16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence

written by Bev Weidman and Donna Tomljanovic, on behalf of CFUW Vernon

November is a time for remembrance and so we wear poppies, lest we forget those brave souls who fought for the many freedoms we enjoy. However November is also a time for bringing awareness and positive action to the plight of those who suffer. And so it is that at this time, internationally, we act in support of the UN initiative of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, held annually from November 25 to December 10. News reports around the world show that we need action in support of this initiative more than ever. On the international stage, the events in Afghanistan and Iran, in particular, draw our attention to the need to recognize that women are entitled to the same rights and freedoms as men. Yet, those are distant lands and glaringly obvious. One cannot deny that the status of women in many other countries is generally better than in those two countries. Looking at our own country, how does Canada measure up in this area?
It appears not that well. In a culture reflecting mutual respect between the sexes, there would be no need for Archway Society for Domestic Peace in Vernon (or many similar organizations across the country) to operate a shelter for women who have been physically, sexually, psychologically, emotionally, or financially abused by men. In a culture reflecting mutual respect between the sexes, no woman would be killed by her partner or other family member. In a culture reflecting mutual respect between the sexes, women would feel safe walking or jogging alone. Unfortunately, that is not the case in our country.
Statistically, gender-based violence (GBV) occurs every day or nearly every day to a woman near you. It may even be happening to a close relative of yours, or indeed, even to you. The statistics are easy to find and I’m sure you have already heard them. Year after year, we hear essentially the same stories of harms visited upon women by the men in their lives or in their communities. These harms manifest in many forms. 

Gender-based violence may manifest itself in threats to injure a woman or her children. As we have seen amply demonstrated, fear is a tremendous weapon. GBV includes physical violence across the spectrum of slaps to beatings, to sexual assault including rape and sometimes to murder. It includes male dominance of a woman, isolating her from family and friends and holding her completely submissive to the will of her intimate partner. It also includes the woman’s intimate partner withholding money, controlling all household spending, and using money as means of punishment or reward. Yelling, hitting walls, throwing furniture are also tools of violence against women.

It is not for a lack of trying to end GBV that it has continued over the centuries to the present time. Our knowledge, awareness and understanding of this type of behaviour has been improving over the course of time and continues to do so. In British Columbia, Ending Violence Association of BC “trains and supports close to 300 anti-violence programs and cross-sector initiatives across the province that respond to sexual and domestic violence, child abuse, and criminal harassment.” [https://endingviolence.org/who-we-are/] These programs, organizations, and initiatives are working tirelessly to reduce and eradicate the violence that pervades our society. There are programs and organizations that work with victims of gender-based violence, that educate school children and employees in workplaces about what GBV is and how to avoid it, that advocate to provincial and federal governments to enact legislation that protects women from violence, and that provide refuges for victims of violence when their homes are not safe for them to be in them. Yet given our current state of awareness, there appears to be little reduction in the violence.

The founder of Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP) in the US, Jackson Katz, has stated that violence against women is not a women’s issue, but a men’s issue. He says that when we assign the responsibility for solving this issue to women, men use it as an excuse not to pay attention and they tune out when it is discussed. However, it is men who perpetrate almost 100% of GBV around the world and who perpetuate the problem within male culture.

Katz is hopeful, though, that the culture of male violence can be changed by encouraging and training men who are in leadership positions, who hold power, or who are respected by other men, to speak out about gender-based abuse and violence and to stand with women who are working to end the violence.

In the past year, there have been numerous examples of the silence that accompanies GBV in the areas of sports, entertainment, religious institutions, education, and business. Even after an organization has received reports of abuse and violence within its area of responsibility, the settlements have been hidden from the public and the members of the organization. Those who are in positions of power need to stand up against the silence, support the victims, and work to change the culture that allows GBV to continue.

Lately, there have been some advances in men speaking out and working with women and others to reduce and end GBV. In Canada, the White Ribbon and Moose Hide Campaigns are two organizations that offer programs, presentations, and education for men to take on leadership roles in changing the male culture around violence against women and children. They encourage men, as well as women, to join their groups in order to work toward ending the violence against women. Information about the organizations and contacts are available at https://www.whiteribbon.ca/ and https://moosehidecampaign.ca/.

Another group of men that gives presentations in schools and other settings is the BC Lions Football Club. Volunteers from the team are trained to present their program, Be More Than a Bystander, at high schools in BC in the off-season and also in workplaces and communities. For more information about the program and to book a workshop, go to https://endingviolence.org/school-contact/ or https://endingviolence.org/bystander/workplaces-communities/. Over the years, they have made presentations at schools in Vernon and area.

We, as a society, can and must change the culture around violence so that women are safe from gender-based abuse. Jackson Katz has a list of 10 Things Men Can do to Prevent Gender Violence (https://jacksonkatz.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/10-Things-Flyer.pdf ).

White Ribbon has ten tips on How to Promote Healthy Masculinity (https://www.ameliarising.ca/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/How-To-Promote-Healthy-Masculinity-White-Ribbon-Campaign.pdf ). And there are other resources to help us change.

For those women and their children who live in such danger that it is necessary for them to leave their home in order to stay safe, there are resources available to support them. Archway Society for Domestic Peace operates the Vernon Transition House. Help is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, including holidays. Phone 250-542-1122. The BC Ministry of Justice offers a service called “ VictimLinkBC that can provide confidential support and information in up to 150 languages, help you with safety planning and guide you to find services and support in your community. It is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week across BC and Yukon by phone or text at 1-800-563-0808 or email VictimLinkBC@bc211.ca. Of course, for those in immediate danger, they can call 911 and say they need the police or paramedics.

Let us all work together to eliminate the prevalence of gender-based violence in our communities by speaking out against violence against women, by taking a stand against it when we are confronted by it, and by modelling positive behaviour.