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Fort McMurray group activates art in campaign against gender-based violence

Gabriella Tobin, 8, submitted her piece, which brings attention to missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. (Jamie Malbeuf/CBC - image credit)
Gabriella Tobin, 8, submitted her piece, which brings attention to missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. (Jamie Malbeuf/CBC - image credit)

A non-profit organization in Fort McMurray is aiming to raise awareness about gender-based violence by taking part in an international campaign called 16 Days of Activism.

The annual campaign kicks off on Nov. 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

Sundas Shamshad, interim executive director of Girls Inc. of Northern Alberta, said 16 Days teaches girls about self-respect and confidence, and how to see themselves reflected in positive role models.

There will be two workshops in Fort McMurray — one about defining gender-based violence and another about supporting survivors and creating awareness about the issue.

"Sometimes people think it's normal to, for example, being catcalled when you're walking down the street … just to be mindful of those things and say, 'No, that's not acceptable,'" Shamshad said.

The campaign includes an art exhibit that will be shown in the front entrance to MacDonald Island Park, and a radio campaign to tell people about 16 Days of Activism.

Several submissions for the art exhibit have already been received. Shamshad emphasized that the exhibit is not only for children, and she wants to encourage adults to participate as well.

"The idea is to just spark a conversation," Shamshad said. She said she wants women to feel empowered to recognize when a situation isn't right or safe.

Holly Hashimi, a volunteer with Girls Inc., was one of the keynote speakers for 16 Days of Activism in 2021.

She said that when she was working in Fort McMurray years ago, she was attacked in a public washroom. A man came in and attacked her, punching and kicking, she said. She started screaming as loud as she could.

Jamie Malbeuf/CBC
Jamie Malbeuf/CBC

"Unfortunately no one heard me, but it was enough to scare him away," Hashimi said. The man was never caught.

She used her experience to help others, volunteering for victim's services and Girls Inc.

She wanted to share her experience with young people so they can protect themselves and understand what victims go through.

When she was attacked, she didn't know anyone else who had gone through anything similar.

"I wanted them to know … it could happen to anyone. It does happen," Hashimi said. She shared tips on how to support someone who has gone through a traumatic experience.

"The programming is so important for young girls to understand their worth," she said.

Her presentation last year was the first time she spoke publicly about being attacked.

"It was part of my healing process," Hashimi said. "I started as a victim just in the darkest part of my life and I didn't see any way out. And now I can talk about it. I can use it to help others."

Jamie Malbeuf/CBC
Jamie Malbeuf/CBC

Gabriella Tobin, 8, is one of the artists sharing her work in the exhibition. She made a mixed-media picture to highlight the plight of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

She's excited to have her artwork displayed at MacDonald Island, where thousands of people will get to see it.

"I just wanted to just do a little to show everyone what I can do, because I really like drawing," Gabriella said.

"I'm hoping to see everyone … just look at it and think for a little bit. For a moment."

She said she wants her art to make people to stop and think about violence affecting Indigenous women and girls.

Gabriella — who is Indigenous — said she thinks about how she would feel if anything happened to her mom or siblings.

The art exhibition will launch on Nov. 25, with submissions accepted until Nov. 18.