On this December 6, the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) recommits to its work toward ending violence against women and eliminating the conditions that allow violence to thrive.
Ottawa (05 Dec. 2014) — It may have been 25 years since the attack on women students at École Polytechnique, when Marc Lepine entered the engineering class brandishing a semi-automatic rifle that would be used to kill 14 women, but little has improved in terms of finding a solution to violence against women.
Every time we turn on the news, there are more and more stories from women sharing their personal experiences of abuse and violence. At home, in schools, on the street and in workplaces, violence against women is as pronounced today as it was on December 6, 1989.
Violence against women and girls taking many more forms
Twenty-five years later, violence may be taking on a different look, but it's as harmful and dangerous to women and their families as ever before.
Domestic violence at home and in the workplace
Domestic violence remains the most prevalent form of violence against women in society. A 2012 Statistics Canada survey on transition houses reported that out of the 4,566 women and 3,570 dependent children staying in shelters, 74 per cent were at shelters primarily because of abuse. That works out to 23 women per 100,000, aged 15 years and older, in Canada. The survey goes on to report that 68 per cent of women in shelters had been experiencing emotional abuse and 52 per cent had been suffering physical abuse.
Not only is harassment harmful in the workplace but domestic violence also affects the well-being of victims and others who share the workplace.
In the first-ever survey on how domestic violence affects the workplace, carried out in 2014 by the University of Western Ontario and the Canadian Labour Congress, out of 8,429 respondents, 82 per cent reported that their experience with domestic violence had a negative impact on their ability to do their job.
Half of the workers who experience domestic violence faced some form of that violence at, or near, work in forms such as harassing emails, calls, texts, stalking and physical violence.
Missing and murdered Aboriginal women
The Native Womens' Association of Canada reports that two to three Aboriginal women are reported missing or murdered each month, although those numbers may be higher due to the lack of reporting. At the moment, they have recorded more than 1,100 Aboriginal women and girls who are missing or have been murdered.
With changes in technology, the Internet is taking on a more prominent role in extending the traditional environments where violence is generally practiced. Police and government agencies are now receiving increased reports of cyberbullying and cyber sexual violence aimed at women and girls.
Growing income inequality, cuts to public services and a lack of leadership foster violence
Violence against women violates women’s fundamental rights to bodily integrity and freedom from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. It is also a form of gender discrimination. It is about power and control. Violence against women can exist anywhere — in any community, workplace, relationship. But there are some circumstances that contribute to the conditions that allow this kind of abuse to develop and grow.
Cuts to public services and privatization
For decades now in Canada we have witnessed a massive attack on the vital public services that help support those in need. This is especially true when it comes to helping women get the support they need during abusive experiences or to leave violent relationships.
A Statistics Canada study in 2012 found that about 420 women are turned away from shelters each day because they are full. Shelters aren't the only place feeling the impact of government austerity measures.
Under the Conservative government, women's shelters, counseling services, crisis lines have been defunded or forced to close. Across the country, we have witnessed cuts to legal aid, advocacy programs, supports for women with disabilities, to child care and family programs. These cuts all have a negative impact on women trying to establish a stable environment for themselves and their families.
Women and income inequality
Coping with the aftermath of violence not only has a personal effect, it also comes with a financial cost, especially given the economic challenges women already face in Canada.
The lack of a national early childhood education and child care program, the inequities that exist for women in the Employment Insurance (EI) program, and the pay gap between women and men had already left Canadian women struggling long before the economic recession began.
But we know that the recession, and the ongoing government austerity measures, have inflicted even more damage to women. Cuts to public services women rely on, coupled with the part-time, low-wage strategy employers are using, contribute to the rising income inequality in Canada. Privatization of public services leads to added costs. Women who lack financial resources have a harder time leaving abusive relationships and accessing resources that will help them move forward.
Labour unions provide an economic advantage to communities. Workers in unionized environments negotiate higher wages, have access to benefits and have greater job security than workers in non-unionized workplaces. When workers are paid a good wage, they spend it in their communities buying goods and services at home. The Conservative government's deliberate attack on unions has the ability to greatly undermine women's financial security.
No government strategies to combat violence against women
Governments and societies are responsible for ensuring women’s human rights. But if anything the federal government, first with the Liberal cuts to public services, followed by a decade of Conservative cuts and defunding of programs and services, has been on a steady path to dismantle any supports designed to help women across Canada.
The Canadian Network of Women's Shelters and Transition Houses reported in March 2014 that the three biggest challenges for shelters are a lack of government funding, gaps in services for marginalized women, and a lack of support when women leave the shelter.
Despite the hundreds of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls, the Conservative government has refused to recognize the urgency and severity of the crisis.
By cutting corporate taxes, the Conservatives have given up massive revenues that could have been invested in programs to help women succeed. Providing necessary resources and support systems are key factors in helping women escape and recover from abuse and violence.
But instead, as government refuses to act to address violence against women, we are seeing a higher cost — in human lives and in spending. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives reports that it is costing the country $9 billion per year to deal with the effects of violence against women.
Broader understanding, solidarity and action defines our path forward
A positive trend is emerging though. In the absence of government action, and by using the Internet as an organizing tool, more and more women are speaking up, sharing experiences and stories to ensure women's voices are heard. In public, in the workplace, and online women are organizing to put greater pressure on governments to make endig violence against women a priority.
There are many organizations across Canada mounting campaigns to raise awareness and build a broader movement to help end violence against women. Your contribution to these efforts will make a difference.
- Up for Debate
- Canadian Network of Women's Shelters and Transition Houses
- Native Women's Association of Canada
- Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action (Campaign of Solidarity with Aboriginal Women)
- Canadian Labour Congress (Domestic Violence in the Workplace)
There are many solutions out there to combat violence against women, yet there is too much inaction by governments and employers.
Women know there is no time to waste in finding concrete measures to eliminate violence against women. We must keep working together to ensure that on the 50th anniversary of the Montreal Massacre, we're not having this conversation again.
The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 340,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE