THUNDER BAY - Boys from local public schools received a special kind of lesson on Monday, one that will not only impact their lives, but also the lives of their fellow classmates.
On Monday, more than 35 students between Grades 7 and 10 from all Lakehead District School Board schools participated in the Engaging Male Students to Reduce and Prevent Gender-Based Violence workshop.
The workshop was held the day before the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women, which is part of the White Ribbon Campaign.
“This is the first time that we’ve done a full workshop like this,” said Jeff Upton, education officer with the Lakehead District School Board.
“We’ve done white ribbon campaigns over the years, we’ve been thrilled to be part of that, as well as working with the Crime Prevention Council because one of their initiatives is preventing violence against women.”
The workshop was hosted in partnership with the Crime Prevention Council. Two student leaders were chosen from each school on the Lakehead Board to participate in the workshop and bring the message back to their fellow students.
“We thought that by bringing some of the younger boys together with some of the high school boys we could get some good mentoring, not just from their own peers within the schools, but from the leaders we brought in today to lead the workshops,” Upton said. “We believe that role modeling and mentoring is a good way of teaching, not just talking at them all day long.”
Lee-Ann Chevrette, coordinator for the Thunder Bay Crime Prevention Council, said the student leaders will be able to take the tools they learn during the workshop and bring them back to their schools, communities, and families.
“We want to create and a have a community that is safe for all women and girls,” she said.
“We need to be focusing on our young men because we know that the vast majority of violence against women is perpetrated by men. We need to target the men, the young boys, and the young men in our community and get them to stand up against violence against women and get them to be allies towards women.”
Several community organizations participated in the workshop, including the Indian Friendship Centre, Confederation College, Thunder Bay Police, and the Lakehead University Thunderwolves.
During a session held by Richard Tatebe, professor coordinator at Confederation College’s Social Service Worker Program, students learned about the difference between equity and equality, as well as the prevalence of disrespectful and negative treatment of women in popular media.
“The focus was challenging the way we see women and girls and giving them the necessary tools to start treating and start changing the current environment of women in society,” said Tatebe.
Tatebe played several popular songs for the students during his session to demonstrate just how women are treated in every day culture.
Scott Fleming, a grade 10 student at Churchill High School, said the workshop really opened his eyes, especially when it comes to music.
“There’s a lot of stuff in music that obviously now I didn’t know about before,” he said. “A lot of the words, you think it’s just something you hear every day, but when you look at the deeper meaning, it’s quite harsh to women out there.”
With the amount of disrespectable depictions of women in popular media, Tatebe admits that it is a daily battle instilling respect and equality for women in young boys, who are sometimes entrenched in misogynistic messages.
“We need to start somewhere, even though it’s an uphill battle, even though it’s daily and we are inundated with those messages of seeing women in uncompromising ways, it’s our responsibility and duty to continue to fight those message,” he said.
Fleming said that he does not see a lot of inequality in his school, but unfortunately it is never very far away.
“It’s 2016 right now, there’s no need to judge people on what their race is or gender,” he said.
Tatebe believes teaching these lessons to students at a young age will help empower boys and men to fight back against what were once social norms.
“I think the earlier we can start teaching these social norms and challenging social norms, the better,” he said. “I find that as men and boys become more entrenched in their ideas on how women should be treated, it becomes more challenging to overturn those values.”
“They are obviously the new generation of people and they are going to lead the way into these new issues,” Fleming added. “Half of these issues when I was younger weren’t around, so they are going to have to show even younger kids the new way of thinking.”
Tatebe said the biggest message he wants the boys to take away from the workshop is that they are part of the solution.
“Often boys and men are painted with a brush that they are part of the problem, that is true, but they are also part of the solution,” he said.
“The more we can empower kids at a younger age that they are part of the solution, I think it has a better affect because men are continued to be seen in this negative light, but also being part of the solution gives them more power to move forward the messages of empowerment and treating women with equality.”