Remember well, and take action, every day of the year

December 5, 2013 | Times & Transcript

(This post originally appeared in the Times & Transcript on December 5th, 2013, and is shared with permission.)

Tomorrow, Dec. 6, is Canada’s National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women and the 24th anniversary of the Montreal Massacre in which 14 young women were murdered at an engineering school. It also marks the last day of the annual 16 Days of Activism to End Gender-Based Violence initiative that began on Nov. 25, the United Nations’ International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. Dec. 6 also brings YWCA Canada’s Rose Campaign to end violence against women and girls, which runs concurrently with the 16 Days of Activism, to a close.

In acknowledgement of the significance of Dec. 6 in the struggle to end violence against women and girls, I would like to share some facts with you.

For the 2013 Rose Campaign, YWCA Canada released a series of infographics presenting the following information on violence against women (culled from a variety of reputable sources like the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Statistics Canada, peer reviewed journals, etc.):

Every year, 100,000 women and children in Canada stay at emergency shelters to flee violence; almost half of them don’t know where they will go after the shelter.

There at 460,000 sexual assaults in Canada every year. Of those assaults: only 33 per cent will be reported to the police; 29 per cent will be recorded as a crime; 12 per cent will result in charges; six per cent of them will actually be prosecuted; and three per cent will actually see a conviction.

Violence against women costs Canada $18.6 billion annually, while the government spends $79.9 million per year on violence programs and services. Broken down, violence against women annually costs $334 per Canadian, while the government invests only $3 per Canadian in related programs and services.

Here are some additional facts about violence against women from the Canadian Women’s Foundation (like YWCA Canada’s infographics, the Foundation has gathered the following stats from credible sources, like Statistics Canada and the Native Women’s Association of Canada):

On average, every six days a Canadian woman is killed by her intimate partner.

There are over 582 Aboriginal women in Canada who are either missing or murdered (according to the Native Women’s Association of Canada, “if this figure were applied proportionally to the rest of the female population there would be 18,000 missing Canadian women and girls).

Of female sexual assault victims, 66 per cent are under the age of 24; 11 per cent are under the age of 11.

Finally, here are some facts that are specific to New Brunswick, taken from a study by Dr. Deborah Doherty (presented in 2010 by the New Brunswick Advisory Council on the Status of Women) of 35 confirmed cases of domestic homicide in the province between 1989 and 2010:

Sixty-six per cent of the women were killed by a common-law or former common law partner or ex-boyfriend. The remaining 34 per cent of women were killed by a husband or ex-husband.

Thirty-seven per cent of the women were killed after separating from a partner.

Of the 20 cases in which the perpetrator did not subsequently commit suicide: nine perpetrators were convicted for first or second degree murder; eight for manslaughter; one for criminal negligence. One was found not criminally responsible.

For once, I’m going to withhold my opinion, because I hope that these numbers speak for themselves. I don’t think I need an angle of analysis, a cutting approach, or pop culture hook. I need the facts to be read and for what is plainly obvious to be understood: even in 2013, women in Canada are being displaced by violence, being sexually assaulted, and being killed—often when they’re trying to flee the violence.

While I let the numbers speak for themselves, I will invite you to take action on this issue. I encourage you to visit rosecampaign.ca to learn about violence against women on a national level. I also suggest reading over the Government of New Brunswick’s 2012 Equality Profile on women. I invite you to attend a candlelight vigil organized by the Moncton & District Labour Council tomorrow at 6:30 p.m. at the Dan Bohan Centre in Riverview; this vigil is often attended by family members of women in New Brunswick who were killed as part of their healing process.
 More than anything, I invite you to remember the facts of violence against women in Canada every day of the year, not just tomorrow. After all, the slogan for is “First mourn, then work for change,” and we must never forget that the day is ultimately a call to action.

Read More »

Challenging and transcending the status quo

October 10, 2013 | Times & Transcript

(This post originally appeared in the Times & Transcript on October 10th, 2013, and is shared with permission.)

Next week, YWCAs around the world will be holding activities to mark Week Without Violence, an annual World YWCA campaign that exists to prevent, reduce, and eliminate violence against women and girls in our communities.

This year, YWCA Moncton’s Week Without Violence will include Moncton’s second Take Back the Night (a community march to end sexual violence against women), Power of Being a Girl and Strength in Being a Boy (a day of violence-prevention conferences for middle-school aged youth), and fundraising for programs and services through the sixth annual Walk a Mile in Her Shoes (the international men’s walk to end gender-based violence).

This year’s Week Without Violence is going to be exceptional because it is approaching the issue of gender-based violence from multiple angles that are all community-focused and strength-based.

These events are all about the transformative potential communities have when they work to address violence against women.

Take Back the Night (which is being co-organized by the YWCA, Crossroads for Women, and Support to Single Parents) events are held the world over.

That’s because community members organize them with the belief that the societal norms and attitudes that normalize and promote violence against women can be dismantled and that sexual violence against women can be ended.

