Event says ‘no’

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Zonta Club members and supporters march on the Third Street Bridge in 2019 in an effort to raise awareness against violence against women.

Bridge walk to end violence against women set for Nov. 25

Members of the Zonta Club urge residents to join them Nov. 25 when they say no on the bridge Nov. 25.

To mark International Day for the Elimination of Violence Towards Women, club members will gather on the Parry Bridge in Chatham between 12:15 p.m. and 12:45 p.m.

Hilary Henley, chair of Zonta’s advocacy committee, said the club has held the awareness-raising walks since 2013.

“The whole point of this rally is to raise awareness. We do it for half an hour during the lunch hour. People who are at work theoretically can come and join us, and people are out and about getting their lunch,” she said. “There’s higher traffic as a result.”

Henley said the goal of the club, which has been in Chatham for more than 70 years, is to improve the status of women through service and advocacy.

Despite the fact we are into the third decade of the 21st century, violence against women has not gone away. In fact, Henley said, it’s gotten worse in the past 18 months.

“During COVID, domestic abuse numbers really increased,” she said. “Who would have thought one of the repercussions of a lockdown was that people were locked in their homes with somebody who was going to abuse them? It’s a huge issue; it’s a global issue.”

Karen Hunter, executive director of the Chatham-Kent Women’s Centre, said the number of women and children needing the centre’s help has not decreased.

“The pandemic has really put a lot of stress on families. There are new people becoming homeless because they have no job, no money and have lost their place,” she said. “With mental health and addiction issues, we’re seeing an increase. People are not able to cope very well. The pandemic put a stressor on families. People were stuck at home. Women couldn’t leave.”

Hunter said 911 calls to police increased dramatically over the pandemic. She said the centre has had to make more than a few such calls themselves.

“We’d get calls. The phone goes dead and we have to call the police to send someone over to make sure everything is OK,” she said. “Or the person was whispering and there’s yelling in the background.”

Henley said the grim reality is women are still dying at the hands of their significant others.

“We have to understand that here in Canada, a woman is killed by her intimate partner every six days. This is Canada. Those statistics are grim,” she said.

Violence against women has also evolved, Henley said, as human trafficking cannot be ignored. And trafficking occurs all along the Highway 401 corridor, including here in Chatham-Kent.

Hunter said human trafficking is not only present in Chatham-Kent, but it really is closer than everyone thinks.

“We’re constantly seeing more and more women who are self-identifying as being victims of human trafficking,” she said. “We get a lot of trafficking through partners or family members. Often drugs are involved. It’s all about making money. There is no end to the number of victims out there.”

The Women’s Centre is holding a flag raising on Nov. 25 in front of the Civic Centre at 11 a.m. to mark International Day for the Elimination of Violence Towards Women. Henley said Zonta members will be on hand to show support.

They and Women’s Centre personnel and volunteers will then head to the bridge event.

Henley said many participants will be dressed in orange.

“When people see orange, they’ll think of the colour our group wears .You will see us on the bridge with orange signs. Last year we wore orange masks,” she said.

Participants in the walk will gather in the parking lot in front of Mercato on the north side of Grand Avenue and walk to the bridge to take part.

Hunter said the walk, as well as the centre’s Shine the Light and Wrapped in Courage campaigns serve to remind the community that groups “know people are out there in need and we are here for them.”

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