Maverick School students talk about gender violence during the White Ribbon campaign
Students and staff at Maverick School in Swift Current talked about the ongoing problem of violence against women during a class meeting on Nov. 29, which was part of the annual White Ribbon campaign at the school.
The White Ribbon campaign was started in Canada in 1991 in response to the École Polytechnique massacre in Montreal on Dec. 6, 1989. This campaign to promote gender equity and an end to gender-based violence has spread to over 60 countries.
Maverick School has participated in the campaign for the past 21 years through the initiative of long-time teacher Colin Smith.
“I heard about the campaign and I thought it’s a pretty important campaign,” he told the Prairie Post after the class meeting. “So then I thought we need to organize something at our school. We’ve done it ever since.”
He is not aware of any other school in Saskatchewan that participates annually in this campaign, which he believes is important to have in a school.
“As men and as boys we need to analyze our own behaviours and examine that, and hopefully that can bring the change,” he said. “It is about change. It’s about ending the violence against women, because the stats from 21 years ago to now haven’t changed that significantly. So we have to do something to change the violence against women. It’s just alarming, some of these stats.”
He facilitated the discussion during the class meeting. He shared a statistic with the group from a 2015 study by the Canadian Women's Foundation, which found that Canadians agreed that sexual activity between partners should be consensual, but only one in three actually knew what consent means.
During the class meeting he presented a variety of questions and statements to the group for discussion. His first question was what will you do when you see a man in a backyard punching a woman. Other questions included how to prevent abuse in a close personal relationship, is violence against women a big problem in Canada, what should happen to men who abuse women, what would you do if you were in an abusive relationship, and what would you do if you have a friend in an abusive relationship.
After the class meeting the male teaching staff held a meeting with male students to discuss the different forms of violence against women (physical, sexual, emotional/verbal, financial), the extent of the problem in society, what one can do to stop the normalization of violence against women, consent, and what Canadian law says about consent to engage in sexual activity.
Teacher Scott Hunter made a presentation as part of the discussion. He referred to data to highlight the fact that violence against women is still a serious problem. Half of all women in Canada have experienced at least one incident of physical or sexual violence since the age of 16, and 67 per cent of Canadians have personally known at least one woman who has experienced physical or sexual abuse. In Saskatchewan and Manitoba the rates of violence against women are double the national rate.
Hunter noted that women have a different lived experience than men, for example when they walk alone to their car or when they have to decide if they are going to enter an elevator alone with a stranger.
The discussion with students touched on various issues, including the use of language and if it is OK to laugh at misogynistic jokes or should you react to that and express your disapproval.
“You have to decide what kind of man you want to be, and then just try to live that every day,” Hunter said.
According to Grade 12 student Griffin Funk it is useful to have the White Ribbon campaign at Maverick School.
“I think it's a very good and important thing to be putting in schools, because people don't really talk about violence against women as much as they should,” he said after this meeting with male students. “People also don't know how large it is and how much it affects the women in their lives and the people they know.”
He felt the important message from the discussion was to think about how you treat a women and to respect their choice in relation to consent. He received useful information through the different definitions provided during the discussion and he was surprised by the statistics about the prevalence of violence against women.
“I thought it would be a lot better just because of the push for equality,” he said. “I thought it would be getting better, but it still seems to be a very large problem in our society as of right now that we need to focus more attention on than we have been.”
Funk suggested it will be beneficial if more schools participate in the White Ribbon campaign, which will provide an opportunity for students to learn more about the issues.
“If we can get this to more schools and talk about it, it will definitely help the situation, because I don't think a lot of men even realize the patterns they've got themselves into with the way they think about women and talk about them,” he said. “A lot of them probably don't agree with the way they do that, but they just don't see it. So to help them see that and just to help get this message out it will really help the issue at hand.”
In the run-up to Dec. 6 a number of other activities took place at Maverick School as part of the White Ribbon campaign. Male students made white ribbons to send to male staff in the Chinook School Division. Southwest Crisis Services held meetings with male and female students to talk about healthy relationships, and the movie about the École Polytechnique was shown on Dec. 5.
Teacher Scott Hunter makes a presentation during the meeting with male students, Nov. 29.
Maverick School students and staff participate in a class meeting during the White Ribbon campaign, Nov. 29.
Teacher Colin Smith facilitated the discussion during the class meeting of students and staff, Nov. 29.