Anti-gender violence campaign struggles to involve men

Jeff Perera, community and youth engagement manager of the White Ribbon Campaign, during a visit to the East York campus of Centennial College. (Jennifer Pang/Toronto Observer)

The anguish in India following a young woman’s death after she was gang-raped and beaten on a bus has refocussed attention on the issue of violence against women.

It’s an issue that knows no borders, as Jeff Perera will tell you. But as a man who openly battles against violence inflicted on women here in Canada, Perera, program manager of the White Ribbon Campaign (WRC), will also tell you that he sometimes has to deal with indifference on the issue — and even occasional hostility.

“On Facebook or Twitter, people will comment [and] on Facebook especially, people will write comments, threatening… things like that,” Perera said.

Perera decided to connect with WRC, a campaign devoted to combatting violence against women, when much to his dismay, he was at an event at Ryerson University that only two male participants attended.

“I was at the victims of violence panel at Ryerson University four years ago,” he said, and “one of the speakers… was the executive director for WRC.”

When Perera asked the speaker why there were so few men in attendance, and how more men could be drawn out, the executive director responded: “That is what we were trying to figure out. That’s what White Ribbon was about.”

So Perera became involved with the campaign, especially at the Ryerson campus.

“Over the years we started putting on dozens and dozens of events and… I started to speak at events,” he said.

Perera now works full-time at WRC, and he spoke to students at the East York campus of Centennial College as they observed the 23rd anniversary of the December, 1989 massacre of 14 female engineering students at Montreal’s Ecole Polytechnique.

Barry Waite, the program coordinator of the corporate communications program at the campus, helped organize the event.

“It’s an important issue, particularly for men to take responsibility for stopping violence against women,” Waite said. “So I have been happy to help coordinate the efforts here.”

Waite said that Perera’s appearance at the Carlaw Avenue school was just one of the events “happening on all four campuses” of Centennial, coinciding with observances across the country in connection with the commemoration of the Montreal Massacre. A National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women was established in 1991 by Parliament to mark the anniversary of the murders. It’s part of “The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence,” running Nov. 25-Dec. 10.

More information on the White Ribbon Campaign is available at www.whiteribbon.ca