Around 500 people gathered on March 8 for the 13th annual International Women’s Day demonstration in Montreal.
The Committee of Women of Diverse Origins – a Montreal-based grassroots organization – organized this year’s march to celebrate women’s achievements and draw attention to ongoing gender inequality.
The march kicked off at Place Émilie-Gamelin, with a long series of speakers, including representatives from the Immigrant Workers Centre (CTI-IWC), South-Asian Women’s Community Centre (SAWCC), Tamil Women’s Association, No One is Illegal, and PINAY: Filipino Women’s Organization in Quebec.
This year’s demonstration aimed to address the “ongoing plague of violence against women and its related aspects, as well as to celebrate the courage and tenacity of women who stand up to confront and challenge it in Montreal,” according to the Women of Diverse Origins website.
Typically, a series of workshops are offered as part of the events for Women’s Day. This year, however, the committee opted for a dance in support of the One Billion Rising movement, a campaign aimed at ending violence against women and challenging rape culture within mainstream society.
The dance was performed by members of PINAY, who advocate for female migrant workers in Montreal.
“Sometimes a workshop is too heavy,” said a member of PINAY on the Committee of Women of Diverse Origins. “In the past they’ve been a bit much for people to really absorb the information.”
Though the dance itself was well-received, the One Billion Rising movement was a contentious selection to include in the Women’s Day celebration.
Emma Pallotto, a community activist and member of an action group who challenged the One Billion Rising V-Day demonstration this past February, noted some of One Billion Rising’s shortcomings.
“I found what was wrong with [One Billion Rising] was its simplistic look at ending violence against women,” Pallatto told The Daily. “Of course, that’s what we want to do, but we need to address what we mean when we ask what is women, what is violence.”
She also pointed out limited understandings of violence within the movement.
“It only seems to count violence as physical violence, but what we don’t hear about is other forms of violence. There is no mention of the state and how it is violent against women and women of colour. There is nothing on lesbians and the counter-violence in their daily lives.”
Despite its efforts, International Women’s Day has long been criticized for essentializing gender and excluding non-conforming and queer identities.
“We have this idea that there is only one woman. Man violent, and woman passive, and that’s just way too essentialist,” Pallotto continued. “We need to think about how violence seeps into the lives of trans* women and trans* men.”
PINAY, however, chose to take a different look at the One Billion Rising initiative.
“Our version of the One Billion Rising was a Filipino version. It was more militant. We were following the music, and the lyrics in Filipino were saying, ‘women, it’s the right time now to rise up and fight,’” said a representative from PINAY. “We wanted to address a more imperialist theme in the lyrics, [rather] than a gendered one. This was important for us to bring up for Women’s Day.”