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16 Days of Activism - Day 12

Written by The Rev. Laura Marie Piotrowicz, rector of St. John's Anglican Church in Lunenburg Nova Scotia

Thirty years ago today, a man entered Montreal's Polytechnical Institute, and targeted women who were studying engineering and other STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) fields. 14 women died, another 14 people (9 women) physically injured before the gunman took his own life.

The purpose of his intentional and calculated attack: he was "fighting feminism."

The impact of this massacre, one of the worst in Canadian history, was deep across the country.

A broader conversation of social issues and gender justice emerged, and December 6th now commemorates the National Day of Remembrance and Acton on Violence Against Women. While statistics do show some improvement, there remains much to be done.

On this the 30th anniversary of a blatant anti-feminist act, I recall the indirect impact this had on my own life. Entering high school the following year, I recall conversations with friends about how women weren't safe in STEM-related classes. Later, when touring university campuses, only in the city of Montreal did I inquire about the current rates of violence against women. Gender justice has been a theme throughout my studies and ministry, and December 6th is never forgotten.

I suspect the atrocity of 1989 remains a factor (conscious or not) that continues to influence other women: only 20% of women in higher education pursue degrees in STEM fields (compared to over 40% of men), and women represent only 22% of the STEM workforce.

Now, years later, I realise that this horrific event continues to influence my life - but it is no longer from a place of fear. Within Canadian society I benefit from a decreased rate of violence against women, an increased awareness of the underlying issues of anti-feminism, improvements in police and policy response to issues of violence.

Specifically, I am blessed to recognise my role in empowering women of today: within the congregation I serve are women and men who work and minister within the STEM fields. There are youth engaging in these fields in their studies. There are children whose curious minds are obviously oriented towards STEM, and they will not be dissuaded from it.

What a gift it is for our community to have the privilege and responsibility to uphold and support these people: given the gifts of discerning hearts and minds, they strive to make the world a better place. They are celebrated for who they are, who God has made them to be, and who they will continue to become as they journey in their fields. Their education will be in the classroom and in the field, and it will also be in the church: they are beloved children of God who are encouraged to live without fear.

So as we recall the horror of 30 years ago, I pray that the survivors have found peace. I recognise that the reality of today shows movement towards gender equality. And it is the hope of tomorrow that is therefore up to us: may God give us all the strength to support and encourage everyone to live into their vocation, whatever that may be.

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