Only Community Care Can End Gender Based Violence

Gender based violence is a community issue, and we have to recognize that we all play a role in ending it.

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(Content warning: abuse/violence)

Let me set the scene for you…

You’re sitting at the dinner table with your family, and your uncle says something demeaning to your aunt, out-loud in front of your entire family, and it’s tense and uncomfortable. You’re at the Grapevine (shout out to the gays) and your best friend says something lewd about the bartender, playing it off as “just a joke.” You’re at your weekly staff meeting and your co-worker is visibly distracted and upset by their phone lighting up with texts from their partner every few seconds. 

Spoiler alert: these situations are all examples of gender-based violence (GBV). And unfortunately, these just scratch the surface. GBV refers to any harm that is directed at a person due to their gender, gender identity, or gender expression and is where a person uses violence, dominance, control, and manipulation against another person. I can guarantee that you or someone you care about has been on the receiving end of it, whether you know it or not. At least half of all women and non-binary people in Canada have experienced a form of GBV, and it impacts everyone—men and gender-diverse folks too. GBV takes on many forms, but simply put, it’s an abuse of power and a violation of human rights. 

In Newfoundland and Labrador, it’s mostly dealt with behind closed doors, and is quite often viewed by the world we live in as a “women’s issue.” Folks, it is absolutely imperative that we challenge this point of view. Make no mistake here: gender-based violence is a community issue, and I am calling on you, the community, to help do something about it. GBV shows up at home, work, school, and out in the community. Given that it’s a major, widespread problem, we have to recognize that it is never going to be tackled unless we all play a role in ending it. 

Think about what you’ve been taught about how to speak about GBV or how to respond to folks that you think may be experiencing violence (or inflicting it on someone else). Unless you’ve gone searching for resources yourself, you probably can’t. The unfortunate reality is that we just aren’t taught about this stuff.

Well, let me rephrase that: what we are taught is to ignore it because it’s “none of our business” or that we shouldn’t get involved.

I really want to help change that, and so does the entire team at the St. John’s Status of Women. So much so that we, working with and learning from an array of community members, have created a free and accessible e-course called Empowering Them. It’s completely virtual, it’s interactive, and you can complete it at your own pace. The entirety of it will take just over an hour, and it doesn’t have to be done all at once. 

I urge you to, right now, in the moment you are reading these words, commit yourself to doing it. You’ll get a certificate when you complete it which you can feel proud about. Add that thing to your resume—let your employers know that you care and hold these skills. Show it to your family, friends, and community networks to challenge them to get theirs. Personally, I think the certificate comes second to the feeling you get from radical community care, but hey, that’s just me.

Community care. A collective social responsibility to support one another. This isn’t just about being helpful towards the people around us. I’m talking about taking the initiative to genuinely be there for people without them having to ask or come looking for help. Investing some of your time and energy towards strengthening and building your skills so that you can be a safe and supportive community and family member. Empowering you to feel like you know what to do. Committing to using your privilege to be proactive in seeking out ways to do this. That’s going to look different for each and every one of us depending on our lived experiences, but doing the Empowering Them e-course is a great resource and a great investment in your community. Doing it will help you understand what signs of abuse to look for, how to tell the difference between facts and myths about GBV, and will introduce you to the most impactful ways to show your support to someone experiencing it. All in all, it exists to give you the tools to be part of a community of people working to end GBV. 

Changemaking happens one small step at a time, and sometimes those small steps seem insignificant. But this course is driven by the needs of our community, and it’s in our hands now. Take this small step. You may be thinking that GBV doesn’t relate to you or your life, but I assure you that it does. Empowering Them is for EVERYONE, including you. It isn’t just for checking in on an abuse survivor. It’s also for checking in with a friend who may be unknowingly (…or very knowingly) abusive and for checking in with yourself to challenge your biases. Let’s honour all the folks that have experiences with GBV, and those that have shared their stories and lived experiences with us to inform this work.  Let’s lift their voices, help combat the stigma, and keep each other accountable.

Do the e-course. Share it far and wide. Check in. 

Find it here: www.empoweringthem.ca

Tania Heath
Training Innovator
St. John’s Status of Women Council/Women’s Centre

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