Remarks: National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women

The following remarks were delivered by Arig al Shaibah, Associate Vice-President, Equity and Inclusion during the University Women’s Club of Vancouver Federation Committee Panel Discussion: “Are Students Safe on Post-Secondary Campuses?” on December 6, 2023.

Good evening. Thank you to the University Women’s Club of Vancouver for inviting me to join in this commemorative event and discussion.   

As mentioned, I am UBC’s Associate Vice-President, Equity & Inclusion. I feel honoured and privileged to work at UBC, with campuses located on the traditional, ancestral and unceded territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, Tsleil-Waututh, and Syilx Okanagan Nations. With humility, I want to give thanks to the First Nations peoples for their gracious reception of guests such as myself who have come to work and live on the lands they have stewarded since time immemorial. I recognize my positionality and privilege as an immigrant settler and as a representative of a BC educational institution, and the personal and professional responsibility I have to work towards decolonization and reconciliation.  

Today we remember the 14 women who were killed at the École Polytechnique de Montréal on December, 6, 1989 – targeted because they were or were perceived to be women and feminists. It was a shocking example of the fatal manifestation of hatred towards a group of individuals based on their inalienable human characteristics and their ideas.  

Earlier today, I attended the annual vigil on the UBC Vancouver campus organized by the Engineering Undergraduate Society and UBC Applied Science. It is so important that the community continue to come together to commemorate the lives lost and reflect on the persistence of gender based violence today. 

We recognize gender-based violence as being rooted in misogyny and intersecting with homophobia and transphobia – specifically targeting cis and trans women and more broadly 2SLGBTQIA+ groups as well as transgender and non-binary peoples .We also recognize the risk is disproportionately higher for women who are Indigenous, racialized, disabled, and 2SLGBTQIA+. There is much evidence of this truth and a need for more initiatives to effectively address this reality.  

One notable intervention, after decades of calls to action, is the Canadian government’s launch of a National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG), which has resulted in a National Action Plan. Despite this action plan, efforts must continue to keep this community issue on the nation’s agenda. 

We can certainly point to progress we have made in Canada with respect to recognizing and seeking to address the various forms of gender-based violence in our society and our social and educational institutions, including evolving our human rights and criminal codes to define what is and what is not lawful.  

However, we cannot rest on our hard-fought legal and moral victories because there are some strong elements of resistance and backlash that, if ignored, can take hold and undermine our progress. It has been said that, “ “gender-based violence (GBV)… is one of the most pervasive, deadly, and deeply rooted human rights violations of our time. GBV can take many forms, including physical, sexual, psychological, emotional, and financial abuse, as well as technology-facilitated violence.”1 

1 Government of Canada (n.d.). National Action Plan to End Gender-Based Violence. Available Online: The National Action Plan to End Gender-Based Violence – Women and Gender Equality Canada 

On June 28 of this year, an individual, described as a former male student, targeted and attacked members of a gender studies class at the University of Waterloo – police assessed that the attack was motivated by hate. While such incidents are not common occurrences, post-secondary institutions across Canada, including at UBC, quickly moved to take additional precautionary safety measures to put information about class locations and professor names behind a firewall.  

While there are questions about whether this is an effective intervention, rather than debating the statistical risk of such occurrences and cost-benefit of various interventions, it may be more helpful to acknowledge and address the sense of safety of campus community members. Students, faculty, and staff need to have avenues to voice their feelings of unsafety and to hear that schools are doing everything in their power to enhance the range of available security measures and, perhaps most importantly, to improve communication of and training on available security measures to our students, faculty and staff.  

Safety of students on campuses is paramount to their wellbeing and success, and the federal government sponsored report entitled The Courage to Act provides guidance on best practices for post-secondary institutions. Campus security, student services, and equity offices need to continue to collaborate to foster a sense of dignity, belonging, and safety for all community members. I want to also recognize the role of students as critically important change agents and partners in this space.  

Those of us working in the human rights field recognize that hate-motivated violence occurs along a continuum. While we have laws to protect against discriminatory comments and conduct that violates inalienable human rights, we have laws to protect against hate speech, and we have laws to protect against physical and sexual violence, the question of safety in society and on campuses must also include conversations about whether and how unchallenged biased and bigoted attitudes and behaviours – that may not meet the high bar of legally defined discrimination and hate – may nonetheless cause psychological harm and contribute to a culture permissive of more egregious acts. In other words, it serves us well not to ignore any form of implicit or explicit bias and bigotry.  

In our increasingly globally connected world, we are navigating a great number of social and political forces acting on our society and on our institutions of higher education. Consequently, there are renewed questions about the role of the university in relation to advancing just societies locally and globally. As we consider the most appropriate ways to join the fight to prevent, if not end, gender-based violence at home and on our campuses, we will most certainly be more effective in doing so by connecting that fight to broader intersectional and international liberation movements to combat a diversity of contemporary local and global human rights violations and injustices.  

Thank you.