Sexual Harassment Awareness Week

Over the past year, the very fabric of our society has changed. We have witnessed the “fall” of public figures, from film moguls to party leaders to celebrity chefs, and the disgrace of individuals after multiple allegations of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and sexual violence. Women in all professions are speaking out about the harassment we face in the workplace. President Harvey Bischof mentioned the #MeToo movement in his opening remarks at AMPA 2018 and called for men in OSSTF/FEESO to continue the work of making our spaces truly safe, and truly equal. “Time’s Up,” or so we have been told.

The entitlement men feel towards women’s bodies is dangerous, and toxic—it starts with sexual harassment, but as we have seen, can end in death. Sexual Harassment Awareness Week, first observed by the government of Ontario in 2007, provides an opportunity for educators, leaders and employers to continue to shift the conversation around sexual harassment, to create environments where people feel safe and supported, to build an understanding of why harassment is harmful, and to start a meaningful dialogue about what we can do to stop it. We can use the Health and Physical Education curriculum in our classrooms to facilitate discussions about consent and healthy relationships. We can book OSSTF/FEESO workshops like Still Not Laughing for our PD Days, and engage with material from our partners like the White Ribbon “Draw the Line” campaign. We can intervene when we hear jokes or see interactions that don’t look safe. We can turn around when we hear a student use a derogatory term to address a female friend.

Earlier this year at AMPA 2018, the Status of Women Committee successfully moved a motion to create a new OSSTF/FEESO workshop on Bystander Intervention. The reality is that sexual harassment includes behaviours that have been normalized in our culture for far too long—from cat calls to wolf whistles to casual jokes to pop songs—and now is the time for us all to stand up against it. AMPA also passed a policy motion which says that OSSTF/FEESO supports a “culture of consent.” What this looks like will continue to take shape as our union matures, but we can hope that it will mean every member will take responsibility for ensuring that our spaces remain safe and equal.

About Lauren Simmons
Lauren Simmons is a teacher in District 12, Toronto and is the chair of the Provincial Status of Women Committee.

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