’s rights in Canada,” said Fox.

In the early 70s, there was no such thing as maternity leave in Fernie. Fox explained that if a women became pregnant, she was forced to quit her job.

This, she said, is one example of positive change. However, Fox says there is still work to be done, specifically in the areas of pay inequality and violence against women and girls.

Benzie added to this, explaining that people need to be held accountable for their actions.

“For too long I think people in power have just been able to continue that power by holding marginalized people down,” she said.

“We need to have marginalized people’s voices amplified, so that they can speak truth to power, (so that) those people who commit violent acts are held accountable for them.”

 

Many left messages of support after a post-march concert at The Arts Station by the Hark Raving Sirens. Phil McLachlan/The Free Press