International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women

Today is International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and in Canada November is Woman Abuse Month.  In Canada, we seem to be moving forward – internationally not so.  I am concerned about the United States.  Why?  The United States are seen as the forefront of women’s rights and, like it or not, they do influence us.  Why should I be concerned specifically?  Because I’ve just learned that they are one of only four United Nations countries that have not ratified CEDAW.  What is CEDAW?  Read on.

The Office of the High Commissioner of the United Nations Human Rights Office in their Convention of Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1979 issued an international treaty.  To date, 189 of the 193 United Nation states have agreed to be bound by its provisions.  Canada has both signed and ratified the treaty.  Shamefully, although President Jimmy Carter signed the treaty and sent it to the Senate for consent in 1980, it has not yet been ratified in the United States.  Apparently, although debated numerous times within the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, it has been blocked from going to the full Senate. The treaty is extensive and requires participants to report in every four years.  Its Article 5 includes, “…to modify the social and cultural patterns of conduct of men and women, with a view to achieving the elimination of prejudices and customary and all other practices which are based on the idea of the inferiority or the superiority of either of the sexes or on stereotyped roles for men and women.”

CEDAW addresses a wide spectrum of gender discrimination, including specific recommendations regarding violence against women.  In Canada, we have found that CEDAW has behaved like a watchdog.  Its recommendations are publicly posted on our government websites. 

So, why has the United States not ratified CEDAW?  One could surmise that it’s because some politicians are concerned that it insists upon fully shared responsibility by both sexes for child rearing and the right to reproductive choice.  Or, perhaps the U.S. just doesn’t like the fact that compliance includes reporting in every four years.

Baby It’s Cold Outside Controversy – Let It Go

By now you may have heard of the controversy over John Legend’s new version of ‘Baby It’s Cold Outside’.  You may not know, however, that last year CBC and other radio stations in Canada as well as some U.S. stations actually banned the original song citing the uproar over its interpretation as a precursor to date rape. Just a few weeks ago, they lifted the ban.

Apparently Mr. Legend said he was just having some fun and wanted to make a more current version.  Everybody has to have an opinion and there are quite a few that are offended that he’s taken a standard and changed it.  Oh my!

In the original by Frank Loesser, recorded by Dean Martin and many other artists, the woman deliberates if she should leave. The man is not only encouraging her to stay, but at times ignores her wishes: My mother will start to worry (beautiful what’s your hurry?) My father will be pacing the floor (listen to the fireplace roar) So really I’d better scurry (beautiful please don’t hurry) But maybe just a half a drink more (put some records on while I pour) The neighbors might think (baby, it’s bad out there) Say what’s in this drink? (no cabs to be had out there) I wish I knew how (your eyes are like starlight now) To break this spell (I’ll take your hat, your hair looks swell) I ought to say, no, no, no sir (mind if I move in closer?)

John Legend and Kelly Clarkson have recorded the new version by John Stephens and Natasha Rothwell. In it, while the woman is deliberating leaving, the man is supportive of her possible decision: My mom will start to worry (I’ll call the car and tell him to hurry) My daddy will be pacing the floor (wait, what are you still livin’ home for?) So, really, I’d better scurry (your driver, his name is Murray) But maybe just a half a drink more (oh, we’re both adults, so who’s keepin’ score) What will my friends think? (I think they should rejoice) If I have one more drink? (It’s your body and your choice) Ooh you really know how (your eyes are like starlight now) To cast a spell (one look at you and then I fell) I ought to say, “No, no, no, sir” (then you really ought to go, go, go)

I think we can all agree that what might have been acceptable in the past is not acceptable today. Back then women didn’t have the voice we do today. As art reflects life, many of the songs and movies from eras past portrayed women as subservient. Personally, I’m more concerned with how women characters where treated in older movies than I am with song lyrics. Does that mean we should ban those movies, cut scenes or remake them? No.

I applaud John Legend for bringing this song up to today’s standards. I hope the radio stations play the heck out of it. Now it’s a playful exchange reflecting banter between two adults depicting respect the man has for the woman’s interest and safety. Well done, John!

