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Women, men join march for justice, respect

100th anniversary celebrated

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Chanting "We want justice! We want peace," hundreds of people marched along Broadway to the Manitoba legislature on Tuesday evening to mark the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day.

The march was festive with the jingling beat of tambourines, and the crowd was varied, with groups of students coming together with men, women and children from labour unions and grassroots aboriginal community organizations.

The marchers stopped at the steps of the legislature and fell silent to hear from the province's minister responsible for the status of women, Jennifer Howard.

"We know we have the shame of missing and murdered women and there is more work to do," Howard said.

"We were all shocked to hear the comments of Justice Dewar... There is nothing a woman can do to make herself a victim of sexual assault," Howard stated emphatically.

At a sentencing hearing Feb. 18, Dewar suggested a victim's attire and flirtatious behaviour were partly to blame for the attack, which involved forced intercourse. The judge called the attacker, Kenneth Rhodes, a "clumsy Don Juan" and noted the victim wore a tube top, high heels and plenty of makeup. The judge gave Rhodes a conditional sentence -- no jail time -- of two years, rejecting a Crown suggestion of at least three years behind bars.

The judge's remarks unleashed a firestorm of protest, as well as a formal complaint from the province. The Canadian Judicial Council is now investigating the judge's remarks.

Earlier, aboriginal elder Mae Louise Campbell offered a prayer for justice and an end to violence against women as the march assembled at the Union Centre.

Campbell revealed she lives with the devastating imprint of violence because of a cold case in her own family.

"My niece was murdered in 1975 in Vancouver. They took her body and shoved it into the trunk of a tree in Stanley Park," Campbell said. "We as a people must come together to put pressure on governments to stop this (violence). By working together, we can make things happen," Campbell said.

Justice, love, peace and respect were the themes for the march this year that finished up with a community feast at the University of Winnipeg Bulman Centre Tuesday night.



Marking a special day around the world

The 100th anniversary of International Women's Day was celebrated around the world Tuesday. It was first held on March 19, 1911 in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland. Here are snapshots of events in Manitoba, Canada and around the world:

In Ottawa, Amnesty International called on RCMP to begin recording aboriginal identity as part of case files to better help police track and connect cases involving violence against native women. Eventually, a national strategy on violence against aboriginal women should include provincial and municipal governments directing their police forces to do the same thing, the global rights group said.

Manitoba on Tuesday unveiled a pair of oversized vans that will carry staff, X-ray equipment and supplies to more than 80 rural and northern communities, making it easier for women to receive mammograms. They will replace two older units that were wearing out.

Manitoba also released on Tuesday a comprehensive new guidebook on living with a disability in this province. The book includes information on everything from employment rights to university grants and accessible swimming pools. Status of Women Minister Jennifer Howard said the province also plans to ensure some new downtown housing units are accessible.

In Cairo's now famous Tahrir Square, the place where a successful democratic revolution was staged last month that ousted President Hosni Mubarak, hundreds of women marched to demand equality and an end to sexual harassment. They were soon outnumbered by men who chased them out.

In troubled Ivory Coast, thousands of women defiantly marched to the bloodstained street where seven female demonstrators armed only with tree branches symbolizing peace were brutally killed last week by soldiers in armoured personnel carriers who opened fire.

In Ottawa, more than 400 people attended a celebration at Library and Archives Canada. The event, organized by local advocacy groups and titled "I might be a feminist but..." featured a spoof of America's Next Top Model, called Canada's Next Top Feminist.

Speaking at UN headquarters in New York, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon recalled that 100 years ago "gender equality was a largely radical idea." While progress since then should be celebrated, he said, "we must also remember that -- in too many countries and in too many societies -- women remain second-class citizens, denied their fundamental rights, deprived of legitimate opportunity."

People everywhere remembered the history of International Women's Day. More than one million women and men took to the streets in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland on what was originally called International Working Women's Day to demand an end to discrimination. In 1975, the UN began celebrating March 8 as International Women's Day.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has a message for the would-be democratic reformers of the Middle East: It is time to let women make decisions, too. Appearing at an all-star gathering of women, Clinton said Tuesday the transitions from autocracy in Egypt and Tunisia would be incomplete as long as half of society remained blocked off from participating in governance. "The United States will stand firmly for the proposition that women must be included in whatever process goes forward," she said.

-- Staff / wire services

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 9, 2011 A6

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