CALGARY -- A new tool kit being distributed in Alberta aims to help men better understand and take action against gender-based violence.

The Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters (ACWS) has launched the 'Leading Change Expansion Pack’ to invite and equip boys and men in the province to become better allies for women.

"We need men to listen to women, hear about what they go through in their day to day lives, learn a little bit more about how the world is different for women and lead change to interrupt toxic behaviours that they might encounter everyday," said Christie Lavan, director of public relations and community engagement for ACWS.

The boxes are filled with activities, games including a deck of cards dubbed 'Cards For Masculinity’ and different resources in an effort to teach men how they can make a real difference.

They are designed particularly for men who are not likely to abuse but may be curious about what they can do to help create positive change, especially in the age of #metoo and other social media movements.

"If it causes someone to call their friend out when they make a sexist comment about the waitress at a bar, that’s a huge win," said Lavan. "It can be so many micro ways, it’s just doing something differently then you did before. That’s what’s going to create culture change."

More than 500 boxes have been delivered to men across Alberta. According to a survey by ACWS the boxes are being well received, with 74 per cent saying they’d like a follow-up edition of the package if one becomes available.

Staff are encouraged and there's reason to believe the packages will lead to real change. A teacher has adopted the tools as part of their curriculum for students and a musician using the information in song writing.

"The pandemic has enabled us to develop new ways of reaching folks and enabling transformative change," said Lavan. "People like that they can work through the activities in their own time, from the comfort of their own home."

The boxes are free for a limited time through Leading Change Pack

IMPACT OF PANDEMIC ON DOMESTIC VIOLENCE

According to the Calgary Police Service, there has been an increase in domestic violence calls during the pandemic. The ACWS says the likelihood of abuse escalating to homicide reached an all-time high in 2020.

The ongoing message during the pandemic was to stay home but that's not always a safe environment for someone living in an abusive home. The risk may be heightened as a result of increased isolation and new financial stresses at home.

Calgary police say there was a 15 per cent increase in domestic violence calls between 2019 and 2020, with 19,800 calls last year, however, there was a 13 per cent decrease in violent assaults associated with domestic violence. 

Staff Sgt. Vincent Hancott with the CPS domestic conflict unit says there are come concerns about under reporting during the pandemic.

“That does cause us concern when there are provincial restrictions and as I said, that plays into the hands of abusers, when they want to restrict access to social media, access to banking information, access to family and friends, travel," he said. 

"So the pandemic is possibly going to exasperate that and make it more difficult for domestic violence victims to come forward."

The number of people seeking shelters is actually down slightly in Alberta. According to Lavan, that’s likely due to COVID-19 concerns, reduced capacity at shelters due to social distancing, and women who are unable to escape with their abuser in their home.

"Staff have shared that in the last few months, they’re really noticing a lot of women that were scheduled to move into a second‐stage unit, but then are cancelling at the last minute. The sense is that women may be under increased scrutiny and living in danger and can’t leave, though they may want to."

If you or someone you know is at risk of domestic violence or seeking support from a shelter, you're encouraged to call the ACWS hotline at: 1-866-331-3933