Why Do Women Stay? (Reblog)

If you have not been in an abusive relationship, you might wonder, “Why do women stay with abusive men?” Ten years ago abuse against women was not even on my radar. It was not something discussed or ever mentioned in my social circles. Now, I know not only does it exist, but it is a far greater problem than many people recognize.

The recent focus on women coming forward after being sexually harassed, especially in the workplace is so very important and long overdue.  Awareness of human trafficking is leading to an understanding that mistreatment of women can be more evil than many of us ever imagined. Of course these issues need addressing.  My concern is for some reason relationship abuse and domestic violence have been placed on the back burner.  I don’t understand this. Has society slumped back into thinking that women abused by their partners chose their situation and if they don’t like it they can leave?

I have heard, “Why didn’t you leave before?” and “He’s changed, so why won’t you go back?” and “Why can’t you forgive him?” Before I recognized that I was a victim of abuse, I would have asked the same questions. If you have not walked in our shoes; then you won’t really understand the effect of constantly being with a negative, critical and controlling person. The short answer:  A woman might not even realize that her partner is abusive, particularly if the abuse is mental and emotional rather than physical.

Everyone’s personality is a combination of positive and less favourable characteristics. When we fall in love we tend to see only the positive behaviours. I’m sure you’re familiar with the saying:  Love is blind. When we first meet people and enter into a dating situation, most of us put our best foot forward to try to make a good impression. So, during the first days, weeks and even months of a new relationship, we’re actually seeing the façade the other person wants us to see. (It sounds very contrived, but in fact many of us are not even aware we are doing this.) By the time some negative characteristics surface, often we’re already ‘sold’ on the person. We are, therefore, no longer objective. We consider the pros and cons. If we’ve already vested a lot in the relationship and decide the pros outweigh the cons; we continue the relationship. From that point on it’s human nature to see mostly the positive characteristics. Why? Because we’ve made the decision and we like to be right; we’re going to consciously, or unconsciously, seek and ‘collect evidence’ to prove ourselves right. In other words, once we make a decision, our brains look for patterns – ones that support that decision.

In some cases, abuse sneaks in and we don’t really acknowledge or even notice it at first. Then, at the first signs we make excuses. “Oh, he’s having a bad day” or “He’s under a lot of stress” or “He’s had too much to drink”. In my case, it was “He’s mentally ill, so it’s not his fault”. We convince ourselves it’s a minor issue compared to all of the wonderful qualities of the man we chose (remember, we want to prove ourselves right).

We also put bad behaviour into the category of ‘give and take’ in a relationship. We tend to see ourselves as putting up with the bad things on a scale of ‘pros and cons’. We think if the pros outweigh the cons, then the balance is good.

Last, but not least, we think we can ‘fix’ it. That’s what I thought. I believed that if I continued to accompany my ex-husband to his psychiatrist, if I made sure his environment was stress-free, if I made sure he had lots of exposure to his family, if I paid attention to him and fed into his ego; then surely he would get better. None of that worked. 

The answer, in my case (and I suspect I’m not alone in this), is that these pernicious behaviours crept into our relationship slowly – slowly because I was vested in my husband’s positive characteristics. He had many good qualities. He was outgoing, charismatic, intelligent, the life of the party, and was a wonderful family man. I loved his children and was so deeply entangled into the family, by the time I started to notice the negative characteristics in his personality I had decided overall the positive parts of his personality and the circumstances outweighed the negative. His negative characteristics were noticed and forgiven by the rest of his family. Sometimes, they even joked about them. When he didn’t display the negatives ones for a while, I believed he was changing or returning to the man I had loved. I was wrong. By the time the negative behaviours were more prevalent, 15 years into our relationship, I felt trapped.

The biggest regret I have is that for years I modelled ineffective weak behaviour to my granddaughters. I wanted them to look at me as a role model of a strong, independent woman. Instead, as children, they saw Nana succumb to their grandfather’s negative critical behaviour.  At least as teenagers, and now young adults, they have witnessed their grandmother draw the line, leave the abusive relationship and fight for what is right.

