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The Link Between Misogyny and Murder

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There is a direct link between mass murders and misogyny. We write about it all the time when we hear of gun violence in the United States. The link is hard to ignore when you consider that a grand majority of mass murderers are men and most mass shooters in the U.S. between 2009 and 2016 had a history of domestic violence, according to the gun safety advocacy group, Everytown for Gun Safety. The link is undeniable when men explicitly blame women and feminism for their violence, as Alek Minassian did on social media prior to his violent rampage in North Toronto on Monday.

It’s only been a few days since the horrific event, when Minassian plowed through a busy pedestrian sidewalk, wreaking havoc on a beautiful spring day. And there is still so much we don’t know. But we do know that Minassian killed 10 innocent people and injured 15 others — most of whom were women. And just moments before he committed this heinous crime, Facebook confirms he posted on the social network about an “incel rebellion,” referring to Elliott Rodger, a man who went on a killing spree in Isla Vista, California in 2014, just after posting a video online about being motivated to kill by his hatred of women. Incel, by the way, means involuntarily celibate. It’s a term adopted by men who feel spurned and blame women for not giving them the sexual attention they feel they deserve and any other problems they may identify in their lives.

With the details around Monday’s massacre still so murky, one thing is very clear. Misogyny kills. Toxic masculinity leads men to horrific acts of violence. It’s not just one, isolated incident that leads to this conclusion. Time and again, we see a common thread between men who kill — they hold extremely patriarchal beliefs, they have a strong sense of entitlement, especially when it comes to women, and they blame women for their misfortune in life.

Upon learning of the potential motives of Minassian, it was impossible not to recall the massacre at École Polytechnique in Montreal in 1989 when Twenty-five-year-old Marc Lépine specifically targeted female students, killing 14. He said he was fighting feminism for ruining his life. In a society that socializes men to refrain from addressing their emotions in healthy ways, outward acts of aggression occur instead. And while we may not see the same number of mass murders here in Canada that our friends south of the border do (thank you gun control), there is nevertheless a trail of destruction behind men who have internalized toxic beliefs.

Every 6 days, a woman is killed by her intimate partner in Canada. That means that so far this year, approximately 20 women have died as a result of just one form of violence against women. We need to look at violence against women holistically. Detaching events like Monday’s van attack from intimate partner violence and other forms of gender-based violence makes it impossible to examine the big picture and the many intersecting ways that sexism puts women’s lives at risk every day. Violence against women is an epidemic and it’s completely unacceptable.

In response to the Alek Minassian story and in trying to make sense of the tragedy, there has been mention of mental illness as a possible cause. And while it’s important to assess mental health when a violent crime is committed, it’s also important to recognize that mental illness is not generally the motive for an attack. Mental illness is a broad term that refers to a spectrum of disorders, so you can’t simply point to mental health as a cause of violence. Furthermore, studies show that women actually experience mental illness at rates 20%-40% higher than men. So if that’s the case, why aren’t mass killers predominantly women, not men?

Rather than looking high and low for ways to explain senseless murders committed by men, perhaps the media, law enforcement, and politicians should acknowledge what’s right before them. Worldwide, toxic masculinity leads to violence against women in many different forms. There is a range of ways that misogyny and its sense of entitlement results in the psychological destruction and the deaths of far too many women: from street harassment to intimate partner violence to ‘apparently random’ mass murder. The sooner we open our eyes to the connection between toxic masculinity and murder (whether it’s mass murder or not), the sooner we will be able to start finding ways to prevent violence motivated by misogyny.

45 Years & Volunteers!

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This is a very momentous time for Interval House. Not only is it the middle of National Volunteer Week, it is also our Birthday month! Perhaps you’ve seen our posters up in the TTC this month, marking our 45th. How appropriate it is for these two occasions to collide, considering the important role volunteering has played in Interval House’s history.

In 1973, Interval House was founded by a group of determined feminists who saw a gap in services available to women and set forth to fill that gap. They started out as a collective, volunteering their time to open the first centre for women survivors of partner abuse and their children. Initially a drop-in centre, Interval House soon became a full-service shelter when the founders realized many women did not want to go home to their abusive partners at the end of the day. Programs and services were then designed specifically to help survivors of intimate partner violence get back on their feet and forge ahead into a future free from abuse for themselves and their children. If it weren’t for the giving spirit of these impassioned volunteers, Interval House would not exist today.

