Manitoba

'Be informed': Global advisor from UN Women talks about sexual violence in Winnipeg

As allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein re-ignite discussions about sexual violence, the global advisor of the United Nation’s Global Safe Cities Initiative says Winnipeg is taking the right steps to help curb sexual violence.

Winnipeg among 27 cities around the world to join UN's Global Safe Cities Initiative

The global advisor of the United Nation’s Global Safe Cities Initiative says Winnipeg is taking the right steps to help curb sexual violence. (Mihai Surdu/Shutterstock)

As allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein re-ignite discussions about sexual violence, the global advisor of the United Nation's Global Safe Cities Initiative says Winnipeg is taking the right steps to help curb sexual violence.

Winnipeg became the first Canadian city to sign onto the UN's initiative to reduce sexual violence against women and girls in 2013, and the program's global advisor, Laura Capobianco, was in the city this week as part of the UN Women Safe Cities Initiative.

She told CBC News she's been impressed by the efforts Winnipeg has undertaken since joining the initiative, which has since been adopted by 27 cities around the world.

Like here in Winnipeg, Capobianco said each city working to establish partnerships needed to be responsive to the needs of victims and to change the social norms that lead to the problem.

"So that women's and girl's rights to enjoy public spaces in cities can be enjoyed free from the fear of violence and free from the experience of violence," she said. "Winnipeg is one of those courageous cities where grassroots women and men have had a call for action — they don't want to see one case of sexual violence in their cities."

Since signing on to the initiative, Manitoba Status of Women, the City of Winnipeg, and community and government representatives established the Winnipeg Safe City Steering Committee, which identified five neighbourhoods to target efforts to address the issue.

Risk greatest for Indigenous women

Capobianco says data provided by Winnipeg police and community organizations showed Indigenous women face a high risk for sexual violence and that became an initial focus.

"We know that while all women can experience sexual violence, many groups of women experience this violence more, because they are targeted because of experiences of discrimination, inequality and a lack of access to information and justice," she explained. "So what was needed was to establish the first cultural healing program to deal with this form of violence and that is led by an Aboriginal-owned organization, Ka Ni Kanichihk, in the city.

"It has since served 50 women coming forward to gain support and gain referrals to services as part of their healing through a culturally-aware way."

Capobianco says in all the city's taking part in the initiative, public transportation has been found to be one of the "most predominate spaces" for sexual violence.

Here in Winnipeg, a public campaign aims to raise awareness of the issues on Winnipeg Transit. Operators are being trained on how to prevent and respond to sexual violence.

"We've had many examples from around the world where transit authorities have come forward as part of that shared responsibility," she said.

More work to do

While Winnipeg is moving forward, Capobianco acknowledges there's still more work to do.

Just this week, the the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives released a report ranking Canadian cities according to which are the best and worst places to be a woman. Winnipeg scored poorly in terms of safety, with the risk of sexual assault being the main cause.

Capobianco says it's important that victims of sexual violence in Winnipeg know where and who to report their experiences to, and that they feel safe to do so. 
People went for a short march after a rally at the University of Winnipeg for Take Back the Night Thursday. (Julianne Runne/CBC)

"We know that many women still don't feel comfortable coming forward because of stigma, because of fear, because of previous experiences with authorities," she said.

She says events like last week's Take Back the Night march are an important part of fighting sexual violence.

With the all the attention the issue of sexual violence is getting on social media through efforts like the #MeToo campaign and others, Capobianco says it's important for all cities — including Winnipeg — to use that momentum to keep the issue at the forefront.

"First of all, be informed about the issue and how it impacts a woman's sense of dignity and self-worth, their aspirations for getting a promotion, for working in a job of their choice," she said. "I also think it's important that we work with men and boys and we engage men and boys as part of the solution, who are committed to standing with women against this issue. Because this is not just a women's issue."

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