A female delegate is interviewed by a journalist during the Women Deliver Conference in 2013 in Malaysia. The conference brings together voices from around the world to call for action to improve the health and well-being of girls and women.
Rahman Roslan / Getty Images
It seems like stories about sexual assault are everywhere — in the news, being shared on social media, and in fiction, movies and TV. Thanks to the hard work that feminists have been doing for decades, we are now more aware of the true scale of this problem.As many as one in three women in the world face gender-based violence. It takes the life of one Canadian woman every six days. These numbers are staggering, and awareness, of course, is not enough. Tackling the root of the problem can seem insurmountable — how do we fundamentally change harmful ideas about gender and end cycles of violence?The truth is, there is no one perfect answer. There are many pieces to this puzzle, and institutions, governments, businesses, non-profits, families and individuals all have roles to play. But one piece of the puzzle that is often missed is education, both formal and informal.Whether it be through the school curriculum or through community programs, education can help foster healthier outlooks on sex and gender and set young people up to seek out, and maintain healthy relationships when they become adults. Education and increased public awareness can also counter the hypersexualization and hypermasculinity that children are exposed to, and potentially even subjected to, from increasingly young ages.A 2010 report by the American Psychological Association found that portrayals in media can teach girls that women are objects. Those portrayals undoubtedly send boys the same message, shaping how they view and treat their female peers. And as boys see how their own bodies are portrayed in contrast to girls’ bodies in media, they can be led to believe that success and attractiveness is tied to dominance, aggression, and violence.While we can’t completely prevent young people from seeing these images, we can provide them with healthier role models and ones that reflect the inherent rights, worth, and personhood of every human being, regardless of gender.Canada is often considered a global leader in advancing gender equality. The prime minister’s gender-equal cabinet and his self-identification as a feminist have made international headlines, but there is always more work to be done, we cannot afford to be complacent.This June, Canada will be host to the Women Deliver 2019 Conference — the world’s largest conference on gender equality. We will once again be centre stage, but that spotlight is meaningless if we don’t use it to keep pushing for progress.The Women Deliver Mobilization was created to facilitate multi-sector dialogue and collaboration in the lead-up to the Conference. As a coalition of over 285 Canadian companies, universities and non-profit organizations across sectors representing over 2,000,000 Canadians, we are putting forth our vision for how Canada can make the best use of this global platform.As the host country, we must use our leadership position to champion strategies that address the root causes and prevention of violence, alongside investments in care and support for survivors. Around the world culturally appropriate and locally led community education and violence-prevention programs, starting at an early age, would unlock the potential of millions of girls and women. Closing the gender gap in work would add an estimated $28 trillion to the global GDP by 2025.But ensuring every person is safe from violence is about more than major events and funding commitments — though they are key. It’s also about how we as Canadians are living up to the responsibility we hold as respected authorities on gender equality. We cannot passively accept praise for the progress we have made without acknowledging how far we still have to go, as a nation, and part of the international community, to ensure that every human being is treated equally and has equal opportunities to achieve their true potential.Julie Savard-Shaw is the Director of Partnerships, Women Deliver 2019 Mobilization Canada and the Canadian Partnership for Women and Children’s Health.Letters to the editor should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. The editorial pages editor is Gordon Clark, who can be reached at email@example.com.CLICK HERE to report a typo.Is there more to this story? We’d like to hear from you about this or any other stories you think we should know about. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.