Over the years, Interval House has helped more than 3,000 families rebuild their lives. Through counselling, workshops, group activities, family outings, job training, life skills training, housing and resettlement services and so much more, Interval House continues to be dedicated to guiding women and children into brighter days. Because sadly, intimate partner violence is still a problem that so many women face — part of a complex system of gender-based violence that feminists and allies in the quest for gender equity continue to untangle today.

What also continues today is the important role volunteers play in carrying out our important mission. We are so grateful for those that give of their time to make a difference to so many women and children — those who keep our boutiques neat and up-to-date so that women can pick out casual and professional clothing options as they’re establishing a new normal; the amazing corporate groups that come in and cook meals for the families, giving the women a night off; the generous supporters  that raise money for our programs with third party events; the groups that come in to decorate and brighten the space for the holidays; the families and companies that run drives to collect items like toiletries and diapers that we always need in the shelter; the cheerful folks that help out at our events for residents and clients, bringing so much energy with them; and of course, the Board of Directors, always working hard to keep Interval House on track so that we’re keeping up with the needs of those we serve.

Yes, volunteers are part of the very fabric of Interval House and we wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for them. Our work is bolstered by those that stand behind us and show that ending the cycle of violence against women is important to them too. We hope you, like our volunteers, will help us make a wish as we blow out our birthday candles this month. That wish is to put an end to intimate partner violence. For good!

Interval House & Link Toronto are Partners in Pet Safety

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After several months of careful planning, Interval House is excited to announce our partnership with Link Toronto’s SafePet program. This program will match women survivors of abuse seeking emergency shelter with foster homes for their beloved pets for the duration of their stay at the shelter.

When women and children decide to flee to a shelter, we know that the concern for their family pets is often a major factor in the decision to leave an abusive partner. Often, an abuser will threaten the animal’s life as a form of control. Knowing that she can’t bring her pet to a shelter, a woman may decide to stay with her abuser if she believes leaving could harm her animal in any way.

In an effort to remove this major barrier to seeking safety, the SafePet program was started. Now a woman can bring a pet to SafePet partner veterinarians, who will ensure the animal is well taken care of in approved foster homes. Then she can safely make her way to an emergency shelter, with peace of mind in knowing her pets will be happy, healthy, safe, and loved for as long as it takes for her to get back on her feet.

The SafePet program was designed with the safety and anonymity of survivors in mind. Survivors can access the program as part of Interval House’s regular admission and assessment process. Partner veterinarians and foster caregivers are also kept confidential, to prevent abusers tracking down their pets and/or victims.

We are proud to provide this service to women and children fleeing abuse. Survivors can focus on healing and regaining their independence with their pets housed and fed away from any possibility of abuse. The SafePet program gives Interval House the opportunity to help even more families — women, children, and now, their pets!

Nourishing Women in Need

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For Pam Pridham, food is more than just fuel. The owner of Toronto’s DISH café and cooking studio fervently believes food is love, sharing, giving, conversation and nourishment for both body and soul.

That’s why Pam started a program at DISH called Pay It Forward. Corporate groups come to DISH and work together to make delicious meals that are then delivered to the families at Interval House, giving the women a much appreciated night off from cooking.

“I love feeding people,” Pam says. “It’s important with my family, it’s important with my friends. I love the opportunity to nurture people in need.”

Pam still remembers the first time she delivered a meal to Interval House. “I get goose bumps just thinking about it!” she says. “It was just so exciting to know I was helping these women and their families. What Interval House does for women is just remarkable.”

Even though she’s a busy businesswoman, Pam always finds time to deliver the food herself. “I want to be there. I want to see the women’s faces. And I love seeing the employees at Interval House. It’s not an easy job and I think everyone should be appreciative of what they do.”

Pam believes everyone should do whatever they can to give back. “Giving is a wonderful thing. Whether it’s financially or a donation of time, you’ll receive so much warmth and love in return.”

Thank you so much for giving to Interval House. Your support gives sustenance to women survivors of intimate partner violence and their children.

