34 years after the École Polytechnique shooting, women still fight for equality in the workplace

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On December 6, 1989, 14 women in an engineering class at the École Polytechnique de Montréal were separated from their male classmates and killed, because they were women training to work in a male dominated field.

More than 30 years after this violent misogynistic attack, women are still fighting for equality – in schools, in workplaces, and particularly in male dominated fields such as engineering, tech, and the skilled trades.

For Deborah Schwientek, Senior Manager of Employment and Training Services at YWCA Hamilton, it’s an ongoing struggle she sees every day. Deborah and her team oversee YWCA Hamilton’s programs that help women break into the skilled trades – and while there have been many gains by women in male-dominated workplaces, true equality remains a struggle.

“We’re seeing women entering skilled trades, but they’re not staying,” she said. “Women are still suffering – women are still experiencing that feeling of “You don’t belong here.””

“It’s not a five-minute problem – funding is there to get women into the programs, but it’s not tackling the systemic issues.”

The gender-based violence Deborah hears about from women in the field is usually related to emotional violence, including bullying and harassment.  Part of YWCA Hamilton’s training focuses on how women and gender-diverse people can navigate that dynamic.

“We ensure that women know they have the right to a harassment-free workplace – we encourage them to ask at the interview, “Who is the right person to speak to if I experience bullying or harassment?”” she said. “We ask, are you going to be comfortable going onto the shop floor where no one’s got your back, but you still need to make a living?”

Deborah points out that ongoing gender-based violence and misogyny is not limited to the workplace, but continues to permeate every area of our lives.

“It’s still happening. There is still this anti-woman attitude of “You’re taking up space and not giving me what I need.”

The anniversary of the massacre is commemorated as the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. On December 6, we honour the lives of the women killed, and take action to empower the fight for gender equity – including in all workplaces.

Today, and every day, we mourn those who have lost their lives to gender-based violence, particularly the women who were murdered in Montreal, and recommit to fighting misogyny in all its forms.

We remember:

Geneviève Bergeron

Hélène Colgan

Nathalie Croteau

Barbara Daigneault

Anne-Marie Edward

Maud Haviernick

Maryse Laganière

Maryse Leclair

Anne-Marie Lemay

Sonia Pelletier

Michèle Richard

Annie St-Arneault

Annie Turcotte

Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz

Learn more about YWCA Hamilton’s gender-based violence programs:

Commemorate December 6

Interval House of Hamilton invites you to attend a vigil for The National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. The vigil will take place Wednesday, December 6th, 2023 from 1pm to 3pm. This year the vigil will be held at McIntyre Performing Arts Centre located inside Mohawk College’s Fennell Campus- 135 Fennell Ave. W, Hamilton.

McMaster University is hosting several events on December 6, including a Fire and Tobacco offering, a panel discussion and memorial walk. More information can be found HERE.

Take Action: Urge the Ontario Government to Declare Intimate Partner Violence an Epidemic

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