The fear of gender-based violence looms large in the lives of many women and members of the LGBTQ+ community, a topic explored last week as part of a Dal-hosted forum.
Panelists from Dalhousie and beyond discussed the topic during the Eliminating Gender-Based Violence webinar held Wednesday (November 25) on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.
While noting the significance of the date, forum moderator Theresa Rajack-Talley, Dal’s vice-provost of equity and inclusion, also drew attention to the magnitude of a problem that spills beyond any one time period.
“There’s no one month or one year where gender-based violence does not occur,” she said in remarks at the forum, the fifth in the Human Rights & Equity Services Speak Truth to Power series launched earlier this year.
No “one size fits all” solution
"The implications of the COVID-19 pandemic signal both tragedy and possibility," said panelist Nancy Ross, an assistant professor in the School of Social Work. “The rates of gender-based violence remain astoundingly high, particularly during this pandemic.”
Social distancing laws restrict women and children living in unsafe homes from avoiding abuse. Dr. Ross considers the amplification of this issue during the pandemic a “renewed call to action.”
Afolake Awoyiga, a clinical social worker at the IWK Health Centre and instructor in the School of Social Work, analyzed the issue of gender-based violence from an intersectional and trauma lens. She shared the experience of marginalized groups, as sexualized violence is a significant issue for immigrant and refugee women.
“There is no one size fits all approach when it comes to understanding and preventing gender-based violence,” said Awoyiga.
Awoyiga shared the reality of immigrant and refugee women facing multiple fears that may stop them from reporting acts of gender-based violence. This includes fear of deportation, language barriers, and economic reliance on spouses.
Understanding gender in academia and beyond
Sierra Sparks, an engineering student at Dalhousie and the university’s 92nd Rhodes Scholar, paid homage to the women whose lives were taken by gender-based violence in the 1989 École Polytechnique shooting in Montréal. Fourteen women were killed, twelve of them studying to become engineers.
"These fourteen women have really been paving the way for other women to be in the profession," said Sparks. "It's because of these fourteen women that I have a place in engineering and I know that I have a place in engineering."
Panelist Rowan Natasha Pratt, also an engineering student at Dal, focused on inclusivity and integration as a way to prevent gender-based violence. They stated the importance of normalizing vocabulary avoids further marginalizing people, particularly in an academic setting.
Pratt noted that abolishing an us-versus-them mentality can help promote belonging within academia.
The transgender perspective was a significant topic of discussion. Tami Meredith, an instructor in the Faculty of Computer Science at Dal and member of the Board of Directors for the Coverdale Courtwork Society an Nova Scotia Rainbow Action Project, stated that “it should come as no surprise” that trans women are targeted by violence more so than trans men. She said many trans women experience violence or harassment in public.
“Being seen means being hurt,” she added, explaining that transgender are very susceptible to violence simply because they are transgender.
“There’s no need to identify people by what they have between their legs or what they don’t have between their legs.”
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