While the event is typically fueled by a healthy dose of indignation, it ultimately embodies a transcendent, hopeful spirit and a sense of solidarity amongst participants.

Simply put, we march because we believe our commitment and action on the issue of sexual violence — symbolized by our nighttime march — can and will change the status quo.

The Power of Being a Girl and Strength in Being a Boy conferences not only offer tools to youth so that they may live violence-free lives (and contribute to a violence-free future), but also indicate that the host community believes that gender-based violence is a problem that must be addressed within the school system.

The YWCA offers these conferences to schools that request them and are willing to work with us as partners.

This year we will be at Eleanor W. Graham Middle School working with youth from Elsipogtog First Nation and Rexton communities.

When we deliver these conferences at a school, it means that the greater community is willing to openly discuss and challenge gender-based violence and that they believe in the capacity of their youth to help end violence against women and girls.

The Walk a Mile in Her Shoes event puts the spotlight on men’s commitment to ending gender-based violence.

What I love about this event is that it doesn’t ask men to quietly donate to a good cause, but to actively raise awareness (by soliciting support and donations from their friends, coworkers, and families) and to take a very public, highly visible stand on violence against women in our community.

When men participate in Walk a Mile, they are creating a platform for public discussion on the scourge of gender-based violence and insisting that it is an issue that belongs to everyone, not just women.

It’s important that we know the statistics on gender-based violence, that we lobby government for better policies and that we provide services and programs for those who are at-risk of, experiencing, or recovering from violence.

However, so much of the work of ending violence against women involves changing attitudes that minimize, normalize, and enable gender-based violence.

Attitudes aren’t changed by legislation or policy, but by day-to-day interpersonal and community actions that challenge us to do better.

That’s why Week Without Violence 2013 — in Moncton and around the globe — is important.

If you wish to participate in Week Without Violence 2013, please contact YWCA Moncton at 855-4349 or info@ywcamoncton.com.

Women, men and children are welcome at both Take Back the Night and Walk a Mile in Her Shoes.

To register for Walk a Mile in Her Shoes, please visit www.walkamilemoncton.com.

Read More »

Now let’s hear a rousing chant on the charms of cannibalism

September 12, 2013 | Times & Transcript

(This post originally appeared in the on September 12th, 2013, and is shared with permission.)

"Young men need to be socialized in such a way that rape is as unthinkable to them as cannibalism."

The first time I read that quote from Mary Pipher, an American clinical psychologist and author of a number of books, it stopped my reading in its tracks.

The quote was pithy and incisive; though straightforward, it says a lot. The quote's implication is that if we want to see an end to (or at least reduction of) sexual assault, it's young men who need to be steered in a new direction in thought; that changing the status quo on sexual assault is a matter of socialization and that sexual assault needs to be understood as fundamentally antithetical to one's humanity.

That quote is now deeply integrated into the way I speak about sexual assault. I understand the quote as hopeful; it proposes a way that things could be. It doesn't paint men as the enemy, but envisions young men—the future generations of adult men—as being able to do better than their predecessors in terms of how they think about and react to sexual assault.

The less inspiring side of this is quote is, of course, that in our current context sexual assault is hardly unthinkable. As a society, we opine that sexual assault is a horrific crime and that its perpetrators deserve to be held accountable and punished.

This abhorrence of sexual assault, however, is all too often just talk. We’re inundated by images and accounts of sexual violence that are often cavalier, and regularly offered up as entertainment that is intended to be either titillating or humorous.

We like to think of ourselves as a society that deems sexual assault inhuman and unspeakable, but the reality is that we're a society that often thinks that women's behaviour or dress—not rapists—causes rape. We're a society that prefers to downplay sexual assault as bullying, as we saw in the case of Rehtaeh Parsons.

Last week, we watched the news report that student’s at Saint Mary's University (SMU) and University of British Columbia had shouted a rape-chant ("n is for no consent") as part of their frosh activities (media largely referred to the chant in euphemistic terms, saying it referenced "non-consensual sex" rather than using the terms rape or sexual assault).

When called out on the misogynist chant, student leaders at SMU said that the chant had been used for years and that they hadn't considered its message, only it's rhythm and rhyme. It's a lacklustre defence, particularly coming from persons who are attending a liberal arts college to hone their critical thinking skills.

If we, as a society, really believe sexual assault to be as abhorrent as we say we do, situations like the rape-chant at SMU wouldn't happen. It simply wouldn't occur to people to base an entire chant off of dehumanizing young women and letting them know that they're fair game for sexual assault now that they're (for the most part) living away from home for the first time.

If someone did someone manage to conceive such a chant, it would never be approved for use through administrative channels, and hundreds of individuals would certainly never mindlessly shout it out.

But we don't walk our talk about the repugnance of sexual assault. We make jokes in which victims of sexual assault are the punchline, we consume media in which sexual violence is eroticized and normalized. We reduce sexual assault to an abstraction that we draw on to seem edgy in our humour or exciting in our stories.

