Changing Social Norms in 2015

In 2015, we can and will move forward on changing social norms to eliminate domestic abuse.

The issues of abuse and violence against women were never far from the headline news last year.  Media coverage of the kidnapping of girls in Nigeria and the actions of famous men   Ray Rice, Jian Ghomeshi, Bill Cosby and their organizations, the NFL, NHL and CBC continued to drive conversations about gender inequality and woman abuse in 2014.  The news was disturbing but the conversations and positive action that have been generated can help propel society forward.

With the issue front and centre, there’s never been a better time to push even harder for change of all kinds.  Coupled with gender inequality, there’s no doubt that tolerance for violent behavior is strongly influenced by long held social attitudes  such as mind your own business and what goes on in a home is private.  By changing  what we think of as ‘normal’ we can start by challenging our own thinking to establish new norms that recognize violence is everyone’s business and that we all have a role to play in creating safe and supportive communities. We know large social change is possible. Other long held attitudes and behaviours have been transformed such as a woman’s right to vote,the censure of drinking and driving and social acceptance of smoking to name a few.  In the same spirit of what is possible, we can work together to the eliminate gender inequality and violence against women.

Education is crucial to success.  Each of us can make an effort to learn more about the warning signs of abuse and the best steps we can take to make a difference.  Your small actions can make a big difference. And, there are new initiatives that are building bridges for change across society while promoting a new understanding among men, in particular.  These include HeForShe, a global solidarity movement for gender equality where men pledge to support the human rights of women.  In Canada, the growing Moose Hide Campaign was developed by a concerned man who wants to raise awareness among aboriginal men about domestic abuse and violence against women in his community.  Ontario has its own homegrown initiatives that support men who have been charged with domestic violence to rethink their lives and invest in themselves in programs such as Caring Dads and Kizhaay Anishinaabe Niin (I am a Kind Man). Research has shown that it is possible to engage most men who have been violent in making positive changes and in rejoining community as contributing members. 

Progressive laws and policies are also critical.  The World Health Organization recently noted that more governments around the world have begun to enact and implement laws against intimate partner violence.  Ontario was  the first province in Canada to enact legislation that protects workers from domestic violence. More jurisdictions are sure to follow.

Primarily because of the urgency of the issue and a lack of resources, efforts to address violence against women and children have so far focused primarily on providing services to survivors after violence has happened.  The World Health Organization describes violence against women as a global pandemic that requires comprehensive prevention. To shift social norms, we can  place a stronger emphasis on prevention by promoting gender equality and human rights as our social foundation. We need to engage men who are violent in changing their behaviour. We need to make public places and homes safer for women and girls, work to address economic equality and security and increase women’s participation in public life and politics. These are all pieces of the same large project of social change.

There is great reason for hope.  We see progress and there is still a great deal of work to be done.  By personally committing to speak up when we see or hear examples of gender bias and abuse, men and women can work together to shift norms that perpetuate violence against women. We all have a role to play.