Women's rights activist honoured: Vancouver's Lee Lakeman devotes herself to the fight in halting violence against women

BY TRACY SHERLOCK, VANCOUVER SUN
Date: 
Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Women's rights activist honoured

 

Vancouver's Lee Lakeman devotes herself to the fight in halting violence against women

 
 

High-profile news stories about gang rapes and violence against women inspired the selection of women's rights activist Lee Lakeman as the recipient of an award designed to recognize the values associated with Mahatma Gandhi. On Thursday, Lakeman will receive the Thakore Visiting Scholar Award, which is copresented by Simon Fraser University's Institute for the Humanities and its JS Woodsworth Chair, the India Club of Vancouver, and the Thakore Charitable Foundation.

ACHIEVING PEACE

"The biggest thing we looked at this year was that there were quite publicized cases of violence against women in India, and right here in Vancouver we have had several cases like that," said Arvind Thakore, a member of the selection committee and of the foundation his family founded to bring awareness to non-violence as a means of achieving peace and respect for all people.

Gandhi, of course, was the nationalist leader in India who was assassinated in 1948, despite his belief in non-violent methods of achieving his goals, which included justice and political freedom. Lakeman has been an activist against violence to women since the 1970s, including working at Vancouver's Rape Relief and Women's Shelter.

"We thought it would be appropriate to honour somebody who has been working on these issues for years," Thakore said. "Women form 50 per cent of the world's population and if we just keep suppressing them, then we are harming all of ourselves."

When she learned about the award, Lakeman considered how Gandhi's teachings are connected to feminism and decided the movements are similar because they both aim to change the world, she said in an interview.

"He wasn't just trying to get the British out of India, he was trying to organize the population of India into a better world," Lakeman said. "He was rejecting the industrial model ... and he argued they should build the democracy in the villages, which is a different world view.

"I think feminism also presents a different world view, in which we fight hierarchy and fight violence and in which we are arguing for way more than no violence against women."

Eleanor Stebner, a humanities and liberal studies professor at SFU who holds the JS Woodsworth Chair, said it was very clear to the selection committee that violence against women is not going away and may even be increasing. Stebner was struck by the breadth of Lakeman's work.

"She's active locally - she's based in the grassroots - and she's active nationally and internationally," Stebner said. "She interacts with the various levels of our society to try to end violence against women."

Studies show that the best way to improve the status of women in a society is to equip an autonomous women's movement, Lakeman said, adding that Canada once had a "very effective" women's movement in the National Action Committee on the Status of Women, but that the government stopped funding that organization years ago.

She said stopping violence against women improves all women's rights.

FIGHT FOR REST OF RIGHTS

"Violence against women holds the oppression of women in place. (Stopping violence against women) is integral to the rising of women," Lakeman said. "The more violence against women stops, the more women will be in a position to fight for the rest of their rights.

"The more women are deprived of their rights, the more vulnerable they are to violence against women."

Organizations such as Vancouver Rape Relief and Women's Shelter are continuing the movement and taking it to a transnational level, Lakeman said. "When states betray us - as they clearly did by smashing NAC and as they clearly do by not implementing changes in relation to violence against women - women are learning to find other ways to ally," Lakeman said. "The new questions are how do you do that in the face of multinational corporations and is there hope for us in multinational government mechanisms like the United Nations."

She said the pornography industry is an example of a global, multibillion-dollar industry that works against women's rights.

"We've got a pornography industry now the likes of which we've never seen that clearly distorts not only what women want and what women are looking for, but also, it builds contempt for women," Lakeman said.

Lakeman was also commended by the selection committee for her work nationally, including analysis that framed three criminal law amendments after the Supreme Court struck down the rape shield law in the 1990s.

PUBLIC OUTRAGED

"The public was so outraged by that, partly because it was only a couple of years after the Montreal massacre, that Kim Campbell, who was justice minister at that time, got more mail on that than she got on anything," Lakeman said. "She agreed to let me bring feminist activists to Ottawa - about 100 at a time - to propose to the justice minister what changes should happen to interfere with violence against women.

"We proposed to the government what the new rape law should be. We got a new rape law, we got a new rape shield law, and several other changes."

After receiving the award, Lakeman will deliver the Gandhi Commemorative Lecture - What Way Forward to End Male Violence Against Women? - Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at SFU's Harbour Centre campus. Reservations are required (www.sfu.ca/reserve), but the event is free.

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