Dear Sor Juana,
Strolling from Butterfly Walk to Blueridge Drive is the kind of walk Mums, Dads, neighbours, and children take most days of the week to get to the local kindy or perhaps to give their dog a run in the park, or climb a tree.
This week that walk was made by a family and community in mourning. While they slept, a young mother ‘s life was taken by her partner, her body in the front seat of a car in view of her little ones and a neighbour made the call to police. This is not the first time. In my country Sor Juana, Jackie Ohide was the 25th woman this year (and it is not yet the end of March) to have her life ended in this way. I was in shock when I heard the news and soon afterwards was flashing back to another Jacqui fifteen years ago who too had her life extinguished, just a suburb away. How many more Jackie’s and other women just like her need to die. What aren’t we getting right?
Fifteen years ago I was in a car travelling to the city and got a call from the place Jacqui worked at. I was the chairman of the Southern Domestic Violence Service and she was one of our staff. She first came to us as a client and then sometime later joined the payroll. I turned the car around and went to be with all the staff. We gathered them all in, held them close as loose or as tight as they needed to be held. We mostly though sat in silence and in shock. It was those memories that flooded back. The shock. The silence. What could we have done to protect her. She was stalked to her death by her ex-partner. It was cold blooded no crime of passion or frustration. It was horrible. Unlike this week’s Jackie, Jacqui had left her home and the violence about seven years earlier – and she still was not safe.
I was deeply moved in Butterfly Walk when neighbours extended their love and support to Jackie’s family and friends – a community bound together in solemn grief, committed to care for her boys, to keep her memory alive. They described her smile, her joy, her mothering. Mostly mute and in between sobs, we witnessed her brother, sister, mother and closest friends paralysed by the incomprehension of her death. Little ones from her children’s kindergarten arrived in single file with a single sunflower held aloft. No words work to describe the emotions experienced by watching their arrival and respectful, gentle, little faces sitting on the ground while the grown ups made their speeches.
I came home Sor Juana to my friendly house, in my friendly street, but who knows what goes behind some of the doors here too? I am committed to be more vigilant to watch and speak up when I see violence or even get a sniff of it. I re-read what I had written a couple of years ago to mark the One Billion Rising Campaign – Jacqui (of 15 years ago) is in that post. I thought about her boys who would be in their twenties now.
The contrast Sor juana the hopeful anthem of my childhood I am Woman being remastered and mixed with some of my country’s greatest songstresses, brought me to tears when I saw it on television this week. Women’s voices raised in unison to declare strength, confidence and promise of better times ahead. I wonder Sor Juana did you get strength from the women’s voices in the chapel? Rising in voice and spirit to proclaim the Magnificat where the meek and humble are exalted, hungry are filled with good things, the rich are sent empty away and mercy is promised. So many women of your era chose the convent to cut themselves off from the menfolk to keep themselves safe from the vagaries that may come with wedlock or being a spinster.
There weren’t too many women roaring at Butterfly Walk this week, but the silence was very loud.
And the work goes on.
I stand with the women and men who commit themselves daily to be amongst this work – the activists, the shelter workers, policy makers, emergency service workers, the police, child care workers, council officers … the list goes on … we are all in this work … friends, neighbours, men, women, boys, girls, sisters, daughters, mothers, aunts.
If you wish to support Jackie’s family
Jackie Ohide Appeal
Account Number: 10608745
or send a message of support: firstname.lastname@example.org