Legal, social, economic inequality at root of gendered violence.
by Jody Dallaire
It is not often that I agree with something that Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said. Last week the Prime Minister cautioned people about referring to what happened to Rehtaeh Parsons as bullying. He said: “I think that we’ve got to stop just using the term bullying to describe some of these things…What we are dealing with in some of these circumstances is simply criminal activity.”
I would go a step further and characterize this incident as yet another classic example of preventable gender-based violence – in this case, male violence against women. Lately, there have been so many examples in New Brunswick and across Canada that it is hard to keep track of them all.
Rehtaeh Parsons, a Nova Scotia teenager, was allegedly gang raped in 2011 at a party, which is quite extreme in of itself. After the alleged rape, she also had to face having a picture of the rape circulated electronically in the community. Male and female schoolmates also harassed her in the months following the alleged rape.
Be an ally to end gendered violence. Attend local events to raise awareness (Take Back the Night, Gay Pride, December 6 events, etc). Speak out against sexism and homophobia. All forms of gendered violence stem from the same causes.
As this tragic story started making headlines, across Canada people were wearing pink on April 10 to raise awareness to stop homophobic, transgendered and all forms of bullying. The Day of Pink started in Nova Scotia, when some high school students witnessed another male student being bullied for simply wearing pink.
Wearing pink can be a statement of a sort. Personally I think that there are far more effective ways that people can get involved in ending gendered violence: be it male violence against women, violence based on sexual orientation or sexual identity. All of these forms of violence have the same root causes.
Here are some concrete ways that we can take effective (albeit long term) action as individuals to end gendered violence:
- Approach gender violence as a men’s issue (it is often referred to as a women’s issue even though the vast majority of perpetrators are men). Men can and should be part of the solution.
- If a brother, friend, colleague, classmate, teammate, etc is abusive or disrespectful, don’t look the other way. To say nothing is to be part of the problem. You have a responsibility to denounce the situation.
- Have the courage to look at your own attitudes and actions towards others. Do you have prejudices towards women, sexual orientation and/or sexual identity? Being defensive about them is not helpful. Recognize your prejudices (we all have them) and work towards changing your attitudes, comments to others and actions.
- If you are, or have been in the past, emotionally, psychologically, physically or sexually abused or abusive, get help.
- Be an ally to end gendered violence. Attend local events to raise awareness (Take Back the Night, Gay Pride, December 6 events, etc).
- Speak out against sexism and homophobia. All forms of gendered violence stem from the same causes.
- Educate yourself on how concepts of unhealthy characterizations of manhood and womanhood are the root cause of gendered violence.
- Challenge preconceived notions of what it means to be a man and to be a woman. Step out of your own comfort zone.
- Refuse to fund sexism. Avoid purchasing movies, music, literature that promote gender stereotypes.
- Mentor boys and young men about how to be a man in ways that are respectful towards others and do not degrade others based on their gender, sexual orientation or sexual identity. Lead by example.
Last week was a particularly depressing one, not least because of another tragic example of male violence against women, at a daycare centre in Gatineau, Quebec. Daycare manager Natalie Gagnon decided to end her relationship with her ex-husband Robert Charron. He came to the daycare a few days later with a gun and a flammable liquid. He shot and killed a daycare worker, tried to set his ex-wife on fire and then killed himself.
In recent months we have heard in the media of several similar stories of murder-suicide. When is it going to end and when are we going to put in place mechanisms to stop this phenomenon from happening? At least in this case, the details are coming out. In many cases, law enforcement officers are remaining tight-lipped about the details. We are certainly not going to be able to prevent future violence without publicly acknowledging that there is a problem.
There are things that we can do as a society to stop gendered violence, which results from the power inequalities that exist between men and women, including legal, economic and physical power inequalities. Part of the solution, then, is correcting these inequalities. We need to adopt better laws to protect and promote human rights and to improve women’s economic equality through initiatives like pay equity and publicly funded child care.