Next Monday, a number of women – and a few men, in solidarity – will amass in Vari Hall, form a line, raise the flags of many nations in the air and parade along the colonnade to the Underground Restaurant. They are not, however, going to a tea party.
The date and time – March 10 at 2:30pm – is not significant. But the event is loaded with symbolism and purpose. It is an appeal to stop violence against women in every country in the world.
Organized by four women’s studies students as part of a class project, the procession ends in the restaurant’s Contact Room. Before invited dignitaries, each flag bearer takes the stage to describe abuses against women in the country she represents. There will be flags and litanies from war zones like Sudan, from Pakistan, from Saudi Arabia. There will be the American Stars and Stripes because the United States refuses to sign the 1993 UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, says Denise Taylor, one of the student organizers. The presentations highlight the theme – that domestic violence is a global issue, says Taylor.
Following the flag-bearer presentations, Taylor and classmate Ayesha Small will present a skit showing how the seeds of violence grow in male-female relationships, what happens to victims and how the governments and society can fail those who wish to escape. The other two members of their group, Valeria Lopez and Noxolo Nkomo, form the chorus that narrates the story.
Afterwards, women’s studies professors place lighted candles on a cake that features the group’s motto: “Unified as one we will make a difference.”
Taylor and Small scripted the skit based on Taylor’s personal experience and her interviews with female victims of violence, their children, teachers of their children, pastors, social workers, police – all those affected by the violence visited upon a single person. For the class project, Taylor will also hand in an essay based on these interviews. “Domestic violence doesn’t just affect the victim, it has a huge ripple effect,” says Taylor. In the essay, she argues that despite the pervasive impact of domestic violence, there is not enough government support for medical, dental and social services to help victims break the vicious cycle of violence. “The system reinforces victims’ sense of worthlessness,” says Taylor.
The procession, performance and essay are components of a Global Feminist Issues course assignment to research an issue that is local and global and to educate the community about it. For Taylor, the project won’t end when she hands in her essay.
Taylor’s group hopes to take their "Stop Violence Against Women" message into area high schools, in tandem with the men’s White Ribbon Campaign. They want to educate teenage girls about how to recognize and deflect potentially violent behaviour from boyfriends. “It’s important to recognize the signs and do something before it gets to the stage that they become victims,” says Taylor. She also wants to stress the importance of finishing high school and getting a postsecondary education.
Right: Denise Taylor
She will hold up her own experience as a cautionary tale. The Trinidad-born 49-year-old had her first baby at 18 and never finished high school. She immigrated to Canada, left her firstborn with her mother in Trinidad, and had three more children with a different man. Both husbands beat her, the second one so badly she ended up in hospital several times. She ended up moving back to the island, then to Miami, in an effort to escape him.
Taylor wants to say this to young women: “Having a family is a serious thing. You have to be in a position to take care of them in the best way you can. Once you have an education, you are independent. Men are going to think twice before they try to control you.”
Almost three years ago, Taylor decided to go back to school. In two years, she had a diploma in paralegal studies and a certificate in immigration and legal studies from Humber College. Last May, she started a BA in women’s studies at York. With three teenage boys still at home, she soldiers on with government grants and bursaries, determined to get the education she always wanted but couldn’t have. “I tell my boys it’s my time,” she says. Eventually she hopes to get a PhD.
“I wanted to position myself in a place where I am not just helping young women now, but where I am able to work on policies for the future.”
On March 29, Taylor has scheduled a workshop and invited Lisa Rosenberg, an adjunct professor in York’s School of Women’s Studies, to speak about violence against women. Taylor will also speak at the two-hour workshop, which takes place in 306 Accolade West at 1:30pm.