By Mark Dreger
More than 100 women, men, and children gathered downtown in Kerry Park Thursday night to participate in the Take Back the Night rally, a global movement aimed at making streets safe for women and raising awareness about sexual assault.
“We’ve gotten louder and we’ve adapted with the times to have the music here and more events,” said Michelle Novakowski, executive director of the Elizabeth Fry Society. “But we make it a short night because it gets cold in the fall pretty early, and we want to be able to have kids and families involved.”
Participants wrote encouraging words in chalk before speakers for the event were introduced, which included Novakowski and Miss Universe Canada Finalist Shanelle Connell, who spoke about the stories she’s heard about sexual violence. There was also a self-defence demonstration by the First Strike Martial Arts Academy that gave examples of how to escape an attack.
Kailin and Riley, who attended the event for the first time, were excited to see the group empowering women and not being afraid.
“We’re both trying to get into this field and we just want to see what kind of community involvement there is and what kind of support there is for E Fry and for women’s rights,” Kailin said. “You can’t silence something like this once it goes viral and I think it does make a difference.”
“This is probably my fifth or sixth,” said James while holding his daughter in his arms. “I think it’s a great event and a great service to Kelowna, so I keep coming out and showing my support.”
Jannah Jais, an employee and volunteer with Elizabeth Fry, had her reflector vest ready to help direct her first Take Back the Night rally.
“For me this event really means just moving issues that are considered taboo beyond the doors and making them public and making people know that this is the reality for a lot of people,” Jannah said.
After speeches of encouragement, participants grabbed signs and began the march up Bernard Avenue, chanting “We have the power, we have the right,” and “yes means yes, no means no.”
“It feels like we make two steps forward and then we have one back, but every time we have one back we gather more energy and we move forward again,” Novakowski said. “And while most crimes have gone down in the last ten years, violence against women—power-based crimes such as sexual assault and domestic violence—have not gone down. In many areas they’ve increased, so we’ve got a ways to go.”
Take Back the Night is an international campaign that began in the United States in 1975. Kelowna has hosted a Take Back the Night event for over 25 years.