White ribbons against violence

by Sharyn Hall

On September 11, 2016, Trinity Church Wall Street in New York City tied white ribbons to the black iron fence around the church as a statement against violence and a prayer for peace.

Trinity Church and neighboring St. Paul’s Chapel became refuges for frightened victims, first responders and aid workers when the World Trade Center was attacked on 9/11, 2001. Fifteen years later, they remember the devastation of violence on peoples’ lives and the continuous work for peace desperately needed in our world.

On Sunday, September 11, 2016, the congregation of Christ’s Church Cathedral Hamilton was invited to tie a white ribbon on the iron fence in front of the Cathedral as a statement against violence and a hope for peace in our world, our country, our communities and our homes.

In Canada, and in 60 countries around the world, wearing a small white ribbon has come to signify the hope for peace in the lives of women and girls—at least half the world’s population. The White Ribbon Campaign began in Canada in 1991 as a response to the killing of 14 young women at the Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal on December 6, 1989.

That day continues to be remembered in prayer vigils and by repeated calls for protection of all women and girls from violence in their homes, schools and communities. According to a report from the YWCA in Canada, 460,000 sexual assaults happen in Canada every year.

“People of all races, religions and levels of society have a multitude of ways in which they justify or excuse violence”

The White Ribbon Campaign is linked to an international movement against gender violence entitled, “16 Days of Activism”, beginning November 25 (International Day for the Eradication of Violence Against Women) and ending December 10 (UN Human Rights Day). The United Nations continues to stress that women and girls are particularly at risk of violence because of cultural traditions and ineffective laws.

Wars, natural disasters and forced migration have placed women and girls at risk of kidnapping, human trafficking and rape in conflict zones and refugee camps. Too often people avoid the issue of violence against women and girls, which discourages victims who feel ostracized or in danger if they speak out.

A Christian coalition, called “We Will Speak Out”, is working to overcome the barrier of silence so that the reality of violence against women and girls can be confronted and eliminated. Three words capture the action needed: prevention, protection, prosecution.

Prevention of violence is helped by open discussion and education with men and women of all ages and levels of society.

Protection of vulnerable females and victims who need safety and healing is essential to overcome the physical and mental damage of violence.

Prosecution of perpetrators is necessary so that no law, religious practice or cultural tradition can be used to justify gender violence.

The greatest obstacles to the elimination of violence are the attitudes of men and women toward violence. People of all races, religions and levels of society have a multitude of ways in which they justify or excuse violence.

The White Ribbon Campaign challenges everyone to think about his or her own beliefs, language and actions. Wearing a white ribbon is a personal pledge to never commit, condone or remain silent about violence against women and girls. Wearing a white ribbon also acknowledges that peace and dignity for the female half of the world’s population will go a long way toward peace and dignity for all people.

For more information: 
whiteribbon.ca, wewillspeakout.org, vowpeace.org (Canadian Voice of Women For Peace),  International Anglican Women’s Network,  Status of Women Canada, 16Days.

Canon Sharyn Hall is a member of the International Anglican Women’s Network.