Healing Through Art

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Many women come to Interval House so wounded and traumatized they can’t even describe it. They’re not ready or able to talk about their experiences. They don’t want to relive their trauma by recounting it to a counsellor. Sometimes, they’ve been living with abuse for so long they don’t even completely recognize it.

That’s where Brittney comes in. She’s a Women’s Counsellor/Advocate at Interval House, and she specializes in art therapy. Part of her job is to harness the power of art to give survivors of intimate partner violence the opportunity to heal.

“At some point, most of the women who come to us have felt numb, angry, defeated, or like they’ve lost hope,” Brittney says. “And it’s hard for them to put that into words. Art gives them the chance to express their feelings before they are able to articulate them. When women don’t have the words, they are able to express themselves through art way more than if we were to just talk in a counselling session.”

Brittney describes one example of art therapy she’s found incredibly successful. “We ask the women to draw their faces, divided in half. One half is how they feel and the other half is what they’re expressing to the world. Or it could be their past and their future. It’s incredibly insightful for us counsellors. It’s like a window into feelings they haven’t been able to tell us in words.”

Art also transcends cultural, language and socioeconomic barriers. It gives every woman a voice and a way to express how she is feeling on the inside.

In Brittney’s experience, art therapy is one of the most effective ways to help women heal from their trauma. “Once they’ve put their feelings out there through art, then the words come,” she says. “It’s a huge part of self-care; a release of the emotions they’re feeling on the inside. Once you start to peel back the onion and let go of the trauma and stress, you become more healthy as an individual and can see things more clearly.”

Your gifts help support the art therapy program that is giving an alternative form of expression and healing to women survivors of abuse. Thank you!

The Greens’ Full Circle Support of Interval House

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It is with great appreciation that we announce a most generous gift to Interval House, made by three Toronto sisters: Karen, Donna and Lindy Green. Their combined contribution serves to retire the remaining mortgage held by Interval House, freeing more of our resources to provide essential programming for women survivors of intimate partner violence, and their children.

This recent donation continues the Greens’ legacy with Interval House. Supporting women’s issues is of particular importance for the sisters and their children. As well, the family supported the 2003 Capital Campaign, helping us to purchase the current shelter, providing a home for up to 30 women and children at a time. Their generosity has touched many lives and helped families heal, grow, and live free of violence.

A Lifetime of Giving

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When Mahen Thacker was a young boy growing up in India, his mother taught him a very valuable lesson: the importance of giving to others.

“My father used to give her money for household expenses, and she would give some to me and say ‘Go do some charity work,’” Mahen explains.

And it wasn’t just her children she was teaching. “Everybody respected her and they would sit on our verandah and ask for her advice. She would tell them, ‘There are many people who are more disadvantaged, and if we can help them, we should.’”

Mahen’s mother taught him to give at least 10% of his income to charity. It’s a lesson he’s never forgotten.

Now a retired engineer living in Toronto, Mahen is an active philanthropist and an Interval House donor. Even though he has no personal connection with women and children fleeing intimate partner violence, he strongly believes in supporting women through the work of Interval House. He’s even left a gift for Interval House in his Will, and has passed his mother’s lesson about giving generously down to his own children.

“Interval House gives women confidence and helps them get an apartment and a job,” he says. “It’s important to support women and give them these opportunities. And they will pass their strength and courage on to their children.”

Mahen is living proof you don’t need a personal connection to a cause to help people in need. All you need is empathy and the desire to do good and make a lasting difference.

Whatever your motivation for supporting Interval House, thank you for helping women and children live lives free of violence.

Empowering Li to Turn a Nightmare Into a Dream

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When Li first immigrated to Canada, She was filled with optimism and hope for the life she was pursuing in a promising new country. She came here for love—to be with her husband in joy and prosperity. But she quickly learned that she was not getting the life she signed up for.

Instead of feeling happy and cared for, Li was isolated, abused, and living in secrecy. She and her husband lived in a small town where she was unable to communicate with the English-speaking community. She seldom got a chance to interact with others at all as her husband kept her secluded in their home. He wanted to keep his reputation untarnished by the truth of how he’d been treating his new wife. At home, Li was lonely and caught up in mind-spinning arguments with her husband over the smallest of things. She discovered that the man who was supposed to support her and help her achieve success in Canada had no intention of doing so.

