Gender-based violence has long been a reality in our communities and on our campuses. And for just as long, there have been gender justice activists fighting to eradicate it, to support those impacted by it, and to find spaces of healing. For me, the importance of this work and the need to contribute crystalized while I was a university student, as my friends and I struggled to educate our campus community about the problem and create solutions to end violence in our faculty. This was a frustrating and challenging time, and it often felt like our efforts were fruitless. But now it seems like we’ve entered a watershed era, with unprecedented momentum and appetite for change from the broader community.
Last week, Possibility Seeds released Courage to Act: Addressing and Preventing Gender-Based Violence on Post-Secondary Campuses, a report on the National Framework to Address and Prevent Gender-Based Violence at Post-Secondary Institutions. The Report is the first milestone for the Framework and is the result of months of incredible work and leadership from team at Possibility Seeds – with the support of the Department for Women and Gender Equality and an Advisory Committee, established as part of the Government of Canada’s 2018 budget commitment to address gender-based violence on campuses across the country. OUSA has been fortunate to sit on the Advisory Committee throughout this project, allowing us to ensure the voices of our membership have been included and used to inform the Framework.
This team has been working since January 2019, conducting consultations with a wide range of stakeholders who have been doing this work for decades, to uncover key challenges, opportunities, and needs in the fight to end gender-based violence on campus. They engaged with over 300 participants and more than 60 post-secondary institutions to put together a report that outlines promising practices, key policy areas, and prevention plans; this will provide a framework for institutions across the country to better address gender-based violence on their campuses.
I joined the Advisory Committee in March, taking over for former OUSA Research & Policy Analyst, Martyna Siekanowicz. This was right as the Listening & Learning sessions were wrapping up and the Report was being drafted, and it was energizing to see how much community engagement was part of the Framework development. I was especially hopeful witnessing how student voices were being listened to and included throughout the process.
The release of the Report came at the same time as Minister for Women and Gender Equality, Maryam Monsef, announced $1.5 million over two years to support post-secondary institutions in their efforts to address gender-based violence. I was fortunate to be part of this announcement, sitting on a panel with a group of fierce and brilliant advocates for students and gender justice. Minister Monsef took time to hear from each of us, asking us pointed questions about the impact of the Report moving forward.
Minister Monsef, knowing OUSA’s role as a voice for students, asked about how the Framework could address the needs of students. At first glance, this is a very simple question. The Framework is intended to support those impacted by gender-based violence, and, in this way, will help students feel safer, more supported, and heard.
But I also believe that the Report can address students’ needs in two other ways. First, the Report elevates students’ voices. From the beginning, students have been included in this project as important stakeholders, and their concerns, challenges, needs, and experiences are integral to the recommendations in the Report. Second, the Report gives student advocates a tool to continue to address gender-based violence on their campuses and in their communities.
One of my biggest frustrations as a student was how difficult it was to be heard and supported in this work. There was also uncertainty about whether we were acting in the best way possible to make our campus safer. The Framework not only gives students a platform to be heard and demonstrates the support they have, but also offers a guide for promising practices from across the country. The work being done for the Framework also connects students with others throughout Canada, building communities of practice where students can learn from and support one another.
The Report is therefore a necessary guide for how OUSA moves forward with our advocacy and policy development on this issue. Based entirely on evidence and the experiences and voices of survivors, those doing the work, and other stakeholders, the Report tells us what the concerns and challenges are and offers recommendations for bringing federal and provincial governments together with institutions and stakeholders to address this problem. It is an important policy and advocacy tool for everyone to engage with, and it will support us in strengthening our own Sexual Violence Prevention & Response policy, a file that continues to be one of OUSA’s priorities.
There is much work to be done moving forward, and I am proud to say that OUSA will continue to be part of this work as we move into the next stage of the Framework (stay tuned!). I encourage you to visit the Courage to Act website to learn more about the work that’s being done and to read the full Report.
Before signing off, I want to express my sincere gratitude to those leading this project, including Farrah Khan and C. J. Rowe, who have been inspirational throughout this process. I also want to thank the other members of the Possibility Seeds team, the Advisory Committee, and the Department of Women and Gender Equality. And I particularly want to thank every student, survivor, advocate, ally, supporter, and participant who contributed to this work, whether as part of the Listening & Learning Sessions, in the Framework development, or in the decades of struggle that led us to where we are now. For those who are moving forward with us, I leave you with the words of Possibility Seeds:
“It will take a great courage to act. The ways in which we act may look different for each of us. This is the important work that awaits all of us. Working together, this change is possible. Let’s start here.”
There’s a lot going on with post-secondary education in the province, and students face a range of issues beyond the classroom. But students also have solutions – recommendations that will bring us closer to accessible, affordable, accountable, and high-quality education for all. That’s why each month we’re highlighting key issues and priorities for students in Ontario with this blog series based on OUSA’s priorities and policy library.