Businesses combat violence against women

Garrett Barry, Centretown News
A Shine the Light campaign is illuminated by purple lights hanging in the windows of Woody’s Pub.
Elgin Street businesses have been turning purple to raise awareness about violence against women — a topic that recently triggered a national discussion in the wake of the Jian Ghomeshi uproar and Parliament Hill “misconduct” allegations.

“This year, the conversation has already started,” says Erin Leigh, executive director of the Ottawa Coalition to End Violence Against Women. “It’s on people’s radars. There’s no turning away from it. You can’t pretend it’s not happening.”

November is Woman Abuse Prevention Month in Ontario and Ottawa will host many purple-themed events, including the third annual Shine the Light campaign, run by the coalition, which provides resources and programs to increase awareness about violence against women. 

The coalition works in partnership with the Ottawa police to host Shine the Light. Joan McKenna, an Ottawa Police Service representative, says the campaign addresses one of Police Chief Charles Bordeleau’s main priorities: preventing domestic violence. 

“Anyone can be a victim of sexual assault and we want to improve how OPS responds to that,” says McKenna. “Prevention is key to ending violence against women.”

Nov. 25 marks the start of the Shine the Light campaign, which strategically overlaps with the 16 days of activism to end gender-based violence, an internationally recognized period that runs until Dec. 10. Members of the Ottawa police will launch the campaign with the “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” event, which starts at the Ottawa police station on Elgin Street and finishes at city hall. 

Leigh says the campaign events will remain the same as previous years, but she anticipates heightened awareness and greater community involvement with the topic already on everyone’s radar.

At the end of October, CBC fired Q radio host Jian Ghomeshi after several allegations of sexual harassment and violence surfaced. Since then, two Liberal MPs have been controversially suspended from their party’s caucus after “misconduct” allegations were revealed. 

“I think those things are bringing the conversation to a much wider audience than is normally listening, and people are really hearing what women experience and how hard it is to experience,” says Leigh. 

McKenna says Women Abuse Prevention Month is already gaining more attention than it has in the past. The police department launched its “I Can MANifest Change” campaign on Nov. 5, when four men in the Ottawa community — including Ottawa Senators defenceman Marc Methot and Alex Neron, a local tattoo artist — posted short videos about how they can help end violence against women. 

“Violence against women is not a women’s issue, it’s a community issue,” says McKenna. “We want men and boys to be a bigger part of the solution.”

Neron’s story highlights how he can do the right thing by sending women who have been drinking home, instead of taking advantage of them. His video has already attracted more than 13,000 views. 

“More people are talking about it and more people are saying this type of behaviour is unacceptable,” says McKenna. “What’s important to me, is that this discussion is taking place. It’s bringing the issue to the forefront where it belongs.”

The City for All Women Initiative, an organization that strives to create gender equality in Ottawa, will also be highlighting the Shine the Light campaign at the celebration of its 10th anniversary on Nov. 26. “This is one important aspect about creating more inclusive cities,” says the organization’s director, Suzanne Doerge. 

“We really support that work. We realize that it’s the 16 days to end violence against women, and the Shine the Light campaign, so we’ll hold that up and celebrate that,” she adds.
“We’re really trying to bring light to this important issue,” says Leigh. “Our number one message is:  believe survivors.”