But sexual assault is no abstraction. It is a very real threat to children, women, and men. It is an actual trauma that far too many people have endured and too many live in fear of. Crack a joke about rape—or lead a rape-chant—in front of enough people (or even in front of three people) and chances are one of them has survived sexual trauma.

Sexual assault isn't an idea to them, it's a horrific experience that they survived, an experience that society has deep empathy for—but only in theory. In practice, we've got a long way to go in aligning our actions with our professed beliefs on the abhorrence of sexual assault. In other words, we all need to be socialized in such a way that rape and sexual assault are truly as unthinkable to us as cannibalism.

Read More »

Men as allies in the effort to end gender-based violence and inequality

August 29, 2013 | Times & Transcript

(This post originally appeared in the Times and Transcript on August 29th, 2013, and is shared with permission.)

Last week, Walk a Mile in Her Shoes 2013 was launched with YWCA Moncton announced as the event’s beneficiary. Walk a Mile is an international fundraising march in which men don high-heeled shoes and walk in public spaces to raise money and awareness to end violence against women and girls. The idea is that the men are literally “walking a mile in someone else’s shoes” — in this case, high-heeled shoes, which are iconic (even if not monolithic) cultural markers of femininity — to better understand women’s lived experience.

Of course, walking a mile in heels doesn’t actually allow men to understand what it is like to experience or live with the threat of gender-based violence, but it does symbolize their willingness to empathize and take a public stand on the issue, even though it may be uncomfortable to do so. As the honourary event co-chair Moncton Mayor George LeBlanc said at the launch, “A little bit of discomfort pales in comparison to what victims of violence put up with.”

Events like Walk a Mile demonstrate how men can be allies to women and girls in the effort to eliminate gender-based violence. Men can take meaningful action through symbolic gestures (like participating in walks, making public pledges, etc.), raising funds for community programs and services and also through smaller, day-to-day actions.

It’s the potential of men’s day-to-day actions that I want to focus on today, as well as the importance of men’s willingness to experience discomfort in order to help to end gender-based violence.

The fact is that men’s daily lives include a multitude of opportunities to combat violence against women and girls, if they’re willing to experience some discomfort. I’m not talking about the discomfort that comes with rocking a pair of stilettos on asphalt, but social discomfort. The discomfort that comes with letting a friend’s rape joke fall flat rather than giving it an obligatory chuckle, just so things aren’t awkward. The discomfort that comes from refusing to participate in locker-room talk that dehumanizes women. The discomfort that comes from catching your daughters calling another girl a slut and not just telling her it’s a bad word, but explaining to her that she shouldn’t use sexualized insults against other girls because such words are weapons, a means of social control that will be levelled against her one day.

The reason that smaller-scale actions like the ones described above are important and have an impact is because gender-based violence occurs within the larger context of women’s continued inequality. Gender-based violence is a symptom of it; inequality is created and enabled and perpetuated by societal attitudes that devalue and dehumanize women and girls and force them into narrowly defined roles. Ergo, if you are tackling aspects of women’s inequality (i.e. the dehumanization of women, the shaming of female sexuality), you are tackling the root problem that enables violence against women. These day-to-day incidences of misogyny (rape jokes, objectification of women, use of gendered slurs) minimize and normalize women’s inequality which, in turn, enables violence against women.

This isn’t to say that larger scale, more radical actions and acts of solidarity aren’t required of men. Rather, this is an attempt to empower men to see how they can have an impact on the issue of violence against women through their day-to-day lives in addition to participating in larger-scale events like Walk a Mile. It’s also a challenge to men to go beyond participating in once-a-year events to end violence against women and actively live day-to-day in a way that disrupts the attitudes that enable gender-based violence and inequality.

I won’t lie, it’s hard work. Much of my work and personal life exists within the context of the women’s movement and it still took me a long time to cut certain kinds of gendered language out of my vocabulary. It took even longer to get to a place where I would tell my friends that I was uncomfortable with particular jokes and why. I still bristle when I speak up and people tell me I’m too politically correct (as if being uncomfortable with jokes that rely on systems of oppression is a bad thing) or that I take things too seriously. Really? So the the argument is that we need to be less considerate and think less critically?

I still fail to speak up at times. I push through the discomfort, however, because the other option is to be comfortable with my own dehumanization and the dehumanization of others.

All this to say: men, your actions matter in the effort to end gender-based violence and inequality, and it’s about more than marches and personally abstaining from violence. The way you teach your children to treat each other matters. The way you talk to other men when women aren’t around matters. The jokes you choose to laugh at, the comments you let slide matter. Whether you choose comfortable conversation above the opportunity to challenge gender-based violence and inequality matters.

Please visit walkamilemoncton.ca if you are interested in supporting YWCA Moncton’s violence-prevention programs and services by participating in Walk a Mile 2013.

Read More »