Monsef calls #MeToo momentum against sexual violence 'inspiring'

Status of Women Minister Maryam Monsef says she's moved by the #MeToo momentum. She will announce details of the national strategy to tackle gender-based violence in Peterborough, Ont. today.

Status of Women minister to announce next steps in national strategy to tackle gender-based violence

Status of Women Minister Maryam Monsef was expected to announce details of the national strategy to tackle gender-based violence at a sexual assault support centre in Peterborough, Ont. today. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

Status of Women Minister Maryam Monsef says she's moved by the #MeToo momentum, and is urging women of all ages to bridge the generational divide to bring about "monumental change."

"It's inspiring to see victims and survivors of gender-based violence come forward, to see them find courage in one another's stories, and to see the solidarity that's happening, the dialogue that's taking place, the change that institutions are beginning to make, and the reflection that's happening in communities and citizens," she told CBC News. 

But Monsef said these stories are not new for those feminists who have been working tirelessly to end harassment and abuse against women for "decades and decades." With humble budgets and big hearts, they worked to provide shelter and support to women in need even when it was "unpopular" to do so, she said.

This morning, Monsef will make an announcement about next steps on the government's national strategy to prevent and address gender-based violence, called 'It's Time,' which includes funding for research, prevention and groups that support survivors.

The news conference will take place at the Kawartha Sexual Assault Centre in her Peterborough, Ont. riding.

Support for survivors

Monsef said it will answer calls to remove barriers and add money to help support services for survivors in a "dignified and effective way." As more people come forward to share their stories, "the demand for services at these organizations goes up and up, and these are organizations that were already struggling," she said. 

As #MeToo grows, some clashes have erupted on social media over the potential direction of the movement, with some people such as Margaret Atwood facing an angry backlash for raising concerns about due process.

In an op-ed for The Globe and Mail, the internationally renowned author asked what would happen if sexual assault allegations end up bypassing an "ineffectual" legal system, and said that could wind up dividing women.

Due process concerns

In an email to follow up on a question from CBC about concerns around due process, Monsef said false claims have historically been very few and that while the government believes in due process, backlash will happen every time women are empowered.

‎"We have seen it happen when women acquired the right to vote, when they joined the workforce, and we continue to see it with the increased bullying of women politicians online. What is important is that survivors feel empowered to come forward and continue to trust the system‎," she wrote.

But Monsef said there must be room for people of all ages, gender identities and perspectives in the ongoing public debate.

"If we are going to make the kind of monumental change that we need to make, we have to include everybody in the conversation," she said. "I don't believe that  the conversation will be linear. I don't believe an organic movement like this has boundaries that can be defined very easily."

'A lot to teach us'

Monsef urged women of all generations to come together for a common goal, and said feminists who have been fighting the fight for years have "a lot to teach us."

​"I hope part of what comes from this ongoing conversation is a recognition of the value of the wisdom of our elders and those who have been in the movement, and of course a recognition and a respect for the experiences of young people who could offer solutions that we may not have thought of before."

Natasha Korna, a Queen's University student who has been an advocate for consent education, told CBC Radio's The Current there is a different definition today than what sexual violence entailed a few generations ago.

"If it's not hetero-, penetrative sex, it doesn't really count as sexual assault," she told host Anna Maria Tremonti.

Generational shift

She said now we are in an era where we understand people of all genders and sexualities can experience violence, and it can affect them the same way it would straight women.

"I think we're in a generational shift where we are realising that sexual violence is not a black-and-white issue," she says. "It's very multi-faceted," Korna said.

"We often try to say [consent] is not the absence of a no, it's the presence of a yes. But there's also nuanced aspects of consent, which are things like body language, and verbal cues."

Despite the work ahead to bridge that inter-generational divide and address sexual harassment and violence against women, Monsef said the #MeToo movement signals positive change.

"For me, I don't believe there's been a better time to be a woman or a girl in Canada," Monsef said.


About the Author

Kathleen Harris

Senior Writer

Kathleen Harris is a senior writer in the CBC's Parliament Hill bureau. She covers politics, immigration, justice and corrections. Follow her on Twitter @ottawareporter


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