A panel featuring various UFV professors and other qualified individuals, speaking on the topic of violence against women, and the action we can take to help end it, took place in room B121 from 2:30 to 4:00 p.m. on Wednesday, November 29.
The event was part of an ongoing 16 days of activism against gender violence. The list of panelists included professors Satwinder Bains and Anita Vaillancourt, as well as Elsie Goerzen, program coordinator of the End Abuse campaign from the local Mennonite Central Committee (MCC).
The panel had also scheduled professor Fiona MacDonald to speak, but unfortunately she was not able to attend. She was replaced by Greg Mather, manager of student wellness and development at student services.
The panelists took advantage of the small size of the gathering, and took turns speaking in a casual, inviting fashion. Goerzen began by speaking about her organization, and the programs it offers. MCC’s End Abuse program provides communities with workshops, support groups, and training, in hopes of reducing cases of abuse. She then spoke about their partner group, Home Improvement, which is a support program for men looking to learn healthier relationship habits.
She also mentioned Reveal’ution, a short film by the Abbotsford Police Department about relational violence, which she hopes to screen at UFV sometime after Christmas.
Next up was Bains, who reminded attendees that support usually happens either after or during the incident, when it should be taking place before anything can happen at all. If we put more of our energy into intervention, we have a better chance at saving lives. She noted that no single factor is behind partner violence, yet it is telling that the messages and imagery promoting such actions are rampant in the clothing, toys, and television shows we market to young boys.
Traditionally, we speak more about women’s victimization than men’s perpetration. However, the recent case against American film producer Harvey Weinstein brought forth an opportunity for change. In this instance, there has been more focus on the male perpetrator, which should serve as an example to our current justice system. Bains ended her piece by stating, “Women experiencing these issues often feel as if they are in a dark tunnel or a lonely place, but there is light at the end of the tunnel, and people who want to help.”
Vaillancourt, being of Metis descent, then proceeded to discuss the Indigenous missing and murdered women and girls across Canada. She noted that there has been an effort in Saskatchewan to monitor the response rates of these issues, and British Columbia should follow suit, especially since Indigenous women are statistically more likely to be attacked by a stranger.
She also discussed the many issues within our current system that need to be resolved, such as that fact that while we provide shelters and support to women in need, the amount of services available don’t meet the demand. In some cases, shelters are even unable to accommodate women with children. Also, we often forgive a perpetrator for consuming alcohol, yet we shame a victim for doing the same thing. Likewise, we regularly shame men who claim abuse, and deny them the chance to heal. Despite the overwhelmingly negative statistics, Vaillancourt said, “If you ever think that change can’t happen, it’s a lot easier than you think.”
Mather’s focus was on sexualized violence that takes place in post-secondary institutions. He believes our current rates of reported incidents are off because of current gender expectations of who can and cannot come forward to seek support. This is also in part due to the fact that rates of violence between men, women, and transgender individuals vary greatly.
Mather claimed that the terms “locker room talk” and “boys will be boys” are unacceptable, yet are still often used in conversation. By rejecting phrases like these, we can all be part of the change. Mather expressed his pride in the work that UFV has done in terms of policy regarding these issues, as we need to be a leader in change.
The group then opened up for a general discussion about the issues addressed. The conclusion of the panel ended with the overall agreement that raising awareness about these issues is only the first step. If you wish to participate in action on violence against women, there will be a candlelight vigil held on Wednesday, December 6 from 5:00 to 6:00 p.m. at the UFV Chilliwack Five Corners campus.
The vigil is in recognition of the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women in Canada, and is also the anniversary of the 1989 murders of 14 young women at l’École Polytechnique in Montréal.