Li had no family or friends nearby, nor did she have a job or hobby to connect her with others. She began looking desperately for a way out and that’s when she discovered Interval House. At her first opportunity, Li made her escape, leaving behind her life of sadness and shame.

At the shelter, Li found a community of people who would stand in as her family, her friends, her support network. With the full backing of the Interval House team, Li began to heal from the emotional trauma she endured while living with her husband’s threats and broken promises. She learned that none of it was her fault and that no one ever deserves to be abused. The encouragement she was given helped her truly start over.

The counsellors at Interval House helped Li access English classes to improve her communication skills and job prospects in Canada. And with those skills, she is now giving back by providing volunteer translation services to newcomers that need help establishing themselves in their communities.

The counsellors helped Li find housing and now she has a safe place to live, happily. “I got so much help, I couldn’t have imagined it,” Li said. “And even now, I still think I live in a great dream.”

Now a certified nutritionist, Li is making it her life mission to help others through her work.  She was inspired by the support she received at Interval House and wants to pay it forward to give others a chance at a better life too.

Stories like Li’s illustrate the significant toll that abuse takes on the lives of innocent people.  Li has touched so many lives in a positive way since finding her way to safety and self-sufficiency.

Imagine the loss it would have been had she never freed herself from a life of violence and isolation. Her life would have been a shell of what it is now. Li would have lived only to serve her abusive husband’s ends and would have lost all self-confidence and determination. Living that life, she never would have had the chance to help others through her translation work and her nutrition counselling. Thankfully, Li escaped the nightmare she was in and came to Interval House, where she was encouraged to achieve everything she wanted to.

Sadly there are many women who have not yet escaped their lives of violence and it’s up to all of us to reach them, to show them they can have better lives, and to boost them up so that they can prosper. There is no peace as long as there is violence against women and girls. There is no justice as long as abusers go unchallenged. And when a woman’s agency is taken from her, it impacts the entire community around her. We are all connected, and we all have a role in ending gender-based violence for a better tomorrow.

If we all do away with apathy and realize that there are ways—big and small—in which we can all help, we’ll be so much closer to living in a harmonious world that honours the equality of all. In our communities, we must watch out for sexist and misogynistic behaviour and educate others about the micro-aggressions they may be committing that contribute to a culture permissive of violence against women. We can begin educating people about consent and respecting boundaries at a young age so that the old adage that “no means yes” can really be a trope of the past. We can stop victim-blaming and slut-shaming when women are assaulted or abused and we can spread the understanding that nothing a woman does or wears renders her deserving of any kind of abuse. We can endorse artists and businesses that empower women and divest from those that don’t. We can support organizations that provide services that help women by donating, volunteering and spreading the word. We can make more spaces welcoming to women, girls, LGBTQ+ folks, people of colour, people with disabilities, and people living in poverty so that their voices are always included, never shut out.

If a woman like Li has the power to rebuild her life from scratch, imagine the power you have to help make stories like Li’s a thing of the past.

Marjan’s Story—Escaping Abuse & Ending the Cycle of Violence

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The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence is underway to put a spotlight on the global issue of violence against women (VAW). VAW  takes many forms—intimate partner violence, sexual assault, sexual harassment, gender-based discrimination, human trafficking and so much more. These 16 days, spanning from the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women on November 25 to Human Rights Day on December 10, brings the issue of VAW born of a patriarchal society to the forefront, with stats and statements dominating every social media feed. It’s good to see  the issue is getting attention and to witness men making pledges to do their part to end the pattern. But the true impact of VAW can’t be conveyed through stats and governmental announcements.

The devastation and the subsequent work it takes for women to rebuild their lives after violence can only come close to being expressed through true stories of what women have been through. That’s why we want to take this opportunity to share a story of one brave woman who turned to Interval House when she found herself in a very dark situation.

Marjan’s partner wanted to take her on vacation to Mexico. It would be an amorous getaway—especially if they left the kids behind. Marjan thought a vacation would be refreshing and that the kids could use one too! While someone in a healthy marriage might think of leaving the kids behind as romantic, Marjan saw it as a red flag. Her partner had been abusive and threatening in the past and she didn’t want to be anywhere without her dear children close by.

