Balbir Gurm is an activist. She is also an academic. It’s hard to tell which came first.
Recounting some of her earliest memories of her grandmother, Balbir describes her as “...the kind of woman that always spoke her mind and told the truth. If somebody was having an issue and no one else was willing to speak up - she did.” It’s clear that Balbir is following in her grandmother’s footsteps. Balbir is strong-willed and outspoken – a woman who won’t back down when she believes in something.
As an activist, Balbir has a long history of speaking out against issues of gender inequality. Looking back, she recalls two female students who committed suicide about 20 years ago. “One of them killed herself on our campus in her car.” They were both survivors of sexual assault but the media never reported that part of the story.
As an academic, the silence around the impact of violence on the everyday lives of female students prompted Balbir to conduct her own research project on sexual assault. “We interviewed people and 12 women came forward who had been sexually assaulted…all by relatives.”
That was 20 years ago.
Today, Balbir is using her role as an instructor at Kwantlen Polytechnic University to close the gap between theory and practice in order to bring about social change. She is the driving force behind the Network to Eliminate Violence in Relationships (NEVR), a community-based network of concerned individuals and organizations speaking out against domestic violence. Her goal is to break the silence about domestic violence by encouraging community dialogue.
“Being privileged with a doctorate in education has enabled me to combine academic knowledge with practical knowledge from our community partners and together, we can advocate for social justice issues.”
NEVR’s most recent initiative is an interactive play entitled “It’s Your Call”. The actors are real people. They are key players in the criminal justice system including the police, Crown Counsel, and victim services who play themselves. The play encourages the audience to create a coordinated response that better serves women and children.
When asked why it is so important to create a community dialogue about domestic violence, her answer is simple: “If you’re not saying something against violence, then change can’t happen.”