I have chosen to write about a deeply personal topic – the bullying experiences of Indigenous boys with braids in mainstream schooling settings. I write about this topic as an Indigenous mother of two children a young man, and a boy who have long hair, but have endured the bullying and violence perpetrated by other kids on the playground - forms of violence deeply embedded within white settler masculinist norms based on assumptions of what a ‘real boy’ should look like. As we have learned, being an Indigenous boy with long hair in our day and age has real consequences.
In recent years, the barrage of attacks on female politicians and journalists has intensified in the online world. Coming even from high-profile people and those in power, the abuse is unchecked and seemingly limitless. The distinguishing feature of much of this abuse is that it is directed at women and it overwhelmingly comes from men, including those in high-profile positions of power.
It was 25 years ago that 30,000 men and women from almost 200 countries gathered in China for the Fourth World Conference on Women. The outcome was one of the most comprehensive plans for the empowerment of women with one vital point being recognized: Violence against women is an obstacle to the achievement of the objectives of equality, development and peace.
Maha El Birani, her sisters, and her mother Sonia had long endured family violence at the hands of Maha’s father, despite eventually seeking outside help and therapy. It all came to an abrupt stop once Maha’s father brutally murdered Sonia in their family home in London, Ontario, Canada. The short documentary, Fatal Silence, directed and produced by Alan Powell, recounts Maha’s poignant story of her family’s suffering and what lessons she hopes others will learn from her family’s plight so no one else has to endure what her family went through.
We’re often taught, through media or even school, that domestic violence is all physical. But that’s often not the case. The lack of physical bruises should never be a sign that all is fine. While abuse can most definitely be physical, it can also be emotional, psychological, mental, or financial. Many times, it also starts off slowly, with the abuser attempting to control his victim in numerous ways.
In Ontario, Neighbours, Friends & Families (NFF) has been a clear voice for public education on addressing domestic violence since 2005. NFF materials are designed to prepare neighbours, friends and family members, as the people who are closest to women who are experiencing abuse, as ‘bystanders’. NFF teaches everyone to recognize warning signs and risk factors, to respond safely and effectively and to know where to refer for help in the community.
I left my husband in 2011 because he was physically and mentally abusive. He would hit me if I didn't do what he wanted and call me awful names and put me down to the point that I felt I didn't deserve better. I struggled for 8 years with this abuse. I was totally isolated from friends and family, and he made sure of that.
National Indigenous Peoples Day was first established in 1996, and it actually means a lot to me as an Indigenous woman in Canada. Like the day of the national apology on residential schools in 2008, I still remember the day it was announced by the government, and I have celebrated it annually in the context of family and community ever since. Unlike some Indigenous peoples, I identify to a certain degree as a Canadian, although it is a complicated and ambivalent relationship to be sure. However, National Indigenous Peoples Day is not about government recognition for me. It is about celebrating tremendous Indigenous resilience and survival against great odds. I often think about my ancestors who came before me, who persisted and resisted against government forces and inhumane attempts to eradicate and erase our Indigeneity, relationship to land and ways of knowing.
Every year, Father’s Day is a natural opportunity to discuss the role of fathers in the lives of children. Lately, this conversation has evolved to become an opportunity to discuss masculinity and how fathers can be caring adult role models, providing positive definitions of masculinity to boys. Based on a surface level internet search for Father’s Day, this conversation is desperately needed.
What do you think of when you think of World Health Day?
For many, domestic abuse isn’t on the list of issues they’d think of, but it should be.
Physical or sexual abuse is a public health problem. One that, tragically, affects one third of girls and women worldwide. This isn’t a problem that is limited to certain regions or even countries. It’s one that exists right here in Canada, and in Ontario. In the homes of our family and friends, in the workplaces of of our neighbours, and in our own backyards.