Biking to help end violence against women

Joachim Ostertag is biking across the country to end violence against women.  - MARGARET SPEIRS
Joachim Ostertag is biking across the country to end violence against women.
— image credit: MARGARET SPEIRS

WHILE MANY people are taking the summer off for vacation and getting away from it all, one Ontario man is using his holiday time to bike across the country to talk to others about ending violence against women.

Joachim Ostertag began his journey June 20 at Owen Sound Ontario and passed through Terrace July 29.

The 60-year-old always wanted to bike across the country and managed to accumulate enough vacation time to do it this year.

He works as the manager of a men’s program to help men who have abused their spouses in Owen Sound, Ontario.

“I think we need to shift our attitudes about how men think about women and about ourselves,” he said, adding he’s  talked to several people during his trip about violence against women and what changes they would like to see in the world.

He liked the idea of biking because it’s simple, basic and easier to meet people.

He found that wearing a bright yellow cycling shirt with Change the Cycle written on it got other people’s attention and they came up and talked to him.

He talked to an aboriginal man in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario who said every family on his reserve knows a woman who’s been killed or is missing.

“I think the Highway of Tears goes through Canada,” said Ostertag, adding that violence against aboriginal women is three to five times higher than against non-aboriginal women.

He sat on a bench by the Bulkley River with an aboriginal man, who talked about the girls and women who hitchhike.

“It seemed on the surface he was blaming the girls but I think he was concerned because they could be anyone’s daughter,” said Ostertag.

A woman came up to him after seeing his bright outfit to ask about what he was doing and he noticed she had a tattoo that said Woman of Constant Sorrow.

She told him she was a victim of Robert Pickton.

Boys know that no-means-no and that women need to be respected and are equal but they don’t act like it.

Domestic violence goes to a person’s core, affecting the ability to have a relationship, work, and enjoy life.

It’s like pollution in the river – if you pollute upstream, it affects everything downstream, he said.

“So if we teach boys to disrespect women, it affects everything else later on,” he said.

He’s had men come into the program he runs saying they didn’t want to abuse

women, they didn’t want to be like their fathers, but the behaviour comes through anyway.

They want to be in charge, have a sense of entitlement, and when a woman doesn’t want to do what they want, they put their foot down, threaten, yell, and it can get physical.

A majority of men respect women but won’t speak up.

“I don’t know all the answers but one is that men need to talk to each other,” said Ostertag.

“Most are respectful and most can identify respectful and disrespectful behaviour in other men.”

Men don’t generally ask for help  – he says even for himself it’s difficult to ask – but when men are in the locker room or other places, they need to stand up when they see bad behaviour or hear negative talk and tell others their behaviour and language isn’t OK.

From here, Ostertag was on his way to Prince Rupert where he planned to take the ferry to Port Hardy, ride down the island and end up in Vancouver Aug. 10 for a ceremony at a memorial stone for missing and murdered women there.

That’s a total journey of about 5,500 km.

On his way here, he avoided the Trans-Canada Highway in Ontario, where he said the bike lane is very narrow and dangerous, by going through the U.S.

After Owen Sound and  Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, he rode south of Lake Superior through Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota then to Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Edmonton, Jasper, Prince George to Terrace.

He also went through the U.S. and made sure to stop in Duluth, Minnesota where the first program for abusive men was developed in the 1980s.

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