Column submitted by the Canadian Federation of University Women North DeltaSurrey
Twenty-eight years ago, Canada was shaken by the violent mass murder of 14 young women at École Polytechnique, generating awareness about the ongoing social issue of gender-based violence and misogyny.
On Dec. 6 we commemorate and honour the lives of everyone who has died from gender-based violence and the intersection of systemic discrimination such as homophobia, poverty, and racism, including discrimination against Indigenous peoples. This day is also about asking why acts of violence against women are still happening in 2017.
Violence against women continues to be a major tragedy. There has been no significant reduction of the problem. Data on both police-reported violent crimes and self-reported sexual assaults report that women represent approximately 80 per cent of the victims.
#METOO, the recent social media trend, saw many courageous women sharing their stories, shedding light on a widespread culture that promotes acts of violence against women, in particular sexual harassment and assault. The prevalence of toxic attitudes and violent acts against women is deeply disturbing. It calls for a long overdue reflection on the social and institutional structures that promote these acts, as well as on our own actions.
Too many continue to sanction sexist beliefs and attitudes that dehumanize women and paint them as weak and inferior. These beliefs impact women’s rights and the level of respect they are shown. Society’s view of women has normalized the behaviours and attitudes that promote gender-based violence. Behaviours can take the form of jokes about sexual harassment or rape, meeting the act of cat-calling a woman on the street with laughter, or the reaction of insistence and a predatory attitude when a woman says, “No.”
Consider a joke about harassment or consent. Even when a person insists they meant nothing by it, it still promotes a culture of violence and discrimination that has serious and real impacts on women. The problem is that joking about consent has become so commonplace, it reinforces the perception that disregarding consent is somehow socially acceptable.
Being aware of the collective impact of these attitudes, and discussing ways to address the situation — not only among women, but among all of us — is an honest first step toward transforming our surroundings and confronting the issue. There is no such thing as an innocent bystander. Acts of gender-based violence concern us all and must be challenged, especially by those who think they have the privilege to ignore them.
To create change, it is essential to recognize that the issue of violence against women knows no frontiers. It happens every day, in our country, in our city, and in our neighbourhood.
Because violence against women concerns everyone, let’s raise awareness and step up to reinforce acts of respect to everyone, but particularly to women and girls.
The Canadian Federation of University Women is a national non-partisan, voluntary, self-funded organization working to improve the status of women and to promote human rights, public education, social justice and peace. Every year, CFUW and its clubs award close to $1 million to women to help them pursue post-secondary studies and also provide funding for library and creative arts awards. CFUW clubs provide learning and fellowship through lecture series, book clubs and issues groups, work to prevent violence against women and child poverty, and promote early learning and child care. North Delta/Surrey club meets monthly and is open to all women graduates, students and associates. Call Heather (604-591-7678) or Eleanor (604-589-3631), or email firstname.lastname@example.org for info.