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When I was in high school, someone I was very close to was sexually assaulted. Once it felt right to speak about it, I came to realize how pervasive gender-based violence was in our culture. Through conversations with the people around me, I heard stories about relationship violence and abuse, and I realized how much violence occurred in our communities.
I began to understand that this is not a private issue, but an issue for all of us to deal with as a society. I heard and saw a lot of excuses being made for abusive behavior. People say things like ‘boys will be boys.’ When we give permission like that, we are tolerating a society that results in almost 18,000 women and children accessing shelter services in Alberta each year. Instead, we can all be leaders in putting an end to that tolerance. We can step in and support each other when we see violence.
There’s a perception, especially among men, that to be a good friend you support your buddy no matter what his action. There’s a fight in a bar; your friend throws a punch. You should dive right in and start throwing punches, too, right? But we can think about it in another way. Instead of joining the fight, wouldn’t the best thing be to pull your friend out of it? We can do the same when it comes to sexist attitudes, no matter how deeply ingrained in the culture they are.
If your friend is making sexist comments to a server in a restaurant you can ignore them or play along with it – or you could ask them to stop. It is better for the server and it is better for your friend too. That simple act of courage can stop gender-based violence in its tracks by showing the server that you care, and letting your friend know you don’t tolerate sexism. When people do our Leading Change training, we try to support them to come to that realization themselves. I can’t change how you think about the world – only you can do that.
We train players and alumni from the Calgary Stampeders to help us deliver our message in high schools and sports clubs around Alberta. The effect of having a player can be electric. The students all want to talk to them about it in a way that they wouldn’t always listen to me.
We have also worked with teams like the Edmonton Wildcats Junior Football team. Through this work, we’ve seen positive results, and heard encouraging comments from players and coaches. One of the guys on the team told us,
“I want to be part of the solution. Everyone knows someone that has experienced gender-based violence. I know a couple of ladies that it happened to. I’ve seen it happen. One of my close friends was sexually assaulted. The training helped me be more supportive to her. I want to become a leader in this not a bystander.”
When I hear comments like that it makes it all worthwhile. Although the task ahead of us is enormous and changing a culture takes time, we are making progress. In the end, we all benefit from that – that’s how a team works.
Tuval Dinner Nafshi is a Leading Change Community Developer for ACWS. Over the past decade he has facilitated workshops and delivered presentations for thousands of young people, educators and community members on issues relating to sexism, sexual violence, healthy relationships, gender equity and eliminating violence from our lives. Book a Consultation and learn more about how you can lead change.