A group of women in Yellowknife this week began a campaign asking men in the city to work on ending gender-based and sexualized violence.
Longtime Yellowknifer Nancy MacNeill posted a statement to Facebook on Sunday calling for men to create a group where they can have uncomfortable conversations, hold one another accountable, and work to end misogynistic and violent behaviours, particularly in the arts community.
“People don’t feel safe here. They aren’t safe here. That needs to change,” her statement read.
“We are at an impasse. We’ve done as much work as we can, and have been found wanting. It’s time for a new approach.”
MacNeill said gender-based and sexualized violence have historically been considered “women’s issues,” so some men may not have felt comfortable getting involved. She’s hoping to change that by encouraging men to address the root causes of violence and abuse, and come up with real solutions.
“I think a lot of men need to be called into this by being told that, ‘Yes, this is your place. This is absolutely, 1,000 percent your fight. This is your business. This is your problem,’” she said.
“I want to see men stepping out to say this is part of a culture that we’re creating, and that we are a part of, and we need to figure out how to make this stop.
“This isn’t a situation where men are taking up space that they shouldn’t be … There’s never been a more appropriate place for them.”
‘I’m not seeing action’
Sarah Frey, supporting that call to action, said she wants Yellowknife to be a safe place for women and LGBTQ2S+ people.
“That’s great that they’re unlearning these things, that they’re challenging these preconceived notions about the patriarchy and about what it does for men and women,” Frey said of some men.
“But I’m not seeing action. I’m not seeing them out on boards. I’m not seeing them volunteering their time. I’m not seeing them holding their peers accountable.
“We’re just constantly wondering, where are the cis men in our community standing up?”
Frey said progress has been made through movements like Me Too, but people campaigning for positive change were “very tired.”
“We’re asking that the cis men in our community help to shoulder some of the burden,” she said.
‘It’s going to take some work’
MacNeill said fully addressing the issue will require creativity and new approaches.
“We’re going to have to figure out a bunch of ways to not make a light bulb before we can make a light bulb,” she said.
“There has never ever been a society that was free of violence within relationships. That has never existed. And we deserve that society, but it’s going to take some work to get there.”
There are several men’s groups focused on masculinity and anti-violence activism across Canada. They include the Men’s Circle at the University of British Columbia, Man|Made at Western University in London, Ontario, and the White Ribbon project in Toronto.
MacNeill said she and other women in Yellowknife were inspired to come up with the call to action after a friend came forward about their own experience of abuse, adding it’s a widespread issue in the North.
“They were really, really clear in what they wanted in terms of accountability. And I think that was really brave, first of all, but I also feel like that really kind-of gave us a framework for … what do we actually need in order to get better, in order to feel safe again in our communities?” she said.
According to Statistics Canada, in 2017, young women and girls in the North faced rates of violence nearly three times higher than that experienced by young women and girls in southern Canada.
A new report from Statistics Canada found that in 2018, a quarter of women in the territories experienced unwanted sexual behaviours in a public space on more than one occasion.
Nearly a third of women in the territories were directly targeted with at least one inappropriate sexual behaviour in the workplace.
The study found that LGBTQ2S+ people, and people living with disabilities, were among the most likely to be the target of gender-based violence.