Teaching to Prevent Gender-Based Violence: The National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women
“Gender-based violence remains a significant yet preventable barrier to equality. Canada will only reach its full potential when everyone has the opportunity to thrive, no matter who they are or where they come from. To achieve this, we need to work together to prevent gender-based violence.”
– Maryam Monsef, Minister of Status of Women
The National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women takes place each year on December 6 to honour of the thirteen students and one instructor who were murdered on this day in 1989 at l’École Polytechnique de Montréal, because they were women. This day of remembrance falls squarely in the middle of the international 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence campaign, and between the UN’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and International Human Rights Day. Many schools across Canada will launch awareness campaigns and host events to spread awareness on topics related to gender-based violence (often referred to as GBV).
In the age of international conversations like #MeToo, Women’s Marches, and the National Inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) in Canada, gender-based violence (GBV) is on everybody’s radar and as educators, we understand the importance of addressing such pervasive and hard-hitting issues. The question is: where and how do we begin? In this blog, we explore several ways we can bring the topic of GBV into our classrooms in ways that are respectful, educational and effective.
Read on to learn more about GBV, and to find suggestions on how you can ease into conversations about GBV with your learners using three familiar topics as entry points:
- Healthy relationships,
- the #MeToo movement, and
- the National Inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG)
Teaching to prevent gender-based violence through familiar topics
The Government of Canada defines gender-based violence as “violence that is committed against someone based on their gender identity, gender expression or perceived gender,” (Status of Women of Canada, GBV Strategy), and in 2017 it officially announced its response to gender-based violence. It’s Time: Canada’s strategy to prevent and address Gender-Based Violence, is based on three pillars: 1) prevention, 2) support for survivors and their families, and 3) promoting responsive legal and justice systems. The strategy also acknowledges that women and girls, Indigenous Peoples, and LGBTQ2S+ and gender diverse individuals are disproportionately affected by GBV.
This article focuses on actions and approaches educators can take to prevent gender-based violence. Most of us do not have the training or tools to handle incidents and consequences of gender-based violence. What we do have is the power to promote and model anti-violent discussion, behaviour, and action. In this way, all of us can do our part to combat gender-based violence and foster safe, supportive spaces for our students.
Topic 1. Healthy relationships
“Everyone, including boys and men, must be part of the solution to end gender-based violence. All people living in Canada deserve the same opportunity to thrive and succeed, no matter their sex, gender, sexual orientation, or ethnic background.”
– The Honourable Maryam Monsef, Minister of Status of Women
It is important to begin talking about healthy relationships of all kinds with learners at a young age. According to Loveisrespect.org, patterns of violent behaviour, including against romantic and sexual partners, usually appear between the ages of 12-18 and, once established, are difficult to break. Educating young people early on about respectful, loving relationships in ways that resonate with them is therefore very important; and sometimes, more simple than we might think.
Loveisrespect.org offers a variety of digital and print resources for teachers and learners alike. We encourage you to explore their website. There are interactive quizzes and activities for learners and a plethora of resources for teachers. Here are the links to four resources I found particularly helpful as I brushed up on my own knowledge of healthy relationships and GBV using this website:
- Dating abuse statistics
- Understanding teen dating violence and sexual assault
- Healthy relationships: Middle school educators toolkit
- Healthy relationships: High school educators toolkit
Some Indigenous communities and nations are creating their own culturally relevant, place-based curricula on healthy relationships as well. If you are seeking resources rooted in local cultures, traditions, and teachings, consult with your Indigenous language instructors and/or local leadership to see what is available to you.
Topic 2. The #MeToo movement
At the heart of the #MeToo movement is the notion of consent. When people are taught from an early age that obtaining consent is a necessary step toward any and every physical and/or sexual encounter, we can begin to combat sexual violence on a mass scale.
Many of us, myself included, were taught through Sex Ed curricula to say “no,” but not how; nor were we taught how to say “yes.” Many more of us were never taught anything at all, due to insufficient or non-existant Sex Ed programs. To this day, Sex Ed remains a highly debated topic across Canada. For all these reasons, teaching about consent can be intimidating! Fortunately, the topic of consent is anything but exclusive to Sex Ed, and there are resources available to help.
According to the Harvard Graduate School of Education, consent can be taught to very young children, even toddlers and babies. This is because consent can be explored in the simplest and most complex of terms. Their article, “Consent at Every Age: Strategies for educators on how to talk to your students about respecting one another’s boundaries – from preschool to high school,” for more detailed information and helpful resources. One resource that I have returned to time and again, and even shared with colleagues, is this video called “Tea and Consent” by animator Emmeline May. Police departments, classroom teachers, and community theatre troupes alike have drawn upon the principle of consent as tea based on this video; if you like it, you might do the same!
Topic 3. The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women & Girls (MMIWG) in Canada
On December 8, 2015, the Government of Canada announced the launch of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women & Girls. The purpose of the inquiry was to investigate the underlying causes of the disproportionate number of Indigenous women and girls murdered or declared missing across Canada in recent history. On June 3, 2019, the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls released its final report, along with 231 calls to action, Reclaiming Power and Place. In the final report, Commissioner Michele Audette states that,
“Violence against Indigenous women and girls does not stem from one isolated event. Sadly, it is the daily reality of far too many human beings, many of whom are among this country’s most vulnerable. Today, we have the opportunity to highlight the extraordinary resilience of Indigenous women and girls, who remain dedicated to advocating for their rights and charting a path forward – a path we must all take together,”
– Reclaiming Power and Place, Vol. 1a, p. 8
The topic of MMIWG can no longer be ignored. To open up the conversation in your classroom, we recommend using “Their Voices Will Guide Us,” a student and youth engagement guide created by the National Inquiry itself. This guide is based on Chief Commissioner Marion Buller’s message of hope, that “by taking collective responsibility for safety, and by educating Canadians about the systemic causes of violence against Indigenous women and girls, we can effect real change.”
For more information and links to even more resources, you can follow this link to last year’s blog post on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, and have a look at our video, “Art About Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.” You can find other examples of Learning Bird resources addressing Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls by performing a keyword search for ‘missing and murdered’.
We hope that these resources will help you as you address these important topics with your class. These topics are not easy to address, but having the right support materials and resources can certainly make it easier.
Do you have other resources that you’ve used to address GBV, #MeToo, and MMIWG with your students? Reach out and let us know so we can share them.