Creating a collective voice of dissent

YWCA's new campaign hopes to convince people that it's okay to say violence against women is #NotOkay.


Everyone that sets up a hashtag for a campaign hopes that it will take on a life of its own. However, YWCA is hoping #NotOkay not only spreads, but becomes a tool in speaking out against images of violence against women in the entertainment we consume.

On the #NotOkay microsite, YWCA gives Canadians tools to spread the word about the issue on social media, including images to use as profile pictures, pre-written tweets and Facebook statuses featuring statistics and calls to action, as well as a timeline compiling the discussion happening around the hashtag.

On Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, YWCA will also be sharing three 15-second videos compiling rapid-burst images of depictions of violence against women, focused on TV, videogames and music videos. There will also be a series of radio ads, featuring graphic descriptions of violence against women that sound like they have been pulled from a court case, only to reveal that they are from best-selling videogames or award-winning TV shows.

“When we looked at the 25 years since the Ecole Polytechnique massacre, it was really a pivotal moment in Canada for looking at violence against women, yet these images persist,” says Ann Decter, director of advocacy and public policy at YWCA. “We’ve done a lot of work and a lot of things have changed, but it’s still with us clearly, especially looking at what’s in the news this week.”

Part of the idea behind the #NotOkay hashtag is to help flag content featuring images of violence against women as inappropriate. The push behind #NotOkay goes until Dec. 6, but the hope is that the hashtag will continue on as a tool for people to use.

“We are hoping that people see the power in speaking as one,” says Terry Drummond, ECD at Juniper Park, the agency behind the campaign. “That is the aim of the red ‘x’ symbol. To give a collective voice to those who are tired of seeing women being abused for trivial entertainment.”

Even though YWCA is the largest organization of its kind in Canada, Decter notes that it still has a non-profit budget and, as a result, hasn’t had many opportunities to do big campaigns behind its advocacy work. Juniper Park provided its work pro-bono, coordinating relationships with media buyer PHD and Headspace to work on the campaign in French. YWCA shifted as much of its budget as possible to cover the rest, with Decter adding that the ability to get no-cost promotion on social media helped stretch that budget a long way.

Aside from the cost, Decter says social media is a way for YWCA, an organization more focused on advocacy work than fundraising, to stay relevant with its audience. A year ago, the organization created and shared an infographic illustrating the prevalence of sexual assault and the rarity of convictions in Canada. When sexual abuse allegations against radio personality Jian Ghomeshi arose last month, Decter decided to share the infographic again and saw it reach a far larger audience than the first time around.

While the campaign is intended to reach as broad an audience as possible, Decter says the hope is that it will be particularly relevant to a younger audience. The majority of YWCA’s work is built around advocacy for women’s causes, but #NotOkay brings the focus to its prevention work, and that means driving the message home to people while they are young.