I would first like to take a moment to thank the committee for inviting the Ottawa Coalition to End Violence Against Women to speak today.
Additionally, on behalf of our coalition, I would like to thank you for taking the time to explore how we might make more secure futures for our young girls.
My name is Stefanie Lomatski, and I am executive director of the Ottawa Coalition to End Violence Against Women, also referred to as OCTEVAW. I am here today with Bailey Reid, chair of our public engagement committee.
OCTEVAW is a coalition of organizations and individuals dedicated to ending violence against women through leadership, education, advocacy, and political action. We want to promote a coordinated response to women and their children who have experienced abuse.
The coalition is built on a strong core value that includes working collaboratively to achieve equality of rights, fair access to resources and services, and social justice for women and their children.
It is our concern today that young Canadian women are experiencing high rates of intimate partner and sexual violence and that the impact of violence and gender inequity is creating a gender disparity in young women's ability to thrive.
In Ontario approximately 46% of high school girls report being targeted for unwanted sexual comments. Additionally, in Canada, we know that when young women enter university and college, four out of five undergraduates are victims of violence in dating relationships. We encourage our young women to attain higher education; however, we do not explicitly say that in the first eight weeks of their undergrad they're at high risk of being raped by someone they know. We also do not tell them that they will be guaranteed to earn less upon graduation because they are women.
We need to work toward giving our young women the message that we are concerned about their ability to be safe and secure and to have the opportunity to use self-agency. In order to create a cultural shift that will facilitate the empowerment of young women, we need to prevent the violence they are experiencing and to understand that women can be further marginalized. It is vital that we consider how racism, ability, and socio-economic status create layers of systemic oppression that build barriers between our young women and their chance to live a life of opportunity.
We'd like to start with our first recommendation, which is school-based violence prevention programs. When preventing violence, we need to have the strength to recognize that violence is not neutral, which is the concern that the current bullying campaigns in schools focus on. In our opinion, these programs are not deconstructing forms of violence, such as sexism and racism, but are instead grouping violence, and therefore deflecting accountability. When we speak of ending violence against girls and women, we need to accept that even at the grade school and high school levels, the beliefs about roles of girls and boys, men and women, are being maintained.
What makes for successful prevention programs? First, we need to make a commitment financially to maintaining and promoting programs that focus on changing attitudes. Second, the programs need to focus on changing attitudes over time.
To make substantial change, Canada needs to incorporate this learning into school culture. Young men and women still do not understand or value what healthy relationships are. Their concepts of sexual violence remain informed by myths—for example, that most sexual violence is perpetrated by strangers.
This is an issue that needs a national commitment. Within Ottawa we have seen the success of such programs as In Love and In Danger, a program that seeks to mentor young men and women so that they can build dialogues within their own schools. Programs like this use peer influence in order to make positive change.
I would also like to take this opportunity to make an important point about OCTEVAW. We find that it is vital that young women are provided with spaces to be mentored. It is also important to us that young men be included in making change.
OCTEVAW began engaging men approximately two years ago. It is one of our priorities, and we believe that a change in community culture is only possible when we involve men.
Recently, in fall 2011, we began our program called I Can MANifest Change. It focuses on engaging young men in ending violence against women through exploring such topics as masculinity, femininity, sexism, and sexual violence. It is a program that has hope and celebrates that not all men are perpetrators of violence.
I will now pass it over to Bailey Reid, the chair of our public engagement committee, to continue our presentation.