Episode Transcript

Lama Alsafi (00:00): Hello, and welcome to 15 Minutes to Change the World, where in 15 minutes or less, you can learn a bit more about the world and how you can help change it for the better.

Lama Alsafi (00:22): My name is Lama Alsafi and I'm the host of this podcast. Our guest today is Andrea Gunraj, Vice President of Public Engagement with the Canadian Women's Foundation, a national leader in the movement for gender equality in Canada, working to achieve systemic change. Andrea [The Canadian Women's Foundation] is also the creator of the signal for help hand sign. The Signal for Help hand sign allows someone to silently show they need help and want someone to check in on them in a safe way. Signal for Help has gone viral and was recently used by a 16-year-old girl in Kentucky who successfully alerted people that she was being kidnapped. Andrea joins us remotely from Toronto today. Andrea, welcome to the podcast and thank you so much for being here today.

Andrea Gunraj (01:03): Thanks for having me.

Lama Alsafi (01:05): Alight to kick us off Andrea, can you tell us a bit about the Canadian Women's Foundation and your work?

Andrea Gunraj (01:11): The Canadian Women's Foundation is Canada's public foundation for gender justice. We're definitely doing our best to support women, girls, and gender diverse people to move out of violence and out of poverty and into confidence and leadership. We launched in 1991 and since then our partners and donors have given more than $150 million to fund over 2,500 programs all over the country doing this work. And of course a big part of our work is trying to change the national public conversation on gender justice issues and address some of the pressing issues today that are perpetuating gender injustice.

Lama Alsafi (01:50): And Andrea, the Signal for Help, It's gone absolutely viral all over the internet and the news. Can you tell us, how did this idea come about and how did you decide to share it in the way that you have?

Andrea Gunraj (02:02): Well, we launched it last year in the beginning of the pandemic. We knew that issues of gender based violence would increase. In any disaster or crisis they tend to increase, and that happens around the world and certainly Canada's no exception. So we decided to launch this as a tool, to not only support survivors, but also support people who wanted to help them. And we knew at the same time that this gender-based violence would spike, people were using video calls more often. So we launched it in April and you're right. It went viral by July of last year. We learned that one in three people in Canada had heard about the signal or seen it being used. And it's just an indication to me, more than anything else that the Signal for Help is something that spoke to a real need and it resonated with people. And just to give you a bit of a description of what it is you, your palm goes face out, you tuck your thumb into your palm and you trap your thumb with your fingers. And that one movement is the Signal for Help.

Lama Alsafi (03:00): And if someone sees the Signal for Help hand signal being used, what are some things they can do to help?

Andrea Gunraj (03:06): So if you see the Signal for Help, you can reach out to the person using the signal in a kind of a low key way and say, Hey, I'm here. Reach out to me when you need me and you can let them take the lead. They might email you back. They might message or text you back. They might call you back and they might tell you, I just need you to be a listening ear. I need you to be somebody who's just there for me. That's fine. They might say, I need to know of a crisis line I can call or service I can go to. So know two or three of those in your area that you can refer somebody to. And you can also hear somebody say, listen, I need your help calling the authorities. I need your help alerting somebody like the police or a hospital, and you can take their lead on that as well too. But it's always good to not make any assumptions about what they need.

Andrea Gunraj (03:56): And certainly if you see the Signal for Help being used out of a window or a moving car, this case of a 16-year-old using it in a moving car, certainly you can know that that person is in real immediate danger and needs your support by calling the authorities right away. That's a fair response. But so often this gender based violence— things like intimate partner violence, sexual assault and emotional abuse—happens between people who know each other, who might be in a relationship and behind closed doors. And people won't necessarily go to authorities to tell them, they'll report to their family and friends.

Lama Alsafi (04:30): Imagining I'm out in public and I see the signal. How might I react? Is there a certain way? What if the signal is being used in the same vicinity as the abuser?

