Leslie Claire Amminson
“When I heard that a march wasn’t going to be organized in St. John’s (last week), I decided that I would take on this task, even if it meant that only my family would be out holding signs” wrote Deenaree Voelker, organizer of the Women’s March in St. John’s, which took place on Saturday afternoon.
“Women’s March Global is a sister movement to the American Women’s March” Voelker explained. The American Women’s March began in the United States a year ago in protest of President Donald Trump’s inauguration. The event in St. John’s began at City Hall and featured various speakers before marchers took to the streets, walking in solidarity with women, non-binary individuals and other marginalized groups.
There was a strong student presence at the march. One of the speakers was Sophia Solomon, who described her experience growing up as a girl in India. “During the first eighteen years of my life in India, I had firsthand experienced harassment ever since I was a little girl” she explained, “This march is important to me because I want to do my part and make change in whatever little way I can so that no girl [will] have to go through what I went through.”
The Muse also spoke briefly with Renata Lang, MUNSU Director of External Affairs, who explained: “Of course, many of our students are women. We’re finally seeing a lot of powerful voices from women at the table, on our board and on our executive. We have a 63% female board and we have three females on the executive. So we come to these events because we genuinely do care about them, and fighting for women’s issues in our spaces, our communities and our campus is very much the core of what we do and being able to truly advocate for students and give them that accessible education in the spaces in which they go about.”
Lang highlighted MUNSU’s Safe Drive service, anti-oppression training and sexual harassment training for Breezeway Staff, and campaigns that increase awareness as things that MUNSU does to promote gender equality and safe spaces on campus.
Deputy Mayor Sheilagh O’Leary was also present at the event. “I’m here certainly as Deputy Mayor of the City but I’m also here as Sheilagh O’Leary, you know, a citizen of the City of St. John’s. My answer always is about thinking global and acting local–that is my philosophy–and it’s really really crucial that we all stand up for women’s rights right across the planet” she said.
“It’s been a really tough year certainly for women, but it’s also been a fabulous year of exposure and bringing things to the surface that have been there for centuries.”
O’Leary is the former chair of Equal Voice, an organization that promotes women’s participation in politics, with the specific aim of getting more women in leadership roles.
Other speakers included Mary Shortall, President of the Federation of Labour, who focused throughout much of her speech on fairness towards women, trans, and non-binary individuals and how it must be reflected in the political policies of the country. “We continue to have a stubbornly high gender wage gap–sixty-nine cents here in Newfoundland and Labrador–and that wage gap is even higher for some groups of women. Families continue to struggle to find and pay for safe, high-quality child-care […] This is not simply a societal problem, it’s a political problem, and one which requires political will to change,” she said.
Carey Majid, Executive Director at NL Human Rights Commission, also spoke about promoting gender equity and putting an end to sexual harassment in the workplace, which she emphasized is still an issue that causes complaints to flood into the Commission’s office on a regular basis.
The Safe Harbour Outreach Project provided a written statement which underlined the need for the inclusion of sex trade workers in the Women’s March and the movement towards gender equity in general. It reads: “The involvement of sex workers [in the march] is incredibly meaningful […] we are proud that our city recognizes that sex workers belong here because we know that sex workers have been historically left out of international women’s movements.”
Voelker highlighted the need for action. “In moving forward”, she wrote, “I hope for conversations that lead to action. I hope for awareness to be raised on issues that affect us. I hope for more opportunities to work together by having those voices represented and heard ‘at the table’”.