On December 6, 1989, 13 female students and a female administrator at l'École Polytechnique de Montréal were murdered because they were women. The shocking impact of their deaths led Parliament to designate December 6 as a national day of remembrance in Canada. Nearly 30 years later, the effects of this tragedy continue to be felt and women remain targets because of their gender. According to the Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability (COJFA), by the end of September this year, 106 women and girls have been killed by gender-based violence. Approximately half of them were killed in Ontario. Over 100 women have been killed this year and that has not caused a public outcry or become a pressing national news story. The lack of attention and national outrage explains why we haven’t made greater progress in ending violence against women since 1989. The killing of women by intimate partners continues to remain invisible as a far-reaching public health issue.
What is Person’s Day? It’s the day when the Supreme Court of Canada officially declared females as “persons.” Yes, today we might think the idea that women not being viewed as persons is a wild and backward ideal, but this was the reality a mere 90 years ago. And in many parts of the world, women today are still fighting for the chance to be heard and viewed as equals.
It has only been a year since the flood of #metoo sexual assault and harassment reports surfaced to sink the careers of powerful men with long histories of abusive behaviour. It took a tidal wave of voices to support the women who called Harvey Weinstein to account for his behaviour. Many others in the U.S. and Canada were caught in the same current and followed Weinstein out of sight. The door closed behind them. For most, it is unclear where they ended up or how they are processing what happened. Do the banished actually consider their actions and make changes toward redemption in their lives? Or, are they brooding and resentful for having been caught and humiliated in the public square, waiting it out now to make a come-back?
In July, New Zealand became the second country in the world to pass a national law granting victims of domestic violence 10 days paid leave to allow them to leave their partners, find new homes and protect themselves and their children. New Zealand has one of the highest rates of domestic violence in the developed world, with police responding to a family violence incident every four minutes.
Professional sports organizations have a particular social responsibility to act as role models and good citizens for the legions of young fans who follow them faithfully. Zero tolerance policies can allow leaders to wash their hands of what they see as the ‘problem’ individual, without appreciating or exploring how problematic individual behaviour is rooted in attitudes and beliefs that also exist in our workplaces, our teams and our leagues. When the ‘problem’ person is traded or fired, the organization hasn’t done anything to address abusive behaviour in intimate relationships because this is not a problem that can just be traded away. The “one bad apple” approach to domestic violence obscures the social context in which these behaviours thrive.
Sport plays an important role in society and is often highlighted for the positive impact it can have within communities. For example, we enroll our children in sport to encourage them to be healthy and active, but also to teach them life lessons, such as the importance of teamwork, perseverance, a strong work ethic, commitment, integrity, trust, accountability, etc. Many believe sport is a vehicle for achieving great social change. Unfortunately, negative stories also emerge from sport. Too often we hear of corruption, drug doping, and domestic abuse from the athletes who should be the ones teaching these important life lessons. Former baseball pitcher for the Toronto Blue Jays, Roberto Osuna, is a recent case (of many) where a celebrity athlete has been charged with domestic assault of his girlfriend.
Early days, no one including Indigenous people believed there was a crisis happening within the borders of our country called Canada within your very own community. The first memorial march was held over 25 years ago in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside also known at DTES. Indigenous women have continued to bring people together to remember lost loved ones and have mobilized to stop the violence or to slow it down. However, for a long time, the general population ignored their voices and the yearly marches. It wasn’t until 2004 that mass attention was brought to the issue when Amnesty International partnered with the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) to produce the report, Stolen Sisters.
The United Nations General Assembly designated June 15 as World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. It represents the one day in the year when the whole world voices its opposition to the abuse and suffering inflicted on some members of our older generations. Abuse of older adults is a global social issue which affects the health and human rights of millions of older persons around the world, and an issue which deserves the attention of the international community.
The astounding speed and force with which the #MeToo movement has entered popular discourse and consciousness can make it seem as if it was a spontaneous uprising. But the foundational work that exposed workplace sexual harassment and held space for the much needed change we are beginning to see has been going on for a long time. In 1979 Catherine MacKinnon wrote Sexual Harassment of Working Women in the U.S. and Constance Backhouse and Leah Cohen wrote The Secret Oppression: Sexual Harassment of Working Women in Canada. These first books about workplace sexual harassment were ground-breaking because they gave us language to describe distressing behaviours that had been happening in the workplace but which all too often were considered “part of the job.” Not having language to talk about a problem is a very effective strategy to make it invisible. The gift of language started us on a journey to the #MeToo movement.
“That is personal, it’s none of your business.” “What if I’m wrong?” These are familiar statements we hear in the workplace, especially when staff do not have the knowledge and tools to recognize and respond to domestic violence in the workplace. Tragedies like those of Theresa Vince and Lori Dupont have shown us that domestic violence is occurring in workplaces. The workplace is not immune to domestic violence; this is not a private issue. It is often difficult to overcome the hesitation to act and the misconception that domestic violence is a private issue; however, it is imperative that when warning signs or risk factors are identified, we act.