It was 10 minutes before the “Women’s March on Washington in Toronto” began, the sun peeked through a screen of clouds as an estimated 60,000 people stood for a moment of silence in front of Queen’s Park.
It was the last moment of silence before people became silent no more.
Chants and drum circles were heard all across the city as a sea of people made their way down University Avenue, all the way to Nathan Phillips Square.
A day after U.S. President Donald Trump’s inauguration, women and LGBTQ members made their voices heard and established themselves as a population that will stand up for their rights no matter what.
It was reported that an estimated 250,000 people attended the inauguration in Washington D.C., while approximately 500,000 people occupied the National Mall the next day to protest against Trump.
Farrah Khan, who was at the Toronto march, said she felt elated. Khan is the co-ordinator for Ryerson University’s Office of Sexual Violence Support and Education. “It excites me to see so many students, young people and people who are participating in their first march.”
At the beginning of the march, a handful of diverse women from intersectional backgrounds, including Khan, delivered speeches to spread their messages of inclusiveness and freedom. As an advocate against sexual violence, Khan spoke on the mistreatment of women and the protection that they deserve.
“I wanted people to understand that to believe survivors means that they must believe all survivors. Be it indigenous women, trans women or black women,” says Khan.
The protest was more than just a collective response to Trump’s inauguration. Kavita Dogra, organizer and founder of We Talk Women, explained before the march the importance of this event.
“We are standing in solidarity with the women in Washington, but also we’re taking this as an opportunity to look at the issues that impact marginalized communities here at home and to say that that style of politics will not work here, it will not be tolerated here and it’s not what we want,” Dogra said.
According to the Canadian Women’s Foundation, there is still a large number of women who are victims of domestic violence, who are raising children in poverty and are continuously being sexualized in mainstream media — and that’s only the tip of the iceberg.
For the many women who participated in the march, it meant a great deal to them. “It means that we are a community of people that are saying that it’s not OK,” says Khan. “I march because I work at a university and I know that campus sexual assault is an epidemic across Canada. I march because I believe in justice.”
For Hana Shafi, a Ryerson University alumna and activist, the march was a “form of resistance.” Shafi, who hosted workshops for sexual assault survivors at last year’s Social Justice Week at Ryerson University, believes that we need to start calling things as they are.
“If we keep beating around the bush and using this sanitized language, we are not going to identify the problem nor will we be able to eradicate it,” Shafi said.
The rally was historic, but is still only the first step to creating a more positive and inclusive society. According to Khan, there is still more that needs to be done and students can play a huge part in it.
“I think one thing (that students can do) is to talk to their community. Sometimes it’s easier to say things on social media but they should be encouraged to go out there and engage and have those tough conversations with people,” said Khan.