White Ribbon Campaign educates DC about gender-based violence

Members of the audience complete the "Man Box" activity and write out their list of men's gender norms during the White Ribbon Campaign talk at Durham College. Photo credit: Melanie Lennon

The anniversary of one of the worst mass killings of women in Canadian history is approaching.

White Ribbon Day, also known as National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women, is marked on Friday, Dec. 6. It’s the day Canada remembers the 14 women who lost their lives to Marc Lepine, the armed student responsible for the mass shooting at École Polytechnique in Montreal, Que.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the massacre. Durham College Students Inc. (DCSI) asked the White Ribbon Campaign, which is run by men, to speak with students at the college in an open, informative event on Nov. 20.

David Garzon spoke on behalf of the campaign and said the movement’s main goal is to engage men and boys in the prevention of gender-based violence.

The presentation took place at the Student Centre on campus. The audience of approximately 20 was made up of both students and faculty members. Two of the students were male.

Garzon spoke to the crowd and expressed the importance of bringing men into this discussion. He said the campaign’s goal is not to shame men or make them feel guilty, but to educate them.

“You have to realize the power you have in your communities and have discussions with your peers in order to prevent violence from happening,” he said.

Gender-based violence is prevalent and doesn’t discriminate based on geography, he implied.

“We identify violence with what we see on the news. With what’s happening in the U.S. Everywhere else but what’s happening in our communities,” he said.

In Canada, a woman is killed by her current or former partner approximately every six days, Garzon said. These are issues facing the public all the time, but he said many people fail to acknowledge them.

According to Garzon, the lack of awareness around this topic is often caused by misconceptions and ignorance.

In order to debunk the common myths around gender-based violence, Garzon conducted a group discussion on the matter.

The most popular myths identified during the conversation were that dressing provocatively encourages sexual assault, women can’t be raped by their spouses, and that victims are commonly abused by strangers rather than people they know.

Garzon said one of the best ways to prevent sexual violence is to be an ally. He said to avoid being a bystander by any means, and to take action when possible.

“See something, say something,” a woman in the audience said.

Garzon also said another method of preventing gender-based violence is simply bringing more people into the discussion – especially men.

He said he’s aware of the issues men face and the unrealistic social norms expected of them. He conducted a group activity with the audience called “Man Box” where they had to write out a list of gender norms for men.

On it were ‘norms’ associated with men like strong, athletic, successful and charming. This demonstrates that men can experience unhealthy expectations which take a toll on their mental health.

“If you can’t live up to this, then I guess you’re not a man,” one of the audience members said sarcastically, as she pointed to the list.

Garzon acknowledged that, a lot of the time, this is what leads to larger problems. He said men are typically dissuaded from seeking help because it shows weakness.

One of the women in the audience said the best way to combat this is by changing the way boys are raised. She said she’s working towards raising her son in a way that encourages self-awareness and respect for others.

“When we raise them from a young age outside of these norms, the impact is there,” she told the crowd.

In recognition of the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women on Dec. 6, Durham College will be handing out roses in the The Pit from noon to 1 p.m. to remember the women whose lives were lost or impacted by gender-based violence.