By Carrie Sinkowski
During the month of November, you may see a lot of purple around your community. It is the colour used in campaigns that focus on raising awareness about gender-based violence. Discussing violence in the greater community has a short history compared to the use of the colour purple to advocate for social change.
Way back in the late 1800s and early 1900s, women involved in the Suffrage Movement in England began using various colours to brand their movement and create unity. They chose purple, white, and gold to symbolize purity, hope, and loyalty. The Suffrage Movement soon became an international movement of women all over the world demanding the right to vote and participate in formal politics. The three colours were adopted by women in other countries. After victories, such as the 1929 Edwards case in Canada which declared women to be “persons”, the movement’s colours were utilized in other related human rights and gender-based campaigns.
In the 1970s women’s groups began to organize and create services for survivors and coordinate public awareness campaigns about both sexual and domestic violence, and purple was incorporated to symbolize this important work. The Women’s Movement of the 1970s began to carve out space for survivors, and reshape language to be more supportive rather than blaming them for their plight, an example being the move from the use of the term “victim” to “survivor”. Women who experienced violence were the ones leading the development of services and campaigns, informing the work with their histories. Shelters and sexual assault centres in Ontario were created by survivors and their supporters and were in response to the needs being expressed in communities.
There is still a ton of work that needs to be done to eradicate domestic and sexual violence, but it is important to recognize and honour the histories that have brought us to the level of awareness and support that survivors experience today. Preventative work takes place in workplaces and schools, and responsive work, such as counselling, is offered throughout the province.
Despite all these successes, many survivors still live in silence about their experiences of violence which is why awareness campaigns are so important. November 25th is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. Please consider wearing purple on that day to demonstrate your support for survivors, so that they know they are seen, heard, supported, and loved.
Carrie Sinkowski is working for the Community Legal Clinic of Brant, Haldimand, Norfolk. as part of the SHAPE project which provides free information and advice to people who are experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace. She is also a sessional instructor at McMaster University.