Andrea Gunraj (04:41): Well, that's a really great question. First of all, people may not use the Signal for Help to say they need help. There's lots of ways that people might indicate that they need help. They might just be uncomfortable looking. They might feel that they just need to look at you really intensely. They might not vocalize anything at all. So we know we have to be sensitive to the signs and signals of abuse. So if somebody is using a signal or you just know that they're in a bad situation, and you're not sure what to do, I think it's very fair in that public situation where you don't know the person to call 911 or emergency services. But I think that question about an abuser being in the vicinity, you know, a person will use whatever is safe for them in the moment to indicate that they need help.

Andrea Gunraj (05:30): So again, your family or your friend, who's most likely to tell you that they're going through a difficult situation may not even vocalize, and they may not even do any sign or signal. But you might just know that they're going through a tough situation. That's why part of being a really good signal responder is being able to say, listen, I'm here for you. And be proactive about it. Say, I'm here for you. I'll listen to you. I won't judge you. I'll let you take the lead. You can say those things at any time to anybody that you know, and they can know that you're a safe person that they can speak to when they're ready. That's one of the reasons why we're launching a signal responders campaign, because we want people to have the tools to be able to respond. We recognize that we have to really change our culture of stigma around these issues to a culture of support. So again, signalresponders.ca you can visit there, you can visit our website, canadianwomen.org to find out more information and to get involved in this broad conversation that goes goes far beyond Signal for Help.

Lama Alsafi (06:33): Andrea, how can men and boys engage and get involved in discussions and actions around gender based violence?

Andrea Gunraj (06:40): Well, you know, men and boys I think have a very unique role. We know that this violence often happens to women and girls and two-spirit and trans and non-binary people, and it's most often that men are perpetrating it. And boys, if they see it being perpetrated, they're more likely to act it out in later life with their partners, with their friends, with their family. So it's learned behaviour. And I think one of the things that men and boys can do is really break that cycle of learned behaviour. There are organizations that are designed to help people do this. I'm thinking about an organization like Next Gen Men, or an organization like White Ribbon Campaign. They have lots of resources and activities and initiatives for men and boys to get involved with. I think also about the idea of trying to get support proactively.

Andrea Gunraj (07:32): And if you feel, Hmm, I might use violence in my relationships because what I was taught and I'm not sure, but I'm not feeling comfortable with it. I know it's wrong. I don't want to be like that. I think it's important to be able to access counseling supports and community based supports, organizations doing this work. I think that men and boys can do this for themselves. I think they can encourage and help one another to access these supports, especially when they see this. It's about being a really great support for somebody who, you know, might be experiencing violence. And, you know, we listen to our peers most often, so I can see a man listening to his brother, his neighbour, his coworker, his friend, more often than anybody else. So I think that's a role that we can play. It's a very important role. And I think actually we all have a role to play, no matter where we are, in supporting those who are surviving violence, to be able to access the support that they need.

Lama Alsafi (08:29): Given the context, Andrea, of the last nearly two years and how gender based violence has increased during the pandemic, both in Canada and globally, how do you think systems or policies have of adapted to meet these challenges in Canada?

Andrea Gunraj (08:41): Well, I think especially in Canada, we've seen an influx of support from the government by way of emergency funding. There's been a great deal of emergency funding that has been designed to help particularly gender based violence organizations continue keeping their doors open and knowing that those risks are increasing and they will get more demand. But, you know, that's just an emergency moment. And at the Canadian Women's Foundation, we're thinking about what it takes to shock proof Canada. So what does that mean? We'll have have more disasters, we'll have more crises in the future, and it is not a given that gender based violence has to spike up. If we did things to prevent that spike, if we did things to make sure that people who are at risk of this violence were safe and supported more often more on a common basis, that the baseline of gender based violence would go down, then I think that the spikes just wouldn't happen. You wouldn't see that happen. So I think one of the things that the Canadian Women's Foundation of course is a big supporter of is the National Action Plan on Gender Based Violence. This is an effort happening, funded by the federal government and happening with lots of people doing great work across the country, including Women's Shelters Canada, one of our great partners. They're leading the way to try to make sure that there's a national action plan happening at all times, before a crisis, outside of a disaster moment. I think also we've seen that there needs to be just much more support for bringing down the risk level. And what is the risk of gender based violence? It happens because women don't get the rights and respect that they deserve. So we have to build up gender justice at large in Canada.

