Organizers Prepare for 30th Women’s Memorial March after Traumatic Year

·2 min read

When families, friends and neighbours will gather at Main and Hastings streets for the annual Downtown Eastside Women’s Memorial March on Sunday, it will be to remember women lost during a particularly traumatic year.

“The impetus behind the march has always been so that family and community can grieve,” said Myrna Cranmer, one of the organizers.

“Feb. 14 has always been the day where they can grieve as a community, as a family.”

This is the 30th year for the memorial march, which provides a space to honour and remember women lost to violence, abuse, poverty and systemic racism. The march has also drawn attention to the disproportionate numbers of missing and murdered Indigenous women.

Organizers have taken extra care to protect march participants from COVID-19, Cranmer said. The part of the event that usually takes place inside the Carnegie Centre and is for the families only will now take place outside. Volunteer “guardians” will also be handing out masks and monitoring the march, and both masks and social distancing are required for participants.

While the event starts at 10:30 a.m. with ceremonies for grieving family members, march organizers are asking the public to join the event at noon on Sunday at Main and Hastings for a march through the Downtown Eastside. For more details, visit the event’s Facebook page.

Cranmer is overwhelmed. She already has 50 names on a list of women who’ve died this year in the Downtown Eastside alone, along with requests to remember women who have died in previous years or lived in other places.

“I can’t believe the number of women we have lost this year,” Cranmer said. Many had regularly participated in the annual memorial march, she said.

The COVID-19 pandemic hit the Downtown Eastside hard, with illegal drugs becoming more toxic as border closures and other restrictions disrupted supply. In 2020, 1,716 people in B.C. died of drug overdoses, compared to 984 in 2019.

After the first seven months of 2020, there were twice as many deaths in supportive housing buildings as there were in all of 2019, according to data from the coroner. Housing providers say a small number of tenants have died of COVID-19 or complications after contracting the virus, but overdoses, chronic health problems and old age also took a toll.

Women in the Downtown Eastside also continue to be at high risk of experiencing violence, Cranmer said.

“It’s always been about remembering these women, because no one knows them, no one cares about them. They come to the Downtown Eastside for whatever reason, and they live and they die,” Cranmer said.

She added that because so many Indigenous women have had bad experiences at hospitals, many women avoid getting medical care until it’s too late.

“They die of the violence of poverty, the violence of the medical system.”

Jen St. Denis, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Tyee