This year marks the 20th anniversary of Justice for Girls (JFG). For two decades, JFG has fought against poverty, homelessness, violence and the brutal impacts of colonization in the lives of teenage girls. We stand up for girls and support them to raise their own voices against injustice and demand peace, dignity, and freedom from violence.
As I sit in our tiny office, l think about the amazing girls and women who put their time and effort into this organization. I think about the feminists, locally and internationally, who have fought for the equality of women and girls.
My grandmother, Diane Freed, is one of those feminists. She joined the women’s movement in the 1970’s. Recently, she gifted me some newspaper clippings from 1980, when she was fighting for the rights of women and girls. Reading through the articles, I found it disturbing that she spoke about the same issues then as I do in my work today.
A 1980 article from the Vancouver Free Press really grabbed my attention. My grandma is quoted saying, "We figure that only one out of every ten sexually assaulted women call, the rest are too afraid to speak. They seem conditioned to expect that no one will believe them anyway. In B.C., in 1978, Statistics Canada has recorded 650 reported rapes. And of these a great deal less are charged and of those even fewer are convicted.” Her point was all too familiar to me.
In another 1980 clipping, she said, “No matter how much we think the legal system has changed, it hasn’t. More often than not the rape victim is put on trial instead of the accused rapist.” Nearly 40 years later, not much has changed. According to police statistics, sexual assaults in Vancouver from 2005-2015 had a conviction rate of 2.9%. Only 5% of victims report their assaults. In 2019, women and girls are not getting the justice they deserve.
In the last few years, women and girls have resorted to other tactics to get justice. The #MeToo and #TimesUp movements are great examples of women taking matters into their own hands. In Canada, multiple politicians and influential men have been called out for sexual assault and harassment. We know that teen girls are the most vulnerable. According to Statistics Canada, police-reported sexual assaults were highest among teenage girls both before and after #MeToo. Not only has #MeToo increased police reporting, it has started a very important public conversation, it has brought together survivors of sexual violence on an international platform.
Attitudes towards women and girls need to change. Who was stupid enough to think Jody Wilson-Raybould, a strong, proud Indigenous woman, could be strong-armed into violating her ethics as Attorney General, or, more importantly, her Indigenous values as a matriarch and truth-teller? She was grossly underestimated by the Prime Minister’s Office. The miscalculation was racist and sexist. Just south of us, there is a racist misogynist in charge of the most powerful country in the world. Brett Kavanaugh, who faced multiple, credible accusations of rape, won a lifetime appointment to the US Supreme Court in 2018. Need I say more.
It is bittersweet for my grandmother and me, and women everywhere, to reflect on where we have come from and where we stand today. We have come a long way, but we have much further to go. My grandma is proud that I carry on her work, but sad that I still have to. To celebrate International Women’s Day, I will think of my grandmother, knowing we stand together in an intergenerational fight for women and girls' equality.
Article also available at https://theprovince.com/opinion/op-ed/savanah-norman-from-grandmother-to-granddaughter-50-years-of-feminism