The Conestoga community gathered virtually on March 5 to celebrate International Women's Day (IWD) with a panel discussion focused on community responses to intimate partner violence.
Recognized globally, IWD celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women, and marks a call-to-action for accelerating gender parity. Conversations this year focused on forging an inclusive world by choosing to challenge inequality, call out bias and question stereotypes.
A student-led committee hosted the interactive panel with support from Student Engagement in an effort to raise awareness and engage in collective action. Panellists Jessica Almeida from Women's Crisis Services of Waterloo Region, Amanda Levine at Shelter Movers Waterloo Region, and Conestoga's sexual and gender-based violence prevention and response coordinator Christine Glogovic shared their thoughts on fostering safe and inclusive communities, challenging misconceptions and shifting narratives concerning intimate partner violence.
"If we listen to the language and pay attention to the responsibility that's put on women in abusive relationships, changing the narrative is a small step," said Glogovic. "Instead of 'why doesn't she just leave?' we should be asking 'why doesn't he just stop hitting her?' Being intentional in how we view responsibility is a societal change that could assist in breaking down barriers for women who feel like it's their fault or that they have some sort of responsibility in changing someone."
Intimate partner violence and abuse affect one in three women globally. In Canada, a woman is killed by an intimate partner every six days. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to an increase in women's exposure to abusive partners and risk factors while limiting their access to help and safety.
"Everyone is stressed and at home," said Almeida. "One of the biggest challenges during lockdown was that it wasn't safe for women to call or leave."
Almeida explained that it's difficult for women experiencing abuse to securely reach out for help without the added impacts of COVID-19. Lockdown, quarantine and self-isolation mean victims are exposed to increased violence from their abusers, it is more difficult to access support and services without conflict, and there are fewer opportunities for others to see the signs of violence and intervene.
In acknowledgement of IWD, the student committee, in partnership with Student Engagement and Conestoga's Security Services, donated $1,500 to both Women's Crisis Services of Waterloo Region and Shelter Movers Waterloo Region to help continue the support they offer to the community.
Conestoga's Sexual and Gender-based Violence Prevention & Response Office provides centralized support to the college community through preventative programming and trauma-informed response.
The Student Engagement team meets the needs of students through innovative programming designed to achieve goals with learning outcomes-based initiatives, including the Co-Curricular Record, Orientation, the Respect Campaign, the Connect Leadership Workshop Series, and various student volunteer and committee opportunities.