Women with hands upThis past week, women and girls have been speaking out in the millions about sexual violence and harassment. Gaining courage from one another, we have poured into the digital streets, linking arms and saying, “Me too.” It’s like our own Arab Spring. As our latest SHE editorial says: “It’s a question of freedom.”

Are women and girls in Canada really free? This question popped into my head after reading the wonderful quote: “‘Freedom from fear’ could be said to sum up the whole philosophy of human rights.” (Download a poster here!)

I was shocked by how difficult it was for me to imagine a future where women live free from fear. Since women are more likely to be assaulted by someone we know, our safety is at risk not only in public spaces like streets and parking lots but literally everywhere—at school, at work, at parties, on a date, at home. At some level, we all know this.

Our subconscious fears make our world smaller in ways we don’t even notice. They affect where we go, what we wear, how we behave, what we say—even the work we do. As a former auto mechanic, I believe these fears help to explain why most women still avoid careers in male-dominated workplaces. On the street, we avoid eye contact with strangers and we don’t talk back to harassers. We avoid working late at night and running after dark. We worry about leaving our drink unattended and our car doors unlocked. We avoid traveling alone—many of us don’t even like being at home alone. Once, I refused to let a service man enter my house without proper identification and he lingered in my driveway, terrifying me by shouting about how ridiculous I was being: “Oh sure—the boogieman’s going to get ya!”

Our fears are not ridiculous. Sexual assault has become so common that many young women don’t even recognize it as a crime anymore. Half of all females in Canada say they’ve experienced some form of abuse, and the odds are even worse if you are targeted because of your race, or because you are a lesbian or transgen­der woman, or a woman in a hijab. Women deserve a full measure of freedom, in all of its glorious meaning—freedom from fear, violence, and repressive stereotypes. The good news is that women around the world and right here in Canada are overcoming their fears, supporting one another, and speaking out.

Thanks to your support, we are right there beside them.