Written by: Aubrianna Snow, Stakeholder Relations Specialist
Young people deserve to feel safe wherever they work, learn, live, and play – and yet, youth across Canada are disproportionately impacted by sexual and gender-based violence. The stats are startling:
71% per cent of post-secondary students either witnessed or experienced unwanted sexualized behaviour in 2019 (Statistics Canada, 2020).
In 2018, three in ten (29%) women aged 15-24 reported being subjected to intimate partner violence in the past twelve months (Statistics Canada, 2021).
The odds of experiencing unwanted sexual behaviour in public are three times higher among 15 to 24-year-old and 25 to 34-year-old women when compared to those 35 and older (Statistics Canada, 2019).
This is a crisis, and we urgently need sustained and thoughtful advocacy to address it.
Youth are the most effective advocates for our own experiences. The attention of policymakers is pulled in many directions, and students and young people are underrepresented in these spaces. That’s why coordinated, long-term organizing is so essential. Young people have been making powerful waves in government advocacy for gender-based violence prevention for years. In 2022, student leaders released Our Campus, Our Safety: Student Leader’s Action Plan for Addressing and Preventing Sexual Violence on Campus. Student advocacy has played a major role in addressing campus violence, including in the changes to Ontario’s Bill 26 and the response to the attack at the University of Waterloo. However, there is still much work to be done in ensuring safety for young people in Canada, and it’s essential that up-and-coming leaders are equipped with the tools for effective advocacy.
Possibility Seeds’ national Courage to Act project has developed a variety of useful tools and resources to help guide students and young people in the crucial advocacy work to address and prevent gender-based violence on Canadian campuses.
Courage Catalysts: Creating Consent Culture on Campus is a toolkit by students, for students. It was created by Courage to Act’s Student Organizers’ Community of Practice in 2021. It contains several tools helpful for various kinds of organizing, including within an institution and with all levels of government. For tips on institutional advocacy, check out:
Talking with Administration by Julia Burnham, pg. 85
This resource provides some helpful tips for making the most out of conversations with senior administrators, and some important insight into the fluid nature of the student movement.
Campaigns by Jackie Toner, pg. 88
With a helpful worksheet for campaign organization, this tool provides a practical starting point for building an effective campaign to address violence on campus.
Partnerships by Carina Gabriele, pg. 118
This tool contains a great explanation on the nature of partnerships, and some important questions to reflect on when engaged in partnered work.
Courage Catalysts also contains several tools and resources for conducting government relations around gender-based violence:
Government Relations Practices by Cat Dunne, pg. 106
This resource explores introductory government relations practices for folks engaging in government relations in the student union context. It also provides additional reading that may be relevant for student union government relations work.
Sample Letter to the Government by Cat Dunne, pg. 137
This tool contains all the elements for an effective letter to government and how to write them. It also provides a template example for letter writing.
How to Write a Petition by Levi Clarkson & Nell Perry, pg. 114
This resource provides guidance on developing a petition for various audiences, circulating it, and presenting it to decision-makers.
These resources represent the strongest connection to government relations within the toolkit. Still, many of the other tools also have intersections with this work. Self-care (pg. 147), community care (pg. 93), and various forms of campus organizing also have deep connections with approaches to government relations. Especially for students, who are often entering government relations for the first time through this work, it’s essential to view the development of these skills in a holistic way that also centres personal and collective well-being.
In the summer of 2022, student leaders from across the country came together to create the Our Campus, Our Safety: Student Leaders’ Action Plan for Institutions and Governments to Address and Prevent Sexual Violence on Campus. Students hosted several press conferences last year, including for Our Campus, Our Safety. You can watch some of them at the links below:
Our Campus, Our Safety contains several asks for institutions, provincial governments, and the federal government that are essential in addressing sexual violence on Canadian campuses. Consider including these asks in your sexual violence-related advocacy work!
In August, Courage to Act released guidance for acting to protect students from sexual harassment in experiential learning. You can find these key advocacy points here.
These resources represent a brief introduction to student sexual violence prevention advocacy. Government relations and institutional advocacy are vast topics and can present a steep learning curve for students beginning in advocacy work. Building community with other student leaders and activists is essential for effective organizing. Luckily, a wealth of resources exist to guide you in this process!
Some other resources we love are:
Advocacy by students and young people is essential in addressing and preventing sexual and gender-based violence. We hope that the above tools provide some insight on how to effectively begin or improve your advocacy efforts. Happy advocating!
Suggested Reference: Snow, Aubrianna. (2023, August). Our Campus, Our Safety: Tips & Resources for Student Leaders Advocacy on Campus. Courage to Act. www.couragetoact.ca/blog/advocacy-tips