Group seeks to end violence against women in Quebec

Violence against women consultative committee members Louise Riendeau, left, Manon Monastesse, centre, and Nathalie Duhamel, right, are seen with Brian and Marcia Bronfman.

Nothing less than a cultural shift in attitudes toward women is sought by the Peace Grantmakers Network (PGN), a partnership of philanthropic foundations, institutions and corporations that has determined that violence against, and harassment of, women and girls must end in Quebec.

And they are putting their money, influence and time into reaching that goal in very concrete ways.

PGN president Brian Bronfman and wife his wife, Marcia Bronfman, are not jumping on the bandwagon, following the spate of headlines about sexual misconduct. They chose to make this issue a priority two years ago, when the Foundation of Greater Montreal warned that rates of domestic violence in the city was significantly higher than in Toronto and Vancouver.

One year ago, PGN took the lead in organizing a daylong provincial forum, held at the Montreal offices of Richter LLP, a PGN member, where close to 50 non-governmental organizations, most of them working on the frontlines with women and children, as well as academics and other experts, got together to brainstorm ideas.

The forum resulted in a stark report that was made public during Quebec’s annual “12 days of action against violence against women,” leading up to the Dec. 6 anniversary of the Ecole Polytechnique massacre of 14 young women in 1989.

First among the 12 recommendations is more government investment in crisis centres and shelters, and greater co-ordination of relevant health and social services. Others include:

  • Mandatory training in the issue for everyone working in the education, health and social services sectors, as well as police officers and those working in the legal system;
  • Compulsory sex education for all children, from kindergarten through high school, that stresses healthy and equal relationships, and continues through college and university;
  • A public awareness campaign stressing that mistreating women and girls is unacceptable, as is indifference.

Marcia Bronfman points to the effectiveness of an Ontario government advertising campaign launched two years ago on social media. Under the slogan, “It’s Never Okay,” it targeted insidious behaviour that demeans women, and spread the message that standing by is also wrong.

Brian Bronfman notes that bullying was not taken seriously until relatively recently. Once people recognized how prevalent it was, concerted action on the part of stakeholders and governments helped change attitudes dramatically, he said. He believes the same can be accomplished for violence against women.

The task may seem enormous, but he is confident that “solutions that are simple, effective and in line with the realities in the field” can be found.

Marcia Bronfman adds that, “Progress cannot be made without a global, integrated vision that is supported by both the private sector and the government.” With the issue so much in the news, she believes that this is the time to act.

Created in 2009, the apolitical PGN’s motto is “fostering social harmony.” It grew out of the Brian Bronfman Family Foundation, which is focused on peace and conflict resolution.

PGN is not concerned with nuclear disarmament or ending wars, but with putting peace into practice in daily life. It is looking for those who can make a real impact on society, rather than making symbolic gestures.

Professionally, Brian Bronfman taught conflict resolution and worked as a mediator. Marcia Bronfman has a background in intercultural bridge-building, effective communication and human rights. She was instrumental in developing a national strategy for bullying prevention.

Today, they both work full-time for PGN.

Although almost nine years old, PGN has really hit its stride in the past three years, opening an office and hiring a small staff.

PGN began around the Bronfmans’ dining room table. Besides the couple, the co-founders were Dino Grifo, CEO of the Montreal Institute of Technology, which applies technical and entrepreneurial skills to bringing about social change, and Robert Kleinman, executive director of the Jewish Community Foundation of Montreal.

When it first started, PGN had four member organizations, not including the Bronfmans’ own foundation. Today it has 19, including a number of Jewish organizations, such as the Maxwell Cummings Family Foundation, the Alex & Ruth Dworkin Foundation, the Stellabar Foundation, as well as the accounting firm Richter.

Getting such financial behemoths as the Royal Bank and the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec on board has given PGN heft.

Despite its name (which will soon be changed), PGN does not make grants itself. Instead, it serves as a catalyst for projects, providing a “macro-view” to mainly grassroots organizations that raises their visibility and increases their efficiency.

The couple will soon release details on what they dub, “La Maison de la Paix de Montréal,” a large building, which Bronfman has picked out, that will act as the “nerve centre” for groups and individuals that promote peace and social action, as PGN defines it. It will allow them to work under one roof and share ideas and resources.