If you are an abused woman, please reach out and ask for help. At best, leave your abuser. At minimum put a safety plan in place. Stay safe.

The Colour of My Poppy is Red

Remembrance Day is important. It is intended for us to remember, respect and be thankful for everyone those whom war has affected. It is all inclusive: those who fought, those who lost their lives, those who lost loved ones.

Over the years, there have been some who have wanted to change the traditional red poppy to white for peace, black for persons with darker skin, purple for war animals. Most recently, in Canada, there has been controversy over a suggested rainbow poppy to recognize those of the LGBT community. The red poppy was never intended to be divisive.

While poppies do grow in other colours, the traditional red poppy comes from “In Flanders Fields”, a war poem written by Canadian physician Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae.

My poppy is red like the ones Lt. Col. John McCrae saw when he wrote his poem. I am sure he was referring to all those who died, not even thinking about the colour of their skin, their gender or sexual orientation.

I will not be distracted by people who want to make a controversy about anything and everything. You can wear any colour poppy you like. I don’t care. You can wear as many as you please. Queen Elizabeth II has worn as many as five. I will wear one and it will be red. It represents those that died fighting to make our world a better place. It represents the respect I have for all, regardless of race, gender, creed, or sexual orientation, who fought so that I could live in a free society.

Sometimes tradition is best. At the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month, for 2 minutes I will bow my head and solemnly thank those who put their lives at risk for me.

Shine The Light On Woman Abuse

I don’t know what I was thinking. No, that’s not true. As I parked my car a few blocks away and walked to the downtown square where they would soon be lighting a large fir tree with purple lights to ‘shine the light on woman abuse’ for the month of November; I was thinking “I’ve healed”, “it’s time I volunteered and got involved”, “I could really help”. You see, it’s been six years and I thought I was ready.

I left the relationship, went to one-on-one counselling, participated in group counselling, even served on the Board of Directors of the women’s abuse centre for six months. I then found a new love, a new city and wrote a 47000 word manuscript about getting away from abuse. It’s one thing to write about it and yet another to actually do something. So I thought it was time to put my efforts towards helping others. My intentions were pure.

As I approached the square, I felt a lump in my throat. I fought through it. I went up to the women’s shelter booth and asked about volunteering. A welcoming woman said, “We’re all volunteers and there’s lots to do. You can do anything from help at an event to wrap Christmas gifts.” I took a card and joined the crowd to listen to the speakers: the mayor, the head of the shelter and then the honouree – a survivor who now counsels victims and survivors.

She was clearly nervous. She didn’t speak of her own ordeal. She directed her communication at social blindness and prejudice toward abused women in general. She spoke of how the public react with either indifference or disbelief. It was powerful. She moved me so I had tears running down my cheeks. I stood there like stone searching to see if anyone else was as impacted as me. Rather than choked up, wimpy women; they looked like warriors, angry activists. I’m not there yet.

When the speeches were done and tree lit purple, an Indigenous drum group performed and I flew from the crowd hastily walking back to my car with tears full flowing. I’m not there yet. My dream is that one day I too will be a warrior.

Prejudice Runs Deep and It Saddens Me

Canada’s Election took place this past Monday and I worked at a Polling Station.  I knew going in it was going to be a 14 – 18 hour day and even though it was a serious task, I was determined to have a little fun.  Most of the day went smoothly; yet I walked away with sadness, even bitterness about the behaviours that I found disappointing. To what could I possibly be referring?  I have come to the revelation that many people are prejudice.  It’s subtle, but it’s clearly there.  Let me explain…

I worked as a Poll Clerk accompanying a Deputy Returning Officer.  Although most voters don’t know, the two roles are quite different.  The Deputy Returning Officer is ‘in charge’ of the polling station.  Generally, the Deputy Returning Officer is the interface with the voter and the Poll Clerk merely administrative doing all the paperwork.  My Deputy Returning Officer happened to be a well-groomed, neatly-dressed, educated man who immigrated to Canada from Bangladesh 6 years ago.  He was pleasant, intelligent and well-spoken. 

