Chatham-Kent residents rally for end to gender-based violence

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Dozens of residents didn’t let the weather stop them from raising their voices against gender-based. They gathered at the Third Street Bridge in Chatham on Nov. 25 to take part in the seventh annual Rally on the Bridge, organized by the Zonta Club of Chatham-Kent.

Zonta Club advocacy chair and rally organizer Hilary Henley said women’s organizations that deal with the issue are reporting “the rate of domestic violence has soared since the beginning of COVID. There’s no question about it.”

She said the rally – which was a static event rather than marching – received plenty of honks from motorists driving by.

Henley said she hopes those same motorists will take time to ponder the problem of violence against women.

The issue is something Dana Lindhardsen thinks about as the father of two young girls – Greta and Casey.

The Chatham man joined his daughters and wife Jessica Kroez to take part in the rally.

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“I think it sets a good example to have male representation out here for this particular cause,” Lindhardsen said.

Kroez, a Zonta Club member, said events such as the rally “encourage people … to speak out about this issue.”

She was pleased her family were out supporting the cause, even in the rain, she said.

“I’m very proud of everybody.”

Sara Devlaminck, an outreach counsellor at the Chatham-Kent Women’s Centre who attended the rally with her husband Shawn, said it was “absolutely important” for community groups such as Zonta to get involved.

“Domestic violence thrives in silence, so when you shine a light on it that’s what will help the women in our community,” said Devlaminck.

She said the centre has seen an increase for its services during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Although it’s often difficult to get out of an abusive situation, Devlaminck said the women’s centre can be contacted at any time, adding callers don’t have to give their name.

“If they just want to call and talk about their situation without disclosing who they are until they’re ready, (it’s just to let them know) that they’re not alone,” she said.

Michelle Schryer, executive director of the Chatham-Kent Sexual Assault Crisis Centre, said she feels a well of emotion when she sees the community get involved in raising awareness about this critical issue.

“It is encouraging and inspiring, and I am so grateful to Zonta for doing this every year for the elimination of the violence against women,” said Schryer, who took part in the rally.

Henley said all Zonta clubs around the world are taking part in the 16 days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence that began on Wednesday and ends on Dec. 10, which is International Human Rights Day.

“The goal is to get people thinking about gender-based violence,” she said.