There’s a lot of big stuff going on right now, that as my colleague at the Canadian Women’s Foundation, Diane Hill, noted recently are watershed moments. From Jian Ghomeshi and our MPs, to conversations about what consent really means, reporting violations, and an overall renewed enthusiasm for discussion of gender based violence as a whole, we are living in a remarkable time. I call it peak-awareness in conversation with people. We are reaching a state of heightened awareness about gender-based violence.
A group I’m working with at Royal Roads University notes: “The United Nations defines Gender Based Violence as: “Any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.” (www.studentsagainstviolence.ca)
Of course gender based violence is not the only thing we should be talking about. Men experience war, physical violence from other men, homophobia, risky and unrealistic gender norms and expectations, and sometimes violence from other women. Hell, there’s been a rash of male teenage hockey players in the USA being molested by their friends’ moms. Boys do get molested by women and men. However, the difference lies in power. Gender based violence is based on one person having significant power over another.
Nowhere is this more evident, and nowhere is the need for the conversation more evident, than the case of Tugce Albayrak in Germany. Tugce intervened in a washroom where men were harassing teenage girls. She showed bravery and courage, as she became an active by-stander that day. The men left the washroom and the girls, but they did not forget, and one of them proceeded to beat her into a coma in the parking lot, allegedly with a baseball bat. She subsequently died.
As I sat with SWOVA’s youth team I expressed feeling upset and disheartened by this. I asked youth to talk about things that upset them, in an effort to allow them to show tears and grief, because we know that if we keep it bottled up it’s going to negatively impact us. I also asked them “if they could be a superhero who would they be?” Most youth spoke of batman, spiderman and superman. I’ve asked this question before and it’s a fairly typical response. When it came around to me, I said I’d be a superhero that stops gender-based violence. Of course Tugce Albayrak was that superhero that fateful day in McDonald’s.
Standing up for what is right is never an easy thing and she paid the ultimate price for her courage and bravery. She paid the ultimate price for standing up to sexism and objectification and harassment. She paid the price and now we must have the conversation about being a by-stander and the risks entailed with that. She’s a true hero and she allows us to peel back the onion one more layer; to dive a little deeper and hopefully create the dialogue needed to create empathy, compassion and a vision of a future where all people can be free of the threat of violence.
by Kevin Vowles, R+R Facilitator *
SWOVA empowering youth for a better tomorrow