Roundtable on Social and Cultural Change
(July 26, 2016 – Ottawa)

On July 26, 2016, the Honourable Patty Hajdu, Minister of Status of Women along with Anju Dhillon (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Status of Women), hosted a roundtable on Social and Cultural Change Gender-based Violence (GBV) in Ottawa, Ontario. This roundtable is part of a broader engagement process to engage stakeholders across the country to inform the development of a federal strategy on gender-based violence. See http://www.swc-cfc.gc.ca/violence/strategy-strategie/index-en.html for more information about the engagement process.

This roundtable explored the influence of social and cultural norms on GBV. The roundtable included discussions on the factors that support a culture of GBV, federal government actions that could reinforce challenges for women experiencing GBV,  promising practices in shifting how we talk about GBV with key populations (for example, men and boys), and recommendations on how to strengthen existing laws, programs and intergovernmental relations related to GBV. It was attended by 17 stakeholders, including immigrant women service organizations, women's shelters, academics, and representatives from feminist organizations.

Highlights

The roundtable discussion is summarized here. This summary should not be interpreted as a comprehensive account of the discussion, nor is it meant to suggest that there was consensus among the participants on the points outlined below.

As at previous roundtable discussions, participants emphasized that survivors of all forms of gender-based violence must be believed and supported.

Participants outlined the following themes related to a culture that sustains GBV:

Economic barriers

  • the barriers that many women face in achieving economic independence are compounded for women attempting to flee abuse
  • a lack of employment skills can leave women feeling trapped in abusive relationships, particularly for immigrant women who may have no Canadian work experience

Stereotypes and Cultural Norms

  • the impacts of cultural alienation and negative stereotypes may prevent immigrant and racialized women from coming forward for support
  • negative experiences with law enforcement and not being believed prevents women more generally from seeking support and reporting violence
  • the normalization of toxic forms of masculinity and hypersexualization (pornography) is part of wider societal culture that contributes to GBV

Life course approach

  • girls and boys must learn about appropriate boundaries and healthy relationships at a young age in order to be able to integrate this knowledge through their lives
  • many forms of discrimination compound GBV, and barriers often become more profound as women age or transition through major life events

Participants highlighted a range of best practices that the federal government could support in order to shift cultural discourses and responses to GBV. These included:

  • early exposure of children to gender equality and sexual education as a way to prevent violence before it occurs
  • programs to teach consent to boys and girls and support "literacy" and understanding on issues such as pornography and the hypersexualization of women and girls in the media
  • peer-to-peer education programs to educate youth on consent, provide positive role models and mentors
  • resources for parents on how to have conversations on consent and prevention with their children
  • training staff working with vulnerable populations, including seniors and people with disabilities, on how to identify and report abuse in residential settings
  • programs that support women to develop employment skills and financial literacy
  • public education campaigns that reach out to target populations and age groups
  • working collaboratively with policing organizations to identify best practices in working with survivors of GBV and sharing success stories
  • compulsory education on GBV for key groups, including teachers and policing recruits
  • embedding information and resources on legislation, programs and services related to gender equality and gender-based violence in pre-arrival and settlement programs for immigrants and refugees to Canada
  • ambassador programs that will facilitate conversations on GBV within cultural communities

Participants suggested the following gaps and opportunities for action:

  • work with federal law enforcement and border services to strengthen training on working with immigrant and refugee populations and ethnocultural communities
  • exploring new funding models that would support evidence based projects that have demonstrated promising results
  • improved linkages between federal departments working with immigrants and refugees and  provincial governments in order to facilitate access to provincial services for women fleeing abuse
  • exploring federal regulatory and legislative role as they relate to pornography and online trafficking
  • federal leadership advancing uniform policing protocols for sexual and domestic violence
  • federal leadership in coordinating pan-Canadian actions related to sexual violence/GBV

Overall, participants noted that a culture that sustains and upholds violent and misogynistic views of women is the single most challenging barrier to ending GBV. Innovative approaches to addressing the issue, in addition to dialogue between levels of government, will go far in coordinating efforts to address a culture of GBV.

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