On December 6th, 1989, the day that fourteen young women at l’École Polytechnique in Montreal were killed by a gunman as a deliberate act of violence against women, Quinn Mulherin (21, she/they*) wasn’t born yet. She learned about the tragedy years later when she attended the memorial as part of The Circle Education’s Pass it On Program. Unbeknownst to her, it gave direction to her future life path; choosing Gender Studies as a way to shape her professional career and as an advocate for equal rights and opportunities for women.
The December 6th Memorial was Quinn’s introduction to what happened in Montreal, and gender-based violence in general. “All the Pass it on Girls attended the memorial that year, it was super cold, and I remember there was a large turnout from the community. I did a bit of my own research and it definitely triggered my interest in gender equality and advocacy”, says Mulherin who is in her fourth year of the Women and Gender Studies program at UVIC.
Quinn joined Pass it On – a cross-peer group mentorship program with the purpose of supporting self-awareness and skills for healthy relationships – when she was in middle school. “My friends joined and I decided to come with them. As a ‘little buddy’, it prepared me for my life in high school, and as a ‘mentor’ it was my goal to provide support to younger girls who were new in high school, in and outside the program. I became friends with people who I would normally never have befriended. It was a safe space where you could talk about friendships, healthy relationships, boundaries and consent. These conversations gave me insights that nudged me in the direction of Women and Gender Studies.”
She graduated in 2020 amid the pandemic and wasn’t entirely sure if she wanted to go to university. “On a whim, I decided to apply for one program, Women and Gender Studies, and I got in. I am in my fourth year now, and I can say that I made the right choice. Gender equality tends to relate to a lot of other intersectional global issues, like human rights, economics and housing problems. A lot of women still fall through the cracks. That is probably why this course of study stuck with me”, says Quinn who’s also majoring in sociology.
Nearly 35 years have passed since the École Polytechnique massacre, and gender-based violence continues to be a real and horrific issue in the world, in Canada, and in our own community. “There has been a lot of progress over the years, but there is still so much work to be done. I think that toxic masculinity, and certain traditional cultural masculine norms, are a big reason for problematic behaviour towards women. Men are often defined by outdated and unfounded stereotypes, and are trying to measure up to them, ultimately harming themselves and others in the process.”
The big question is, what can we, and particularly young people, do to stop gender-based violence in the future? “We can start by talking about it, men and women alike. Talk with peers about their experiences. Try to step in their shoes. Do your research. Join groups like Pass it On, there are girls’ and boys’ programs, where you can safely talk about vulnerable topics. Participate in advocacy and stand up for what you believe in. I take every opportunity I can to talk to someone when I hear about persistent stereotypes, for example. People are not always happy about that, some are surprised or embarrassed, but that won’t stop me because there are also people who are understanding and willing to change the way they think. That makes it all worth it.”
And what can you do when you experience or suspect gender-based violence? “Trust your gut when you think that you or someone else, are in an unsafe situation or unsafe relationship. Talk to friends, family, a teacher. It will be hard and uncomfortable, but you have to do it as soon as possible. If we speak up, we can try to change things. I don’t think gender-based violence will ever completely stop, so we have to keep advocating for ourselves and others.”
* Quinn uses both pronouns ‘she’ and ‘they’, which means both can be used interchangeably. For the flow and readability of this story, we have used ‘she’.
December 6th Memorial Centennial Park
IWAV and The Circle Education are hosting the annual December 6th Vigil, in memorial and solidarity of the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women in Canada, on Wednesday, December 6 in Centennial Park.
Salt Spring islanders are invited to gather at 5 pm in Centennial Park for the December 6th Memorial (Wednesday, December 6th), to remember and commit to violence-free communities.