Snow Woman & More Successes in the New Year!

By Jeanne Sarson | Dec 30, 2012


2012 is closing with the ever widening reality of the global oppression and violence against women and girls, including torture by private individuals, families, or groups/gangs. There are insufficient words that can be spoken or written that can truly evoke the emotional and spiritual pain these harms inflict on millions of women and girls, harms that are perpetrated ‘simply’ because they are women or girls. I do however think the patriarchal world is transforming. Seeing images of the masses of female and male citizens rioting in India over the torture, gang-rape, and murder of the 23-year-old medical student on a moving bus is one indication. Another is seeing Irish masses calling for the introduction of abortion laws following the reproductive oppression of Savita Halappanavar who was refused an abortion that would terminate a pregnancy that took her life. Both sets of citizen outcries are sending the message that their sufferings and deaths are unacceptable. The message of “never again!” is getting stronger.  

Today, I quietly built a Snow Woman. Why? I was thinking of the two young women who are no longer with us and of all women and girls who struggle against oppression and violence in all its forms. I also built the Snow Woman for various other reasons. Some are quite ‘simple’ reasons such as to give female recognition to an often pictured tradition in Canada of building Snow Men. I have built Snow Women for a few years. People have stopped to comment on the fact they have never seen a Snow Woman before. Maybe it makes them think about gender. Maybe, just maybe, it imprints a gender-awareness message on little girls and boys!

But there are other celebratory reasons for why I built this Snow Woman. It’s a quiet way for me to attach an image to the successes I believe were achieved this year. I share them here. Some have social impacts and others are personal. A few of these successes were:

1. The breakthrough: Genderizing the Convention against Torture. Here I refer to Linda and my presence at the Committee against Torture in Geneva, Switzerland, in May of this year. We were there as members of the Canadian Federation of University Women (CFUW), a non-governmental organization, to seek support for the recognition and criminalization of torture inflicted by private individuals or non-state actors. The Canadian governmental delegation stated that they did not agree that torture of women and girls perpetrated by private individuals should fall under the UN Convention against Torture (CAT), therefore, should not be addressed by the Committee. To sit in the room and listen as Committee members, in strongly worded comments, informed Canada that torture by private individuals or non-state actors did indeed fall under the CAT and therefore under the Committee’s mandate was a most remarkable experience. It meant that the human right violation of non-state torture of women and girls was being acknowledged and if continued to be denied, dismissed, or trivialized and invisibilized this would illustrate continued patriarchal discrimination. The Committee’s statements affirmed it was indeed a human rights violation that women and children suffered in many private spaces. It means that women can now begin to claim that they have an equal human right not to be subjected to torture. Although the Committee does not have the power to force Canada or any country to change its laws, the success was in having the Committee say very clearly that torture happens in the private spaces and it must be so named as a specific violation of human rights and nationally criminalized.  This was a global human rights transformative moment in time and we were there to witness and experience it!

2. Publications. Having several articles published that were specific to non-state torture with suggestions that might help first responders realize they could be faced with a woman in flashbacks, was, for us, a huge success. In the 90s when Linda and I first began this work it seemed we would never find publishers willing to expose non-state torture victimization that occurred in the private domain. This resistance is certainly shifting. The silence is being increasingly broken and Linda and I are proud to be part of this movement.

3. Privileges. This year Linda and I have again been privileged to listen as persons have trusted us with the minute details of their non-state torture victimization ordeals. Privileged further when their wishes were to help others by wanting us to share their voices and their art forms in the educational presentations we share with university students and with the community or in the articles we write.

4. Shared personal achievements. There are also the monumental times when being in presence with others working so hard to heal from non-state torture victimization. Their successes are emotionally and spiritually awesome. Even beyond awesome, such as being present to help a woman overcome torture conditioned suicide; to assist another recognize she is a person, a real person; or, for example, to read the emails of others who need to write all that comes to their mind to break their torture induced silence of never telling or if they did being tortured and told that “no one will listen and no one will care.” Others are bravely providing historical information to inquiries being held in different countries investigating the pedophilic victimization of children.

I highlight a few successes as a way of explaining why Linda and I have hope. It is because there are transformations happening in society and with individuals who are seeking their human rights in healing their relationship with their-Self. It is reason that I send out Linda and my personal beliefs that more transformations will happen in the New Year of 2013!


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