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The Future Is Feminist: Slutwalk, 2017

by Meral Jamal

Photo: Meral Jamal

Photo: Meral Jamal

On Sept. 9, around 200 people gathered outside the Human Rights monument in downtown Ottawa for the 2017 SlutWalk.

The SlutWalk is an annual protest that began in Toronto as a stand against rape culture and sexual violence. The first walk took place in 2011, after a police officer suggested that to prevent sexual assault, “women should avoid dressing like sluts.”

Seven years later, it has spread nationally to cities like Vancouver, Montreal and Winnipeg, as well as internationally to countries throughout Europe, Asia and Latin America”. The event has seen as many as 2500 participants in some cities and had an upwards of 200 this year in Ottawa alone.  

Two of this year’s organizers, Carleton University students Fae Johnstone and Muna Mohamed, opened the event. The introduction was followed by speeches and poetry by Leila Moumouni-Tchouassi, Summer Harmony Twenish, Elaine Marilyse and Lukayo Estrella, all of whom are prominent figures in the local literary and political scene. They addressed topics such as rape, race, sexuality, disability, patriarchy and intersectionality.

Once roads were cleared and security in place, the march began. The marchers walked through the streets and past Parliament Hill, with loud voices and loving hearts. Chants like “The future is feminist,” “Protect black rights,” “Protect black trans rights,” and “Hey! Ho! Rape culture has got to go!” had the attendees involved and included. Posters called for the protection of victims of sexual abuse, irrespective of their gender and sexuality and stood up for equality and justice with messages like “Blame the system, not the victim.”

The march organizers were aware of the controversy and alienation attempts to reclaim the word “slut” can generate. “Many members of the local community don’t relate to the term ‘slut’ and they’re often excluded from movements like this because it’s not a space that they feel comfortable in — it’s a really white-dominated space,” organizer Muna Mohamed explained to the Leveller.

“It’s something we didn’t want to shy away from this year, so we really tried to have diverse speakers,” she said. “We tried to show that intersectionality is not just a word you can throw around.”

McKenna Madigan, an English major at Carleton and one of the attendees said she has “never felt so accepted and included and powerful.” When asked if the future is feminist, Madigan said “it’s up to us. We can’t just hope things get better, we have to take action — real, genuine, forceful action.”

Another first year undergraduate student at Carleton, Sam Porta, was at her first protest during her first weekend in the nation’s capital. “It was an absolutely incredible experience to see so many people rally together for a cause that is so prevalent in our society,” Porta said. “Rape is one of the most severely under-reported crimes in North America. To give you a feel of how dark the statistics are, of every 100 incidents only 6 are reported.”

While the protest saw a lot of diversity, it was still lacking the presence and involvement of many cisgender, white men. When asked how she thinks more men can get involved in the movement, Mohamed said, “The first step would really just be to show up. And follow the rules of ally-ship — call people out when you know that they’re wrong.”

When asked what her hopes are for the event next year, Mohamed said, “To just do better. We did a good job of bringing in diverse speakers but I don’t think the audience was [very diverse]. I think we had a very predominantly white group and that was something I tried super-hard to have not happen this year. I’m struggling with it but I want more black women and women of colour to reclaim this space as their own because rape culture is a conversation that can’t happen without us.”

While more remains to be done, the attendees of SlutWalk 2017, marched with love, acceptance and respect, right down to the last step. The marchers moved forward with tear-stained eyes and hope for a better, brighter feminist world.

This article first appeared in the Leveller Vol. 10, No. 1 (Sept/Oct 2017).

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