December 6, 2014, marked the 25th anniversary of the Montréal Massacre, where gunman Marc Lepine targeted female students and staff at École Polytechnique de Montréal – ultimately taking the lives of 14 women and leaving 13 injured.
In the 25 years since, progress has been made in Canada to prevent such extremism, including national discussions around gun-control, and greater awareness about women’s rights and the issues surrounding violence against women. However despite these efforts, too many girls and women continue to be victims of gender-based violence.
A problem in North America
Recently, high profile allegations of sexual assault, harassment and violence have dominated headlines, launching a much overdue national conversation about violence against women.
Important discussions about why victims of sexual and gender-based violence don’t report their experiences have helped raise awareness about the fear, harassment and, sadly, shame victims often deal with when they come forward. For victims, the risk of having their private and personal life exposed is another reason many remain silent. According to the Canadian Women’s Foundation, less than 10% of sexual assaults are reported to police.
In an age where TV shows, movies, video games and music videos often make light of violence against women and present it as entertainment, it’s no surprise that it takes widely publicized allegations against public figures to bring wider awareness to this issue. It is important that as a society we continue to build on this momentum and talk about this issue until violence against women is no longer taken lightly or seen as entertainment.
A problem online
Violence against girls and women is also a problem in the virtual world, where girls and women are disproportionately attacked online. Online exploitation and cyberbullying have become increasingly serious issues for teenage girls. Take for instance, 17-year-old Rehtaeh Parsons and 15-year-old Amanda Todd, who both committed suicide following months of internet harassment.
The good news is efforts to create safer online communities and prevent online harassment are underway. There’s a growing movement of internet users speaking out against online harassment. It’s also encouraging to see social media platforms, like Twitter, establish tools that allow users to report abuse and harassment. With more awareness and emphasis on the importance of equality online, things can change.
A problem we can’t ignore
While December 6th will continue to remind Canadians every year to stand up and speak out to end violence against women, addressing this problem will take more than one annual day of action. Every day is an opportunity to raise awareness.
Here are some ways you can take action all year:
- Know that help is available. The Canadian Women’s Foundation created these tipsheets that help people living with violence find assistance, and help people support a friend or family member living with violence.
- Tell others that violence against women is #NotOkay. YWCA Canada has launched a campaign to encourage people to speak out on social media against the use of violence against women in games, movies, music and TV.
- Learn more about the problem globally. Violence against women is sadly a global issue. Read the Because I am a Girl reports to understand the issues that impact girls and women, including violence.
Featured image: Kalun L via Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0