In the first hour of the poll, every single voter made eye contact with and greeted me rather than my partner.  When he asked for their ID, most of them handed it to me instead of him.  Noticing this, as people approached our table, I started to bow my head and focus on the paperwork.  It didn’t make a difference.  They still placed their ID in front of me rather than him.  If they had a question, they directed at me instead of him.  This continued throughout the day.  By the evening, when it got busy, I gave up on not responding to them as I didn’t want to appear rude; but it bothered me and I continued to be aware of the behaviour until the polls closed.

The only difference between the two of us was the colour of our skin.  Close to 100% of the voters at my poll were Caucasian.  I only remember one that was not.  At first I thought maybe I just looked friendlier.  I am in my 60s, whereas my partner was in his 30s; so maybe it was an age thing?  Every single voter (there were over 250 at my particular poll) dealt with me and only dealt with my partner when I didn’t answer, ignored them or in some cases motioned to him with my hand.  No one said anything offensive.  It was subtle, but obvious to me.  I don’t even think the voters noticed they were behaving in this manner. 

At the end of the night, I walked away from the poll, knowing that it didn’t matter that my poll partner was an intelligent, capable person who carried out his duties well.  The people chose to interact with me rather than him.  We may say we are an inclusive society.  We may vote for politicians who say they represent equality and want immigrants to come to Canada.  We may not be overtly rude or condescending.  It is clear to me, however, that prejudice runs deep here.  I saw it with my own eyes.  I am saddened and disgusted.

Election Canada, It’s Still a Toss-Up

The Canadian election, happening Monday, October 21, 2019 is still too close to call.  There are several factors that make it so.  I’m not a political writer, but several non-Canadians readers have asked, so here’s my take on Canada’s election.  I apologize for the length of this article up front.  You might want to grab a cup of coffee.

A month ago, it looked like the Liberals had an excellent chance of maintaining Canadian’s favour.  What’s happened in the last few weeks?  The campaign and televised debates have helped the New Democrats in much of Canada and the Block Party in Quebec – which has taken votes away from the Liberals and the Conservatives.

A little background, for those of you who don’t know much about Canadian politics:  Although we have more political parties, only 6 actually have members of parliament so those are the ones I will address:  The Conservatives, the Liberals, the New Democratic Party, the Green Party, the Bloc Quebecois, and the People’s Party.  Actually, a party must have 12 members in the House of Commons to be ‘recognized’ by parliament.  Only the Conservatives, Liberals and NDP fit the criteria; however that may change this election as both the Green Party and the Bloc Quebecois are within striking distance.

The Conservatives are right wing.  Their platform is mostly economical with a plan of $35 billion in cuts and the aim to erase the deficit, partially by cutting foreign aid.  They are pro oil and pipelines, hence the support of most of our western provinces.  They oppose a ban on guns and have dismissed any program, suggested by other parties, to reduce or waive the cost of pharmaceuticals.  They haven’t said much about climate change, but they have promised to scrap the Liberal Party’s carbon tax imposed on businesses that have no carbon reduction plan. The party is lead by Andrew Scheer.  The two issues that have recently questioned his character are that he claimed to have once been an insurance broker whereas he only worked as a clerk in an insurance company and that he apparently holds dual citizenship with the United States.  Scheer is pro life and when recently asked by a reporter to name one policy that shows he supports women’s rights, he couldn’t name any.

The Liberals, are mid-to-left wing.  They want to increase immigration and implement a national ban of semi-automatic weapons and give support to cities to ban or restrict hand guns.  They want to reduce the cost of pharmaceuticals.  Experts (as in several articles published by scientists and economists) say the Liberal plan on fighting climate change is the most feasible.  The Liberals stopped the building of two pipelines, but have endeavored to build one from the west to the Pacific Ocean, saying that they will work with Indigenous People and use the profits to combat climate change.  The party is lead by Justin Trudeau.  Trudeau has visibly lead Canada for the last 4 years, handing out winter coats to Syrian refugees at the airport, attending the Paris Accord, standing up to Trump during the trade negotiations, marching in Vancouver’s and Toronto’s Pride Parades (the first Prime Minister to do so) and meeting with Greta Thunberg.  The two issues that have put Trudeau’s character in question are his blackface appearances 20 years ago for costume parties and when he placed pressure on the then Attorney General to spare SNC-Lavalin criminal conviction.  He’s accepted responsibility for both, apologizing profusely for the former and claiming he was trying to save Canadian jobs for the latter.

