The Role of Men in Ending Violence Against Women

By Angela Marie MacDougall

Presentation at Canadian Council of Refugees May 26, 2011 in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

It is an honour to be here today in the traditional territories of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy and the Cayuga Nation.  I have traveled from the unceded Coast Salish Territories and the traditional territories of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh people. My ancestors arrived in this land, we now call, Canada from Sweden and Ghana.   This country is the only home I’ve known. 

I am here representing Battered Women’s Support Services and we are eager to speak with you today about the work to end violence against women and the role of men in that work.  As we gather together today, we want to say emphatically that violence against women is the most pressing social issue of our time.  And to say that it is an observation that in our contemporary times we can trace the manifestation of violence on the bodies and minds of women from the application of imperialism and colonialism.

Battered Women’s Support Services is a feminist organization, based in BC and we are working to end violence against girls and women.  We respond to the historic, legal, political, personal manifestations of colonization and imperialism grinding down every day in the lives of diverse groups of women where the men they love see fit to align with domination, to devalue their womanhood and reap the rewards of domination in their families through tactics of power and control including sexual and physical violence. 

By imperialism, we mean the process where we see the dominant political and economic interests of one nation expropriate for their own benefit the land, the raw materials, the labour and the markets of another group of people.  By colonialism, we mean the acquisition and expansion into territories of Mother Earth inhabited by Indigenous people from people of another territory and sovereignty is claimed.

Imperialism and colonialization are about maintaining unequal relationships through the threat of or the use of force, violence, and is based on the fundamental belief of superiority.  Violence against women in intimate relationships is about maintaining unequal relationships maintained by the threat of or the use of physical and sexual violence and is based on the fundamental belief of superiority, the superiority of men and masculinity.  The belief of male superiority can and does morph into hate, hate of women and hate of all that is believed to be womanly. 

We see around the world people are grappling with the very real effects of imperialism and colonialization.  Right here in these territories where we meet today, within the domination of a colonial power, we see with the people of Haudenosaunee Confederacy, for that matter, Indigenous nations and people across Canada struggle for sovereignty.  Yes, the struggle is in full effect most often led by Clan Mothers, traditional female leadership, through land reclamation and the assertion of sovereignty; including not only taking back land that was sold by the government without the right to do so, but by practicing their right to govern their people and their communities.  And we see Indigenous women and communities addressing violence against women.  Right here and right now in Canada, we are facing a national tragedy where almost 600 Indigenous women have gone missing or have been found murdered.  And that number is rising every day within a back drop of social, government and law enforcement apathy, apathy growing from a belief in unequal relationships and superiority.

The level of social apathy, government apathy and law enforcement apathy we see when it comes to violence against women is a universal experience.  Forced migration, people displaced by war, dealing with the very real effects of “development” and “conflict”.   “Development” and “conflict” with roots firmly grounded in colonialism and imperialism where women and the bodies of women are on the front-line subjected to some of the very worst that humans do to humans including rape as a much gendered tool of war.  We’re here to tell you that the refugee experience for women is synonymous with gender-based violence. 

At Battered Women’s Support Services we are working to end violence against girls and women, and we connect the dots on the historic, legal, systemic, global issues that grind down in the lives of the women who access our services every day.  Last year we responded to over 9,500 requests for support, crisis intervention, information and women seeking safety. 

Very quickly now, a growing number of women who access our services are Non Status or Refugee women.  Women leaving violence in their home countries, arriving in Canada, dealing with abusive partners and facing extreme marginalization, as most support services for battered women will not provide even basic crisis support believing it falls outside of their mandates. Women, who then face a wall of unexamined beliefs and statements about traditional cultural values that seek to entrench women’s isolation, which from our vantage point, mask as excuses for bad behaviour and hurt women, and unexamined statements about notions of gender role reversal post migration and during settlement into Canada that have saturated the discourse throughout government, service providers and in communities.  It is an uphill climb for Refugee Women in Canada.

The word is out that we will do this work at Battered Women’s Support Services, so the numbers are growing every day.  And we recently filed our response to anticipated changes to immigration legislation through Bill C-11 our response called Gender Persecution available on our website.  We are committed to this work.

This conversation we’re having here today The Role of Men in Ending Violence Against Women, grows from the work completed at Canadian Council for Refugees Fall Consultation in November 2010 where the CCR developed recommendations placing violence against women on the agenda and followed up with the creation of an online space where violence against Refugee women can be discussed and action taken.  I am here to follow up on the workshop co-presented by my colleague Rosa Elena Arteaga at the Fall Consultation. 

What is the role of men in ending violence against women?  To answer this question in part, I will quote a friend and ending violence activist Troy Westwood who often says, “Violence against women will stop when, we, as men, stop it”  

Without a doubt men have an essential role and truly are playing a role by engaging in the tactics endorsed by imperialistic, colonializing forces by using privilege and power in their intimate relationships to assert power and control including physical and sexual violence to reek havoc on the minds and bodies of women.  Men assume a role when they are silent, standing idly by as their male family members, friends, peers and counterparts assert dominance and make the home a war zone with women as the victims.  Whether consciously or unconsciously men are engaging in a role every day.

The role of men in ENDING violence against women is to HAVE a role in ending violence against women.  To HAVE a role in ending violence against women. To HAVE a role in ending violence against women.  I am joined on this panel with Adolpho Garces from Counterpoint in Toronto and Alain Philoctete from PRISME in Montreal who will speak more on this.  We
invite you to join us tomorrow during the caucus session to further this dialogue when we will be joined by Byron Hurt a US based activist and filmmaker.  There is no more critical time than right now for men to break the silence on violence against women.