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Ending Violence Against Women & Promoting a New Vision of Masculinity for All
SOS Safety Magazine had a chance to speak with Véronique Church-Duplessis, Bilingual Project Manager at White Ribbon, about gender-based violence in Canada, how families should address toxic masculinity in the home, and what their organization is doing to end violence against women and raise awareness about gender equity and healthy relationships.
What exactly is White Ribbon and what would you define your mission as?
White Ribbon engages men and boys in the prevention of gender-based violence by promoting equity and transforming social norms. We challenge and support men and boys to realize their potential to be part of the solution in ending all forms of gender-based violence.
How does your organization aim to end violence against women and raise awareness about gender equity and healthy relationships?
White Ribbon has a number of campaigns and initiatives that promote healthy relationships and violence prevention, including, among others, It Starts with You. It Stays with Him, Draw-the-Line, and Neighbours, Friends, and Families.
Our It Starts with You, It Stays with Him initiative encourages men to be good role models for the boys in their lives and to talk about gender equality, healthy relationships and consent, and violence prevention with them.
As one of the Draw-the-Line campaign partners, White Ribbon has developed tools to bring conversations about healthy relationships and sexual violence prevention in schools.
Through Neighbours, Friends, and Families, and in partnership with OCASI and the Arab Community Center of Toronto, White Ribbon has trained male allies to facilitate awareness-raising events in their community.
Does White Ribbon focus efforts on connecting directly with youth? If so, what have you found to be successful methods of connecting with them?
A lot of our initiatives focus on engaging youth. We deliver dozens of workshops on male allyship in schools and to other youth groups every year.
Storytelling is one of the most effective ways of connecting with youth. Our facilitators share personal stories to highlight how gender inequality and gender-based violence have affected them and their loved ones to help break the culture of silence that often surrounds the topic and promote empathy. Our facilitators look at how harmful male stereotypes hurt everyone, including men. We approach boys and young men as potential allies and emphasize that they have the ability and responsibility of making a difference.
Our goals are to create an emotional connection and raise empathy for survivors, to break the culture of silence to show that inequality and violence are real issues that affect all communities, and to give practical tips to men and boys so that they can take action and become allies.
What advice would you give to families on how they should communicate, discuss, or approach these topics?
First, it is critical to talk about these issues even if they can sometimes be uncomfortable. If we don’t talk about it, we’re allowing for the problem to continue.
It’s important to initiate these conversations when children are young and build them up gradually starting with discussions of bodily autonomy, boundaries, and respect for others’ boundaries to later discuss consent and healthy relationships. It’s also important to help young people, especially boys, develop their emotional intelligence, that is their ability to experience, communicate and manage a wide variety of emotions in a healthy and constructive way.
Fostering empathy and compassion is also critical to help build healthy relationships, prevent gender-based violence, and support survivors.
What’s the biggest challenge right now when it comes to gender-based violence?
One of the biggest challenges remains the myths that surround gender-based violence. Misconceptions surrounding false accusations is probably the most common and harmful one.
There’s this idea that innocent men will have their lives ruined by false accusations. This is a myth and an extremely harmful one since it leads people who have experienced sexual violence to the conclusion that they won’t be believed if they come forward to report their experience of assault. False accusations are extremely rare, around 2-4% of cases reported to the police (it is worth remembering that fewer than 1 in 10 sexual assaults are reported to the police in the first place).
People don’t lie about being sexually assaulted more than they do about other crimes such as theft and false accusations extremely rarely make it all the way to court. The main consequence of this myth is that it keeps victims of sexual assault from reporting their experience since they fear that they won’t be believed.
What key accomplishments stand out for you and the organization when it comes to your efforts thus far?
Thousands of men have signed our pledge to “never commit, condone, or remain silent about violence against women and girls” (whiteribbon.ca/pledge).
Every day, more and more men and boys embrace their responsibility as allies to end gender-based violence. The fact that violence against women and girls is no longer seen exclusively as a “women’s issue” but rather as a collective issue that should matter to everyone is a big step forward.
What’s the one thing you think could be done that would change the world the most?
It’s difficult to pinpoint one specific action.
For fathers and parents, I would say that they can have the biggest impact by talking about gender equality, consent, and healthy relationships with their children regularly.
For young people, I would say it’s about fostering empathy and breaking the culture of silence that surrounds violence against women and girls.
For anyone currently suffering, what do you think is the important message for them to hear?
You are not alone and we believe you. It’s never too late to reach out for help.
What advice would you give to young people who want to raise awareness and be part of the change?
Educate yourself on the issue and start the conversation with your peers. You can download our free Draw-the-Line resources for your school at dtl.whiteribbon.ca/scenarios to help you start these conversations. Organize a White Ribbon workshop for your school: whiteribbon.ca/workshops
If you help break the culture of silence, you will make a difference. You will help survivors know that they are not alone and that there are people who can help them. You will let everyone know that gender-based violence is never acceptable and that we all have a responsibility to be part of the solution. If you want to become a male ally, you can start here: whiteribbon.ca/how-to-be-an-ally.
What do you want White Ribbon to mean to other people?
White Ribbon is committed to encouraging men and boys to take responsibility and become part of the solution to end gender-based violence. We’re committed to providing men and boys with the knowledge and the tools they need to play a positive role to prevent violence and promote healthier, non-violent ways of being a man in our society.
Do you have any projects/news/developments people should be looking out for? And where can people connect with your organization if they want to learn more?
Our Draw-the-Line resources on sexual violence prevention for teachers, students, and parents are available to download for free at dtl.whiteribbon.ca
We’re always available for workshops on violence prevention and male allyship. You can find more details and book your workshop at whiteribbon.ca/workshops