Andrea Gunraj (10:27): So I think one of the things that we can all do is ask our representatives what are they doing to address gender justice and gender based violence? The root causes and the actual impacts that are more in your face. What are they doing to address this? And I think a big part of the picture is the funding portfolios that happen. We often seem to sit our funding, the bulk of our funding, the bulk of our tax dollars in things like police, prosecution and prison. But we found that these mainstream legal systems actually don't do very much to address gender based violence. These crimes are by and large underreported, by and large underdressed by formal legal systems. What works is the community based stuff that has gotten just a drop of the dollars that they deserve. So I think asking our leaders, what are they doing to do this policy and practice systemic change, and how are they funding these organizations that are actually effective to address this behaviour? I think that's the first step. And that's your MP, your MPP and your city counselors at least.

Lama Alsafi (11:33): How about investing in the leadership of women, girls and non-binary people and empowering them to lead? How does this prevent or reduce gender based violence?

Andrea Gunraj (11:41): Well, we know that leadership matters in the sense that when people are leading who have an experience, they tend proactively respond to that experience. But I think as well too, that leadership of women and girls and non-binary people is so important because I think that there is so much research out there that shows that diversity in leadership positions makes workplace better, and makes your workplace address policies and practices that are traditionally underdressed. It's partially because they experience these things, but it's also also partially because of skill sets. You know, we know that people who are in leadership positions who are women and trans, two-spirit, non-binary people, they tend to be very open to collaboration, open to changing policies and practices. They like to lead diversity, inclusion and equity and justice initiatives. They tend to take those on far more. And I think that that's only going to deepen as we open up those tables. So I think it's, it's just good practice and it's something that we do need to see more of. And I do worry in the pandemic that this is going to be very difficult because we know that 30 years of gender equality gains, especially when it comes to the labour market, has been impacted. So all the more why we have to kind of pursue gender justice in a bigger way to make sure that those gains don't get lost fully, or at least can be regained.

Lama Alsafi (13:12): Andrea finally, how can someone at home right now, at work or in their car, how can someone listening right now, take some tangible action to prevent gender based violence?

Andrea Gunraj (13:21): Well, I think it's really important for us to know maybe two or three organizations that we can refer people to. These may be crisis lines, these, these may be shelters for people leaving abusive situations. This may be local organizations that have programs for women and girls and trans, two-spirit, non-binary people. These organizations are so critical, and people tend to go to them more than call the authorities or call 911. Another plus is to just be proactive and tell people, Hey, listen, I'm learning about this stuff. I know it's awful. And if you ever had anything happen, you can reach out to me. I'm not gonna judge you. I'm going to support you. If everybody in Canada did that, I think that that would make a huge difference in the way that our culture works, and that would do a lot for changing our culture of stigma to a of support. And finally, I do think that one of the things that we do need to do is hold our leaders accountable.

Lama Alsafi (14:23): Andrea, the Canadian Women's Foundation has an amazing podcast. Can you tell our listeners where they can find it?

Andrea Gunraj (14:30): Yeah, absolutely. Alright, Now What? is the podcast for the Canadian Women's Foundation. This is trying to get into more deeply the kinds of things you hear about all the time and wonder what's this about, why is this happening, and how come we haven't fixed it yet? So feel free, look up Alright, now What? a podcast from the Canadian Women's Foundation, wherever you get your podcast content. And please listen, subscribe, and yeah, support us.

Lama Alsafi (14:54): Andrea, thank you so much for joining us today.

Andrea Gunraj (14:57): Thank you.

Lama Alsafi (14:58): Thank you. And thank you to all of our listeners for tuning in. You can find every episode of 15 Minutes to Change the World on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and by visiting care.ca/podcast.