Taking Action - Making Change
We all have a role in creating the world we want. We are the ones we have been waiting for. (Alice Walker) Speak truth to power in a way that can be heard.
BBWON is committed to making the essential work of community coordination more visible and to strengthening our collective coordination muscle. VAWCCs can be a strategic resource in communities and a strong partner for government, providing access to local expertise and experience on VAW issues to better inform policy and funding directions and decisions. It is the role of the VAW sector to speak up and speak back whenever women’s safety is at risk. Constructive system critique using an intersectional framework should be seen as a vital activity. This means that there will always be a necessary tension in partnering with government. Partnering is essential and also possible, so long as the different roles of community and government can be respected. The large common goal to end violence in our communities is what unites and aligns our efforts across all divides.
Taking Action - current and past collective activities and initiatives
Mandatory Charging Project
In 2015, the Ottawa Coalition to End Violence Against Women (OCTEVAW) approached the Building a Bigger Wave Ontario Network (BBWON) to propose a collaborative project that would partner researchers and local violence against women (VAW) coordinating committees (VAWCCs) to review the state of mandatory charging in Ontario. The OCTEVAW proposal picked up on the 2009 Domestic Violence Advisory Council’s recommendation to review mandatory charging in the context of the call for a different paradigm for the VAW sector to work “in an integrated and collaborative way” addressing both frontline issues while also attending to the larger system issues.
At the 2015 BBWON provincial forum, OCTEVAW asked other coordinating committees if they would support a provincial project to review the Mandatory Charging project with small donations and participation in the design of the questionnaires, outreach and community engagement. At the 2011 forum, the suggestion of working provincially on shared issues was ranked as a priority action for VAWCCs. This would be the first provincial project undertaken.
VAWCCs in attendance endorsed the project. The purpose of the study was to explore the outcomes for women of mandatory charging.
Over the next few months, VAWCCs and provincial allies contributed funds for the first phase of the project. $7,500 was raised and then matched by Mitacs Canada for a total of $15,000 per phase of the project.
The project included three phases:
- Phase 1: Survey design and literature review
- Phase 2: Implementation – online questionnaires
- Phase 3: Analysis
The mandatory charging project was innovative in pooling resources to undertake research. Contributions came in both money and support through participation. Organizers did not want money to be a barrier for VAWCC engagement and so financial contributions were voluntary. A minimum request was made in the first phase for $167 from committees to distribute the costs over a large group. The minimum target was raised to $200 for the subsequent phases based on actual costs that had not been anticipated. Some committees were able to contribute more; some were not able or willing to make any financial contribution. All committees were encouraged to make whatever contribution was possible and to participate in the development process. $22,500 was raised by VAWCCs and allies and then matched by Mitacs. The total cost of the project for all three phases was $45,000.
Read the 2018 report
BBWON and MEN
In 2014 a group of concerned community leaders and advocates rallied together to support the work of Ontario Partner Assault Response programs (PAR) during what was referred to as the ‘PAR crisis’. The government had made arbitrary changes to the program that raised questions in the community about the wisdom of reducing and constraining services for men engaged in domestic violence. Letters were written to draw attention to the concerns and to offer to partner with senior leaders in multiple ministries to begin a dialogue with researchers, experts and advocates on how to improve outcomes with PAR. Over 10,000 men who use violence in their relationships move through PAR programs every year. The potential to help them change their behaviour and to reduce or stop the violence is significant.
The PAR crisis group eventually began to identify as the Men’s Engagement Network or MEN. BBWON provides administrative support to MEN. MEN is a loose knit, ad hoc group that includes professionals, bureaucrats, community leaders, researchers and advocates in multiple sectors and communities. Those involved with MEN believe the way to end violence against women and children is to engage all men more effectively in anti-violence and social justice work and to provide social supports that also demonstrates care about their wellbeing. A report on the development and evolution of MEN can be read here[O1] .
The need for MEN
Recent years have seen a growing backlash against feminism and gender equity by men’s rights groups (MRA) who contend men’s rights are being eroded by feminists and liberals. They claim that no one cares about men. The MRA argument is fueled by the current state of justice and social responses to men who are violent that is strictly punitive. Research has shown that untreated childhood trauma has significant impacts on men and women. Many men in PAR programs have trauma backgrounds. This is not to excuse violent behaviour but it is to acknowledge that hurt people hurt people. Research has shown that most men who are violent can change their behaviour with support. Advocating to put those supports in place and to create an alternative narrative to the one promoted by men’s rights groups has been the work of MEN. We have resources in place in Ontario that can be used to make the alternative narrative concrete. See the proposal here[O2] .
Ontario is rich with expertise and wisdom
Proposals grounded in evidence-based research have been made to senior government policy advisors in 2015, 2016 and 2017 on how to shift from strictly punitive systemic responses to a needs-response model. The difficulty in moving to action is that multiple ministries need to be involved and there is currently no mechanism or vision that brings senior leaders together with community partners in ongoing dialogue. The bureaucracy of government is mired in a top-down 20th century mindset. MEN is advocating for a partnership table[O3] with government that does not yet exist. The recent act of terrorism in Toronto by the openly misogynist man who killed 10 people with a van, most of them women, is a stark reality of the risk of maintaining the status quo. If we don’t find ways to effectively engage men who tend toward violence and misogyny, and to engage all men as allies in ending the war on women, we will continue to see women being killed at the same shocking rates that should be unacceptable to every citizen.
MEN: Summary of Activities 2014-2017
MEN: Proposing Centres for Engagement (2017)
MEN: Shared Leadership
The PAR Crisis
The role of the VAW sector is to speak up and speak back whenever risk to women’s safety comes into question. This means that there will always be a necessary tension in partnering with government. Yet partnering is essential and also possible so long as the different roles can be respected. When the Ministry of Attorney General (MAG) made changes to the Partner Assault Program (PAR) to reduce the program from 16 – 12 weeks and then to implement a new highly contested funding formula that is based on referral numbers. The reaction in the community, led to a broad-based push back on the insularity of traditional government decision-making processes. PAR is an important component of a whole community response to ending Violence Against Women. MAG has been unable to offer any evidence or rationale to support the decisions and VAW community leaders and advocates expressed significant concerns about the erosion of the PAR program. They expressed those concerns by naming it a ‘crisis’.
See also MEN Summary of Activities
Sisters In Spirit
Sisters In Spirit is an ongoing action item for BBWON following from the 2011 Forum to show solidarity with the families of missing and murdered indigenous women in Canada. VAWCCs committed to supporting the Sisters In Spirit vigils every year on October 4th as a way to build relationships in our communities with First Nations and indigenous leaders and organizations. In the first year, thirty-five VAWCCs reported participation in their local vigils and/or contributed in some way by educating their membership and staff. Stories about the vigils appear in the BBW newsletter every fall. You will find more information about how we can educate and inform ourselves to better support our indigenous peoples here.
Prevention is the 'new' imperative (2016)
We need a ‘new imperative’ of violence prevention in Ontario that works towards social justice and gender equality as a unified effort across sectors, communities and governments. The Building a Bigger Wave Ontario Network has a shared goal to end violence against women and children. This is our unique contribution to a just society.
Building our VAWCC infrastructure to support dialogue at local tables, provincial leaders in VAW and the government
Proposed in The New Imperative is a request to the Premier to prioritize prevention
Specifically the request is to link and build on past investments such as the Domestic and Sexual Violence Action Plans to create an overarching Ontario Violence Prevention Strategy and Action Plan that tackles root causes through primary and secondary prevention across the lifespan. Violence against women is a non-partisan issue that all political parties should care about.