By Ryan King
Community News Reporter
PORT AUX BASQUES – On Feb. 16, the Minister Responsible for Women and Gender Equality, Pam Parsons, met with representatives from violence prevention organizations in Newfoundland and Labrador to sign a proclamation that acknowledged February as Violence Prevention Month. The provincial government will be working closely with these organizations to address the systemic problem of violence in the province rooted in inequality.
“Violence prevention is everyone’s responsibility,” stated Parsons.
In Port aux Basques, the Gateway Women’s Centre deals with issues related to community violence.
Executive Director Megan Bateman said that Pink Shirt Day, on Feb. 23 supports anti-bullying initiatives for all ages in all situations.
“Pink Shirt Day started as a stand against homophobic bullying in 2007 in Canada, when a student at a high school was harassed for wearing a pink t-shirt,” stated Bateman. “Two young men in at school witnessed this, bought pink shirts, and encouraged others to wear them in an act of solidarity with the bullied youth. It has evolved to include every type of bullying, but I do think it is important to continue to acknowledge the anti-homophobia roots of Pink Shirt Day, and the disproportionate levels of bullying and violence based on sexuality, gender, race, ability, income level, and other social factors that persists today.”
To observe of Pink Shirt Day, Bateman and the Gateway Centre will be putting off a Polar Dip fundraiser at Grand Bay West Beach. The dip was scheduled for Feb. 23 as well, but had to be postponed because of weather conditions.
“This is a relevant fundraiser, because taking a dip in the freezing cold water causes similar physical responses to when someone is experiencing bullying; for example, the stinging sensation, the increased breathing and heart rate that comes with anxiety, and so on. While these effects last only a short time after you get out of the water, it is important to remember that the physical, emotional, and psychological impacts of bullying are long-lasting.”
People looking to participate can still volunteer solicit sponsors for their Polar Dip or come to watch and make a donation.
“If someone wants to do the polar dip, they should give us a call at 695-7505 or send us a message on our Facebook page (Gateway Status of Women Council). The funds raised (goal of $1,500) will help with our programs for both adults and children/youth.”
The Centre will keep participants up to date for the rescheduled Polar Dip. Those who have already raised funds are welcome to bring them to the Centre or can wait for the event itself. The Centre also made children’s book bags in honour of Violence Prevention Month, which were distributed for free to families.
“The book given was titled ‘Let’s Talk About Body Boundaries, Consent and Respect: Teach children about body ownership, respect, feelings, choices and recognizing bullying behaviors.’ This is an initiative we’d like to continue with different resources, for example: learning about empathy, 2SLGBTQ+ identities and families, expressing healthy emotions, racial diversity, inspiring women who’ve changed the world, and beyond. Helping to educate children on healthy relationships with others, as well as inclusion and celebrating personal differences, is critical to violence prevention. Similarly, we do have a lending library of resources as well that we continue to build on.”
The Centre also has educational and supportive programs which teach essential coping and healing skills for those who have experienced gender-based violence.
“We also provide resources and referrals, assistance in navigating systems (e.g., legal aid, family justice), emotional support, employment counselling, and more. All of these programs and services have their own unique ways of directly or indirectly lessening the impacts of violence on our communities. For example, helping someone develop a resumé to gain employment may lead to increased financial independence for someone trying to escape violence where lack of income is a barrier. Every step matters. In summary, all of our programs revolve around empowering and uplifting our clients in ways that are essential to preventing gender-based violence and bullying.”
The organization also launched a program called ‘Women in Motion,’ with the most recent session held at the Bruce II swimming pool on Tuesday, Feb. 22. This healthy movement program provides all women with opportunities to get out and socialize with others in a safe and empowering environment.
During the pandemic, the rise in domestic violence (DV) has become a pressing issue. Bateman said that domestic violence had increased across most, if not all, communities, provinces, territories, and countries.
“This is largely due to the fact folks are isolated in their homes together in general, so people experiencing DV do not always have the respite that comes from going to work or being able to access safer public spaces. A reality is also that it can be unsafe to use the phone to call somewhere like a women’s centre or crisis line for help if you are isolated with an abuser who monitors your activity. Financial difficulties and increased levels of unemployment and poverty due to the pandemic have certainly caused a huge impact for those experiencing DV. For those who are unemployed or have no choice but to work remotely, they may be trapped with their abuser for 24 hours a day. Financial independence can be a huge barrier for people experiencing DV who want to leave their situation, as is access to safe and affordable housing. While we don’t have a specific statistic for the Southwest Coast region, I would say that we are not an exception to this global phenomenon. Anyone in our region experiencing violence is encouraged to reach out to us in any way that is safe for them.”