The NDP are left-wing, some say socialist.  Although there’s never been an NDP Prime Minister, the party has had many influential leaders – most notably Tommy Douglas (yes, Keifer Sutherland’s grandfather) a human rights supporter who lead the New Democratic Party’s introduction of Canada’s universal health care plan.  Today’s NDP platform includes implementing free pharmaceuticals, free university and college tuition as well as creating a national strategy for dementia and tax credits for caregivers.  They want to improve on the Liberal platform for climate change and increase immigration.  The party is led by Jagmeet Singh.  Before the campaign, Singh was not well-known and some Canadians have had a hard time imagining a turban-wearing Prime Minister.  However, Singh has proven to be a skilled public speaker – genuine, intelligent, quick-thinking and charming.  He and his party are proving to be the ‘spanner in the works’.

The Green Party, also left-wing, bases their platform on six core values: social justice, ecological wisdom, respect for diversity, grassroots democracy, peace and non-violence, and sustainability.  Their main cry to battle has been to fight climate change aggressively.  Although they only have 2 seats in Parliament, their voice has been a catalyst in the way Canadians think about our environment and climate change.  There are many more Canadians that agree that climate change is the most important issue than will actually vote for the Green Party, likely because they also believe that the Green Party doesn’t have the knowledge or experience to run the other aspects of government.  Nevertheless they have proven to be an effective devil’s advocate.  The Green Party is lead by Elizabeth May, who would not be Canada’s first female Prime Minister.  She is a lawyer and has been an environmentalist since the 1970s.  She is a lawyer, well-spoken and passionate.

The Bloc Quebecois is the anomaly in terms of national political parties because they are devoted to Quebec nationalism and the promotion of its sovereignty.  Strange, I know, but those of us who live in Canada understand that Quebec has always been ‘different’.  Surprisingly, last election, they won 10 seats in parliament.  And, based on a strong performance in the televised debates by their leader, Yves François Blanchet, have increased momentum in the polls.

The People’s Party, considered a fringe party by most, is extreme right-wing.  They were recently formed by past Conservative Party member Maxime Bernier.  They want to balance the budget, reduce immigration and focus on only skilled immigrants, encourage oil and gas industries to grow, and withdraw from the Paris Accord.  Bernier finagled his way into the televised debate and really should not have been there because he had been elected as a Conservative.  He didn’t win any brownie points, was consistently attacking and being attacked and over-speaking.  With no seats in parliament, it is unlikely the People’s Party will have any affect on the upcoming election.

That’s the playing field and we’re in the last inning.  Trudeau is still out there reminding folks of the good he’s done in the last 4 years and insisting that Scheer will cut necessary services.  Scheer is still claiming that Trudeau’s not fit to be our leader.  Elizabeth May and Jagmeet Singh are focusing on social change.  What could happen on Election Day?  Based on how Elizabeth May and Jagmeet Singh performed on the campaign trail and the televised debate polls indicate a rise in both of their left-wing parties.  Canadians could vote with their hearts. The result would mean fewer votes for the Liberals.  In addition, Quebecers could vote for the Bloc Quebecois, taking more votes away from the Liberals.  That means there is a real chance that the Conservatives could win the election.

There is always the chance that Canadians, regardless of whatever party they like, will strategically vote Liberal just to ensure the Conservatives don’t win. 

Shedding Light on a Very Dark Topic – Part 2

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month in the United States.  It’s November in Canada.  I don’t know why the difference, but it lends itself to me writing about it for the next few weeks.  In the U.S. statistics say that three out of four people know someone who is or has been a victim of domestic violence.  In Canada half of all women have experienced at least one incident of physical or sexual violence.  Of course, abuse against children and men is despicable, I am writing herein about the abuse women experience from men – only because that has been my personal experience.

