Central Nova MP Sean Fraser made the funding announcement on March 5 of $1 million in support of the Healthy Relationships for Youth Program.

ANTIGONISH: The work done by the Antigonish Women’s Resource Centre and Sexual Assault Services Association in the community will now expand across the province thanks to a contribution of $1 million from the federal government.

On behalf of Ginette Petitpas Taylor, Federal Minister of Health, Central Nova MP Sean Fraser made the funding announcement on March 5 in support of the Healthy Relationships for Youth Program.

“This particular program, there has been support for in the past but the funding envelope is something new that’s part of the federal gender-based violence strategy,” Fraser told reporters following the announcement. “With this particular investment, you’re seeing a new practice at play for women’s organizations where we’re giving some certainty for a period of five-years which allows them to plan for the long-term and figure out what works and implement changes as they go.”

A school based peer-facilitated violence prevention program – which takes place in 10 schools in the Strait regional centre for education (SRCE) – Healthy Relationships for Youth focuses on building healthy relationships.

This five-year investment by the Public Health Agency of Canada is part of Canada’s strategy to prevent and address gender-based violence. The funding will enable the program to be translated into French, allowing for collaboration with the Conseil scolaire acadien provincial, and will be expanded into a total of 25 schools by September.

“It will have impacts on approximately 1,200 young people each year for five-years,” Fraser highlighted. “Meaning there’s going to be well over 5,000 young people who benefit from this training to understand what healthy relationships and gender-based violence looks like in teen dating scenarios.”

Arwen Sweet, provincial coordinator of the Healthy Relationships for Youth Program said despite being in the Strait region for about 12-years, this is the first time they’ve received any kind of sustainable funding which puts them in a position to complete an in-depth intervention research piece and evaluation for the program, which they haven’t had the opportunity to do up until now.

“We train Grade 11 and 12 students as facilitators in and around different content that has to do with healthy relationships,” she said. “There’s a lot around dating violence but also in and around some of the topics that underpin violence like sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, and kind of how to interrupt those things.”

The facilitators go into Grade 9 classrooms and deliver 12 sessions throughout the course of the school year and Sweet believes the program is the most effective when students in Grade 9 are able to return as facilitators because they’re able to understand the impact it had on them and pay it forward.

Fraser, who had the opportunity to sit for about two-and-a-half-years on the parliamentary standing committee for the status of women, said an early study they took on was the need to end violence against women and girls in particular.

One of the things that came away from the study was the need to support community organizations and the need to develop a national strategy to combat gender-based violence. In the last federal budget, there was an investment of over $100 million towards a national strategy.

“There are small things we can do like not interrupting women around the decision-making tables or giving credit when their ideas come forward,” he said. “And then there are big things we can be doing like championing an end to gender-based violence with community associations.”

Fraser said it’s something that will benefit the entire country when gender equality is finally achieved. He added how important it is for men and boys to be part of this conversation, as this is not solely a women’s issue.

“Knowing we’re working through this organization to help bring an end to gender-based violence and sexual violence against young women and girls by having peer-led training in our school system is something I’m incredibly proud of.”