Stories told, information shared, initiatives moving forward
Stepping into the Lunenburg fire hall on April 18, you would have heard stories rarely told in public, let alone on the South Shore. But the fact these personal stories of abuse, inadequacy and empowerment were being shared openly showcases the strides the group hosting the event has made over the past three years.
It was the final public forum for “Be the Peace,” a three-year project funded by Status of Women Canada to develop and co-ordinate a community response to violence against women in Lunenburg County.
“We did this day as a report to the community because we realized many people have been involved in different aspects of it, but nobody really sees the whole picture except us,” said Sue Bookchin, one of the project’s co-ordinators. “We wanted to share that from the viewpoints of the people involved and we wanted to just try and celebrate the things that have been accomplished even though there’s so many things we didn’t get to.”
Both Ms Bookchin and her fellow co-coordinator Helen Lanthier had worked with the Second Story Women’s Centre before they were hired on contract for three-year and year-and-a-half periods to work on this project. Although abuse against women has not been eradicated, conversations have started, initiatives have been introduced and change is underway. As one presenter that day described their efforts, ‘Women working part time haven’t overturned the system but their impact has been huge.”
“The idea was to bring as many people as possible together in the community to collaborate on ways of addressing the issue of violence against women,” said Ms Lanthier. “What we’re trying to do today is bring all of that together to bring all of the puzzle pieces together to create one big picture of what the project was about.”
Groups involved with the project designed puzzle pieces to visually represent their contribution, and these eventually were combined to form a whole picture in the centre of the meeting circle. The project started out with 12 working groups, and from these three areas of focus formed: youth, schools and parents; men, women and people; and justice, police and community.
“We had a particular mandate to engage men and boys, because when we wrote the proposal, it was clear to us that this was not a women’s issue, and unless we have men and boys involved nothing was ever going to change,” said Ms Bookchin. Communication barriers between genders had to be broken down, and inequity of wealth and power in the relationship between genders had to be addressed.
“We recognize our liberation is certainly tied with the liberation and the freedom and safety of women,” said Armand Degrenier, representing one working group called Gather the Men, which has been meeting for over three years and focusing on this issue. “There have been moments during that time when the raw, tender heart of sadness was brought forth, and many of you are probably fully aware many men are not akin to that kind of expression. To be able to support one another in that process has been transforming.” This group plans to meet in Chester Basin on May 23 to discuss its next steps.”
Sexual assault services for the area are one positive spinoff resulting from the project. “People are quite blown away by the co-operation that is happening here and the real actual change,” said Stacey Godsoe, one of the co-ordinators working on this particular arm of the project, who has one more year to finish related work. “There is actual change happening in policy, in protocol, in training, so there will be a model for sexual assault services in Lunenburg and Queens in the very near future, which is pretty incredible.”
An inter-agency hub involving many of the same organizations was also created, as well as a community dispute resolution centre to help people solve their conflicts peacefully through mediators and other restorative practices.
The two co-ordinators have a report they will present at three conferences, and they are also generating a chapter for a book related to the Canadian Domestic Violence Conference they are presenting in June. Both plan on continuing to work on a volunteer basis with the Second Story Women’s Centre, as they want to see their project succeed.
“We have interviewed a number of people that have been involved with the project, and the things they tell us about the difference we’ve made, it just blows our minds,” said Ms Bookchin. “We’ve just learned so much about this whole territory.”
As originally published in LighthouseNOW Progress Bulletin