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Students plan women’s march

By: Jordan Ross

Posted: 06/20/2019 10:28 AM

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Grade 12 student Makenzie Tavares and Grade 10 student Kennedy Headland have organized a Steinbach march for women’s rights this Saturday, June 22 at 11 a.m. in K.R. Barkman Park.

JORDAN ROSS | THE CARILLON Enlarge Image

Grade 12 student Makenzie Tavares and Grade 10 student Kennedy Headland have organized a Steinbach march for women’s rights this Saturday, June 22 at 11 a.m. in K.R. Barkman Park.

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Inspired by activism locally and abroad, two SRSS students have organized a grassroots march in support of women’s rights.

Kennedy Headland, 16, and Makenzie Tavares, 18, said the idea began with a text message exchange among their rugby teammates following Steinbach’s Life Hike on June 1.

Turnout tripled at the annual gathering of abortion opponents, but it also attracted a small counter-protest by Handmaids’ Local 204 and 431 Manitoba, abortion rights advocates who donned costumes inspired by Margaret Atwood’s novel, The Handmaid’s Tale.

Headland and Tavares said the presence of two dissenting viewpoints made them keen to see a greater diversity of perspectives on the streets of Steinbach.

"They (Life Hike supporters) can have their opinions, but we want to make sure that ours are heard too…and not just silenced by the community," Headland said.

Last Tuesday, they organized a purple shirt day at their high school to raise awareness for the march, which takes place this Saturday at K.R. Barkman Park.

Participants, who are encouraged to wear purple, will walk along Main Street to Brandt Street, then take Fourth Street to Barkman Avenue and end up back at the park.

At press time, the pair were still waiting to hear back from politicians they invited to speak, but both Headland and Tavares said they plan to address the crowd.

The event is billed as all-ages and open to women and men who want to show their support for women’s rights, including but not only the right to choose an abortion.

"You don’t have to have a big political opinion. It’s just for everyone to come out, have a nice time, go for a walk, meet some people, and support women," Headland explained.

In an age when activism has migrated online, the event is also a chance to step out from behind social media feeds, which Headland and Tavares said can foster a silo mentality among users.

"With social media, it’s so easy to get lost with what the facts are," Headland said.

She sees online polarization at work in Alabama, where a statute passed last month will make performing an abortion a felony in nearly all instances.

Headland said the tide of moral sentiment around the new law undoubtedly contributed to the strong turnout at Steinbach’s Life Hike.

Tavares said the situation in Alabama is a case of an important right being curtailed "by people who shouldn’t have a say at all."

But the two friends acknowledged social media has positive effects too. For one, it facilitates the political participation of young people. Teens often get conflicting messages from adults, who they said teach the importance of voting but often discourage political convictions.

"It feels like there’s just so much going on, and a lot of stuff that we don’t agree with, and it’s actually our future. We should be able to have a say in it," Headland said.

The internet has also helped them connect to social movements happening beyond Manitoba.

Headland said she is inspired by the charitable work of American pop star and actress Miley Cyrus, whose Happy Hippy Foundation assists homeless and LGBTQ youth.

Tavares referenced British actress Emma Watson, a gender equality advocate and UN Women Goodwill ambassador who earlier this year donated $1.68 million to a U.K. fund for those affected by sexual harassment.

Headland and Tavares said such role models are important for young women in the Southeast, who contend with pay inequity, the pressure to marry young and have children, and even the possibility their drinks will be spiked at a party.

"The world is definitely a scary place right now," Headland said. "No one seems to really want to speak up about it."

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