11/25/2013 08:42 EST | Updated 01/25/2014 05:59 EST

How I'm Raising Awareness About Violence Against Women

On this day to combat and raise awareness of violence against women, I donate to our women's shelters, and light candles in remembrance of many: all those I have known who have been hurt by a family member, a partner, a friend, an acquaintance; all those who are still struggling to escape the violence; and all those who are slowly healing.

I light a candle in commemoration of the 600 missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls, and ask that the government undertake an inquiry with real recommendations to end the violence.

I light a candle in memory of the sad little girl from playschool with whom I coloured yellow flowers, while she cried about her Mama who was being abused, and no one listened.

I light a candle in remembrance of my friend's accomplished, beautiful Mom rather than admit she was being abused described herself as "clumsy" after breaking her arm, burning her hand on the stove, catching her hand in the door, falling down the stairs and walking into a wall.

I light a candle in remembrance of the young mother, who was murdered by her husband, and stuffed in a garbage can behind the school where my Aunt taught her young children.

I light a candle in honour of the woman who escaped her abusive, common-law husband while he was at the barber shop. When she arrived at my office, she placed her own, two-year-old, blood, fecal, and urine samples on my desk, and uttered, "You said you could help."

Over the next three hours, we would piece together her life story. We wanted to take her to hospital, as she was clearly sick, but she had no status in the country, and could not have afforded the nightly charge. We had to find a women's shelter who would take her that afternoon.

Soon after, we learned she was dying of cancer. We had to approach the Minister of Immigration who granted her status in Canada -- as her paperwork was both finished and submitted -- so that she would not die an agonizing death.

Her last months were the happiest of her life, with the children of the shelter undertaking her chores and bringing her food as her health failed.

Today she is remembered at the shelter with the yellow rose bush she requested in front of the home, and the scholarship I have started in her name so that women at the shelter can begin education should they wish. She is also remembered fondly by the police, the palliative care centre, and the children of the shelter, who explained at her memorial, that "Now the angels will bring her, her food."

I light a candle in recognition of my many students at the university who had the courage to come forward and ask for help. Almost weekly, at the end of a lecture, a student or two would hang back and want to talk. Some had been verbally abused by their boyfriends, others were physically abused by male guardians. There were also the sexual assaults by family members.

All too often the perpetrator went unpunished, and the victims, having already endured the crime, felt fear and shame. These young women would collapse in my arms sobbing; they had nowhere else to go, they felt alone, and they felt they could talk to no one. But by coming forward, they knew that they would get the help they desperately needed, and the supports they required to escape the violence

I light a candle in remembrance of the young mother of three, who had escaped not only her abusive husband, but also her abusive relatives. As she transitioned from the women's shelter, we bought her household supplies, from bathroom supplies to pots and pans, got her on a food program and helped her find a job.

I light a candle for our young boys and men so that they grow up to achieve their full potential and become strong advocates to end men's violence against women.

Recently a young teenager who asked to volunteer in my office was extremely disrespectful to his mother, saying she was "only a woman and she should listen to her husband, a man." I explained he could volunteer after he wrote an essay on why his mother was a hero for escaping her abusive husband, rescuing her children and starting a new life.

And I light a candle for hope, the need for a national strategy and action plan to end violence against women in Canada. For a better tomorrow for all women and girls -- so that no woman will ever again be called "shit face," so no women will ever again know weekly visits to the emergency department, and so no woman ever will die a violent death at the hands of a man.

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