So they all flew to Mexico together and the vacation was going well. They were in a picturesque place having fun in the sun as a family. Then one night, when Marjan emerged from the shower after a wonderful beach day, her husband’s demeanour changed from cheerful and relaxed to irrationally irate. He attacked. With great force, he began grabbing, scratching and hitting Marjan. He struck her with items he found in the room as she tried desperately to defend herself. All the while, the couple’s young children were witnessing the horrible assault. It was clear to Marjan that she was not intended to survive this round of abuse.

Marjan had been brutalized by this man before. She had even stayed at a domestic violence shelter once. While she ultimately chose to return to her abuser, she gained valuable skills in the time she spent there. She learned about safety planning, the importance of keeping her ID and travel documents safe and reachable, and she learned about identifying signs of escalating danger. She had also gotten into the habit of sharing her whereabouts with loved ones at all times, especially when going anywhere with her husband.

Marjan entered fight or flight mode, bolstered by what she had learned from her past experience. She managed to gather enough strength to flee to a nearby suite for help. The local police were called and Marjan’s husband was arrested and restrained. She was able to get tickets to return early from her trip with her children and when she arrived in Canada, police met her and escorted her to safety at Interval House. Because the crime committed happened in Mexico, the Canadian authorities had no grounds to lay charges against Marjan’s husband. It’s outrageous and devastating that her husband got away with such a brutal assault and a pattern of abuse.

Once Marjan’s immediate medical needs were taken care of, there was much to deal with back at the shelter. Having arrived from her holiday in Mexico, all Marjan and her kids had with them were summer clothes. Our staff helped them get the clothes and essentials they needed. Then, the family was able to get counselling to address the trauma they had experienced and begin to heal their emotional and physical wounds. Our counsellors also helped Marjan access legal aid and begin the long custody process. Interval House Children’s Counsellors also helped to get school support for one of her children.

With the care they received at Interval House, Marjan and her children started to recover from their painful experiences and after just a couple of months, they were ready to move on and begin their lives again without violence and intimidation. Marjan felt that this experience was the wakeup call she needed and is confident that she will never fall into the pattern of abuse again. The family is now living with a friend and working on re-establishing themselves and becoming self-sufficient.

Violence against women is so pervasive in our global culture. It is a culture that still treats women like second class citizens—second to men. We continue to live in a time when husbands think they have the right to inflict force on their wives and when strangers think that any women’s body is theirs to comment on or make a pass at. That’s why the 16 Days of Activism is so important to get us talking about how we can change the status quo and move more rapidly toward gender equality and respect for all. By welcoming women and children escaping violence and providing holistic support, Interval House works hard to stop the cycle of violence every day. Will you?

Do you Think Women Deserve Better? Me Too!

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The #metoo campaign, originally created by activist Tarana Burke in 2007, picked up steam this week when Alyssa Milano urged women to use the hashtag in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein accusations that have rocked Hollywood. The campaign has always been meant to unite survivors of sexual harassment and sexual assault, providing them with  a platform to share their experiences or simply stand in solidarity with the sea of women who have had to deal with these things in their lives—arguably every woman in the world.

But as social media was flooded with me toos and harrowing stories of abuse and survival, the campaign was met with a mixed reception.  While many applauded it for exposing how prevalent an issue sexual violence is, others lamented the fact that women have been talking about this forever and yet it takes a social media campaign of this magnitude for them to be believed. And while many saw the viral posts as having the potential to cause men to examine their own behaviour and microagressions, others wondered, why is the onus once again on the victims to do that emotional labour? Where are the men holding their friends, their brothers, their kids accountable for their bad behaviour towards women?

Interval House stands by the #metoo campaign and encourages survivors to engage with outlets and communities that assist in their healing. We see the power of solidarity and group empathy every day in our women’s groups. But we can see why this campaign may feel like another example of how society burdens women with the responsibility for their own general safety when what is really needed is for everyone, especially men, to stand up to misogyny and dismantle rape culture.

At Interval House, we believe survivors. We know that when a survivor comes forward, she is telling the truth and we do not think a woman owes anyone her story in order to be believed. But out in the world, when a woman is sexually assaulted, we still see her questioned and scrutinized far more than her attacker. What was she wearing? Was she alone? Why was she there? Was she drinking? Was she flirting? Was she known to be promiscuous?

