Toward a better understanding of harassment and gender-based violence

Broken, devastated, unable to sleep or eat, crying at the drop of a hat, hating myself, angry. These are comments from people who have faced gender-based violence and harassment. The now famous social media #MeToo, started originally in 2007 to let sex abuse survivors know that they are not alone, was used in 1.7 million tweets and twelve million Facebook posts and comments in a 24 hour period in October 2017. The catalyst was the avalanche of stories that began to come out of Hollywood, calling attention to the long-accepted pervasiveness of harassment and gender-based violence in the entertainment industry. With this momentum, victims and their allies were called to take firm action against men in positions of authority who were preying on those over whom they had power. The #MeToo movement proclaims that to stay silent when you witness gender-based violence is not only unacceptable, but is now seen by most as a form of complicity with the perpetrators.

Something is happening in society. An overwhelming number of women are standing up and voicing outrage toward perpetrators of harassment and gender violence. In those numbers there is mutual comfort and support for the victims, and momentum that has sustained the movement past the quick sound bite world of social media. Instead, we continue to see high profile consequences and a growing push to challenge complacency and confront the biases of patriarchal hierarchy. But this is just a beginning of what still must be done to bring about change—true change in our individual behaviours, in our ideas and belief systems, and in our laws—so that women are safe in their workplaces. We must continue to do this work so that the lasting legacy of these 2017 “silence breakers” is a world in which it does not require an extraordinary act of courage for a woman to raise the issue of harassment, because she knows she will be taken seriously and that proper supports will be in place.

OSSTF/FEESO is already responding to the issue of gender-based violence and has been in the process of developing a survey for early 2018. Participants will be asked to help us build on these conversations within our own workplaces and our organization. The purpose of our survey, as outlined in the 2017–2018 Annual Action Plan, is to gather data on the issue of workplace sexual violence, assault, and harassment.

The data collected may be used to develop a comprehensive strategy for leaders and members, and may also be used to create a plan to help OSSTF/FEESO keep members safer at work. Within our own organization, we hope that the survey results will also tell us what changes, if any, OSSTF/FEESO will need to make to ensure that our own functions and events are inclusive and safe for everyone.

The planned survey is part OSSTF/FEESO’s ongoing equity work. Building on the information gathered through past equity initiatives, such as the 2016 Member Participation Survey, the results of the gender-violence and harassment survey will help us to better understand and respond to issues that affect all of the Federation’s equity-seeking members.

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