Each year in Canada 40,000 arrests are a result of domestic violence.  That’s 12% of all violent crime.  So if you consider that 70% of spousal abuse is never reported to the police (Statistics Canada) the true numbers are much higher.  It’s pandemic and we’re not doing much about it.

The cost of violence against women in Canada for health care, criminal justice, social services, and lost wages and productivity has been calculated at $4.2 billion per year.  Basically, we’re paying for the aftermath rather than putting our dollars into prevention. Lots of money and effort have been put into awareness: Articles have been written, websites created, campaigns launched.  And yet our society fails at the real change required.  What can you do?

  1. Be aware and speak up.  Take notice of what goes on around you.  Just like on the TV show, “What Would You Do?” – intervene when you see a situation where someone is being sexist, dominant, or abusive.  In our polite society, we have a tendency to not get involved, but you might just be teaching someone a lesson or at least shining the light on how poorly they’re behaving.
  2. Learn the signs of abuse.  It starts with control.  Do you know anyone whose partner manages all of the money?  Do you know a woman whose husband tells her how to dress or won’t let her go out with her girlfriends?  Google domestic violence and abuse and read about the signs.
  3. We can all start by raising our children differently than we have in the past.  Make sure your little girls have interests other than princess movies where the damsel in distress needs a prince to come and rescue her.  Make sure your little boys have interests other than playing games that involve a lot of destruction.  Get them interested in nature and teach them kindness.
  4. Vote for political candidates whose platform includes women’s rights, equality and feminism.

Our world will only be a better place for our children and grandchildren if we lead the way.

Shedding Light on a Very Dark Topic – Part One

Now known as the Toronto Van Attack, where on April 23, 2018, a vile man purposefully drove a rented van into the sidewalks of Yonge Street in Greater Toronto killing 10 people is in the news again because the Toronto Police have released video of the man’s interrogation interview.  CBC only released small portions of the video citing respect for the victims and their families and I will not even print the man’s name herein.

What we need to be aware of is that this man killed 10 and seriously wounded 16 people because of his hatred for women.  Just before the attack, he posted on Facebook, “The Incel Rebellion has already begun.”  Incels (involuntary celibates) are subculture brotherhood of men who hate women because they have been unsuccessful in gaining their positive attention – specifically have been unable to get laid.  As Barbara Perry, a criminologist specializing in hate crime at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, told The Fifth Estate “…they think they have some inborn inherent right and privilege to access women and women’s bodies…” during their research for their January 21, 2019 episode The Lone Wolf.

The Fifth Estate piece was named The Lone Wolf because more often than not, these horrific violent attacks, when not immediately linked to terrorism are labeled by the police and media as arbitrary, senseless, one-off acts of mentally ill individuals without any purpose.  In fact, this is not true.  Many of these offenders have found online groups of other men who feel they have been alienated by attractive women whose attention is given to attractive men.  Ergo, they hate all women and some even encourage violence against them.  They are driven by an ideology – a resistance against feminism which in their perception doesn’t value men.  This is pretty scary stuff.

What’s the takeaway?  How can we prevent this from happening?  Well, first, recognize that there are misogynistic groups who target the lonely, the bullied, and society’s outcasts.  It starts in our schools.  We can work to be more connected to each child that may feel excluded, promote inclusiveness, or simply encourage your child to say, “Hello” to a classmate.  Second, we can encourage our police, media and politicians to call out these horrific incidents for what they are:  Extreme right wing example of violence, a form of terrorism.  And, thirdly, we can do like the D’Amico family:  Focus on doing some good.

Anne Marie D’Amico was one of the victims of the Toronto Van Attack.  Anne Marie was a vibrant woman who volunteered her time and put her heart into everything she did.  The family launched the Anne Marie D’Amico Foundation to help women affected by violence.  This year their focus is the Turtle Project, a fund-raising event to benefit the North York Women’s Shelter.  They are presenting a celebration at the Meridian Arts Centre on December 3, 2019.  To read more, donate, or buy tickets, click here:

Shedding light on the topic of violence against women is the beginning of ending it.