What we don’t hear are the questions about the accused—questions we can surmise the answers to. Has he done this before? How many times? Did his friends encourage him? Why didn’t he take no for an answer? Would he do it again?

Victim blaming is so par for the course that we still see it in mainstream news stories about violence against women and it is even ingrained in the legal process victims must go through for a shot at justice. That is, if they decide to take legal action at all (and we know that for myriad reasons, many don’t). Newspapers are quick to throw women like Italian actress and director Asia Argento (and Harvey Weinstein accuser) under the bus for not being perfect angels—insinuating, of course, that they were “asking for it”. The media also perpetuates common, harmful misconceptions such as the notion that a woman can’t claim rape if she’s had consensual relations (sexual or otherwise) with the attacker prior to or after an assault. In case there’s any confusion at this point, it’s important to stress that someone’s consent must be given each time an act involving them takes place. Rape can most certainly occur within the context of an otherwise consensual relationship such as friendship or marriage.

Meanwhile, news outlets scramble to find redeeming qualities about accused abusers and rapists. Remember convicted rapist Brock Turner, who the media preferred to see as a star swimmer? How about Dr. Mohammed Shamji? He abused his wife and fellow doctor Elana Fric-Shamji for years before killing her in 2016 but the headlines preferred the title neurosurgeon to accused murderer.

Yes, men are backed up and excuses are made for them when they commit gender-based crimes and women are told to adjust to misogynistic rape culture or risk being the next victim. When we should be seeing zero tolerance for jokes about rape and violence against women as well as tougher sentences for sexual assailants and serial abusers, what we are seeing instead is women being told to dress modestly and consider investing in the emerging rape prevention products on the market today—many of which are designed by men.

Just take a look at this anti-rape underwear line that garnered huge support on their Indiegogo campaign. “We wanted to provide a product that would make women and girls feel safer when out on a first date or a night of clubbing, taking an evening run, travelling in another country, or in any other potentially risky situations,” a spokesperson for the line says in a promotional video. The fact that women have to see any of these run-of-the-mill situations as potentially risky is a huge problem and it’s not one that a modern chastity belt will solve. You know what would make women feel safer out in the world, simply existing? Knowing that men convicted of sex crimes and aggravated assaults against women were given serious sentences, not just slaps on the wrists, and being able to trust that men on the street would not approach them with unsolicited cat-calling and advances.

Undercover Colours made a big splash in 2014 with their nail polish that can detect traces of common date rape drugs. Developed by four men who were engineering students at the time, the nail polish changes colour if a painted finger is dipped in a tainted drink. The men tout the product as part of the solution to campus sexual assault—something experienced by one in six women, according to their website. They do go on to acknowledge that ending sexual assault altogether is the only real solution but it’s a tough pill to swallow that before we could ever see a day when sexual assault and harassment became as socially unacceptable as other violent crimes, we had to see one when rape-prevention products became a blue ocean market, targeting the pocketbooks of women, who already have lower financial security than their male counterparts.  And believe me, it is a market. These are just two examples from a plethora of apps, garments, and devices sold to women to prevent their own assaults.

So, the #metoo campaign is great for fostering solidarity and community among women who have been victimized. And it’s good to see that women aren’t as isolated as they once were because sexual assault and intimate partner violence were (and continue to be) seen as taboo topics. But the campaign won’t effect change amongst men, who have long known but easily ignored the fact that women fear for their lives every day, each time they leave the house. And we want to acknowledge here that the fear can be even more pronounced for gender non-conforming folks.

What is needed is for men to stand up, start their own campaign, own up to past wrongs and pledge to do better. What is needed is for men to unravel the toxic masculinity and patriarchal entitlement that tells them they have a right to women’s bodies. What is needed is for men to call each other out when they contribute to sexist dialogue and behaviour. What is needed is for education about consent and respect towards people of all genders to start at a young age so that boys grow up understanding that being a decent human being means extending courtesy and kindness to everyone. What is needed is for the legal system to punish offenders harshly for trespassing on women’s bodies and minds, like they are property to be claimed! And those are just a few examples of how men could help mitigate violence against women.

Holding women responsible for their own protection fails to address the systemic disease of misogyny and rape culture that is hurting all of us. Because without justice, there can be no peace and we have a long way to go before women are afforded the justice they deserve.

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