Wynne previews action plan to combat violence, harrassment against women

OTTAWA — Kathleen Wynne says she’s determined to use her influence as Ontario’s first female premier to improve the lot of all women — starting with an action plan on sexual violence and harrassment to be unveiled today.

The premier says the plan will include a variety of initiatives, including a public education campaign aimed at raising awareness of the problem and challenging societal norms and beliefs.

She says victims must be better supported, ensuring that women who are “brave enough” to come forward with complaints aren’t re-victimized.

As well, Wynne says laws need to be strengthened to keep workplaces and post-secondary campuses free from sexual violence and harrassment.

Above all, she says the plan aims to change deep-rooted attitudes and behaviours that contribute to violence against women.

Wynne gave a preview of the action plan, which is meant to coincide with International Women’s Day on March 8, during a symposium Thursday on women in politics at the University of Ottawa — an institution that has suffered its own recent scandals involving sexual misconduct.

The university suspended the men’s hockey team last year following allegations that two players sexually assaulted a woman while the team was visiting Thunder Bay. The suspension followed the resignation of four student government officials over inappropriate sexual comments about a female colleague on Facebook.

“I am determined to use my influence to make change,” Wynne told the symposium. “The need for action and influence, I think, is particularly acute when it comes to issues surrounding sexual assault and violence against women.”

Research suggests one in three Canadian women will face some kind of sexual violence or harrassment in their life, yet most don’t report it, she said.

“There is a real danger in silence. If we don’t talk about it or we pretend that it’s not pervasive or that it’s not happening, then we are doing nothing to stop it from happening again and again and again.”

While she described her life as privileged, Wynne frankly talked about how her own path “has been cluttered with barriers.”

“Barriers because I’m a woman. Barriers because I’m a lesbian. And as one of my neighbours who was surprised at the fact that I became premier once said to me, barriers because I’m just a mom. He said, ‘It’s amazing you’re there. You’re just a mom.'”

Yet, nothing prepared her better for becoming premier than being a mother, Wynne said — teaching her empathy, the need for supportive environments for youth and how to “juggle 20 priorities at once.”

Measuring the success of women by their increased numbers in government and corporate boardrooms does a disservice to women, she argued.

“The women of influence are not just the women you see on the stages of societies. The women of influence are the mothers and the sisters and the grandmothers who are working in every single family in this country, in this world, to raise a generation, to teach their children, to look after and hold their families together and literally to hold communities together.”

Wynne is to announce the plan in Toronto.

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