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Take Back the Night marches the streets of Downtown Kitchener (4 photos)

The event remains a sobering reminder of the challenges women face in our community

People gathered at Carl Zehr Square in front of Kitchener City Hall, for the annual "Take Back the Night" event to raise awareness of the harassment and danger women face walking throughout the region at night.

The global event first started back in the 1960's in Belgium and England, before spreading to over 36 countries.

The event eventually grew to include the unique issues facing people of colour, LGBTQ, and Indigenous women, as well as non-binary people.

"What it is essentially is women, non-binary, transfolks going out on the street and, showing that we deserve to feel safe while we walk down the street. Whether it's at night-time or during the day, and addressing things like street harassment and sexual harassment and that type of thing,"  says Kasey Politano, Public Educator, Sexual Assault Support Centre (SASC). Her group organized Take Back the Night in Kitchener. 

Politano says she still hears reports of people feeling "uneasy walking down the street" and says "cat calling is absolutely a thing that's still very alive and prominent."

The march became a way for many to voice their stories of rape, sexual assault, and harassment they've faced just for walking down Kitchener's streets.

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives released a report earlier this year that ranked Waterloo Region as the least safe place for women to live

The study revealing the region to have the highest rates of sexual assault and intimate partner violence in Canada.  Many women felt the report echoed their feelings Wednesday night.

"We're probably not as far along on the issue as maybe a lot of people like to think that we are," says Jess Halliday from Kitchener. 

Andrew Moraga, federal NDP candidate for Kitchener-Centre, describes himself as a male ally, having always kept an eye out for his female friends. He says his own experience as a queer man helps him understand some of what women go through.

"I've been cat called on the street twice this year by people in cars and who follow you down the street, it's very scary and you don't know what's going to happen."

For some, it was their first time attending Take Back the Night, excited to make a difference and be heard. Others were veterans of the walk, frustrated over the lack of progress.

The event became more than just about women's safety, turning to the broader Canadian landscape of women's rights. SASC dedicated a portion of the opening remarks to the experiences of Indigenous women. 

Amy Smoke performed several native folk songs with the Blue Sky Singers group. Smoke's frustration took aim at how some Canadians, especially government officials, reacted to the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls report released earlier this year, along with the lack of consultations with Indigenous groups.

The report found Indigenous women are 12 times more likely to murdered or to go missing, and are 16 times more likely to be killed or to disappear than white women.

Smoke says while they have no issue walking the streets alone, having lived on the streets for a time, the same can't be said for everyone.

"So I feel probably a little more equipped to deal with that kind of situation, but it's certainly not something I would expect my daughter to do, my 19 or 20-year-old, and feel comfortable at all."

Fauzia Mazhar, Executive Director of the Coalition of Muslim Women spoke about the injustices facing Muslim women, noting the additional layers of race and religion on top of gender.

"The risk sexual physical violence, as well as systemic violence, is much much much greater and that's where the hate crimes against the Muslim community come into play."

She notes the harassment women face over clothing choices plays out with Muslim women too, having heard stories of people pulling hijab's in her community. Mazhar says the issue is playing out in politics too, noting the controversial Bill 21 in Quebec that imposed a secular dress code on some public sector workers. A bill, she says, that prevents Muslim women from pursuing jobs in government.

"My clothing choices should not be deciding what I want to do in the economic sphere. Women have the right to choose what they want to wear and have no repercussion, nothing, based on what they want to choose to wear."

Nothing prevented men from attending the event, but they were in the minority. Organizers and community leaders made a point about the importance of male allies. 

During the march, some members were unfortunately harassed by men passing by in their cars, thus proving why the women needed to take back the night.

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