BY LINDSAY BRISCOE
Last week, two days before the 25th anniversary of the Montreal Massacre, the Ontario government announced a number of initiatives surrounding violence, harassment, and discrimination of women.
“Twenty-five years ago on December 6, 14 women were senselessly murdered at Montreal’s École Polytechnique,” expressed Tracy MacCharles, minister responsible for women’s issues. “A quarter of a century later, violence remains prevalent in the lives of far too many women and girls.”
The Ontario government plans to analyze its own procedures and training surrounding workplace discrimination, harassment, and violence, and in early 2015 all MPPs will participate in sexual assault and harassment training.
The province is also about to launch a public education campaign, and is working on the creation of a Rountable on Violence Against Women across several ministries to improve support for victims of sexual violence in particular.
Jennifer Chamberlin of New Starts for Women in Red Lake says one of the main topics of priority for such a roundtable should be affordable housing.
“Women are now staying in unsafe situations due to a lack of affordable housing,” she expressed in a written response. “The current wait time for housing in the area could be over one year. Market rent is not even a consideration to many of our clients as their income could not begin to support such a move. New Starts has campaigned for years to attain a Second Stage Housing Unit. Red Lake has seen some great things happen in the community, unfortunately some of these benefits have not filtered down to the citizens that need it the most. Natural gas has come into Red Lake but the residents of low-income housing have not seen those benefits. They are members of this community that could benefit from a reduction in heating costs.”
She also says the Ontario government should re-focus the funding dollars.
“The government tends to provide training dollars to violence against women front line workers who are already the experts in the areas of violence against women. Training must be consistent, woman-focused, provided across all service systems that a woman will come into contact with, and facilitated by the expert front line workers and survivors.”
The Ontario government initiatives announced last week come in the wake of several high profile and public reports of workplace violence and harassment. The reports were then followed by an outpouring of confessions from a number of women—particularly through social media—about their own experiences of violence, harassment, and discrimination.
Chamberlin says there are some dangers associated with speaking out on social media, such as the potential for slander charges against the women disclosing their experiences, but overall, it is positive in the sense that it allows a survivor the courage to speak and can begin the process of bringing charges forward.
But much work still needs to be done to create environments where women feel they can talk openly, she adds.
“Violence against women is not a comfortable topic of conversation for most people. It is something that has been kept behind doors. Many victims are not ready to put themselves in a position of being re-victimized. Victims often feel shame, and feel they will not be believed when they report the assault. These same feelings have been shared by the women who have come forward in the Jian Ghomeshi case,” she explains. “Until women are able to come forward without fear of reprisal and shaming, women will continue to remain silent. If every act of violence against women was reported society would say ‘enough’ and demand change on our streets and in our workplaces.”
New Starts for women offers peer supportive counseling, access to referrals to counseling, emergency transportation and accommodation for women and children, as well as a 24-hour crisis line answered locally. There are a number of other service providers in our communities that offer counseling and other support to victims of discrimination, harassment, and violence. Visit www.myredlake or www.ear-falls.com/community-services/health-services for more information.