International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women: Governments must act on domestic violence

“We are witnessing a pandemic within a pandemic. Physical and social isolation, economic stress, and the overall uncertainty resulting from COVID-19 have created a perfect storm for the increased risk of domestic violence. What's worse, the lockdowns may make it harder for people experiencing violence to seek help.” — Larry Brown, NUPGE President

Ottawa (23 Nov. 2020) — November 25 marks the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. Globally, the annual 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence will take place from November 25 to December 10 under the theme, "Orange the World: Fund, Respond, Prevent, Collect!"

In Canada, the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) has been sounding the alarm on the issue of domestic violence, which disproportionately impacts women and gender-diverse people. NUPGE is calling on provincial and federal governments to take urgent action to address domestic violence, which has been a growing problem during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pandemic within a pandemic

“We are witnessing a pandemic within a pandemic,” said Larry Brown, NUPGE President. “Physical and social isolation, economic stress, and the overall uncertainty resulting from COVID-19 have created a perfect storm for the increased risk of domestic violence." 

"What's worse," said Brown, "the lockdowns may make it harder for people experiencing violence to seek help.”

This is something that impacts NUPGE members, in their homes and in their jobs.

A complicated picture

NUPGE has heard from its members that the situation across Canada ranges from one extreme to the other. A recent CBC News article illustrates this contrast in Alberta, where there's been a jump in domestic violence calls to the police during the pandemic, while some shelters have seen a decrease in use of their services. 

The latter is troubling because the front-line staff know that domestic violence hasn’t gone away. In other cases, shelters are full, yet they are operating at reduced capacity due to public health restrictions. 

Overall, according to a Statistics Canada survey of victim services, 54% of programs reported an increase in the number of domestic violence victims in the first few months of the pandemic. The increased risk of domestic violence was also highlighted in a recent report on COVID-19 from the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), which outlines the many inequitable impacts of the pandemic.

Recommendations sent to elected officials

In this extremely worrying context, NUPGE has developed a set of recommendations for governments.

They were informed by a recent NUPGE paper entitled, Domestic Violence and the Workplace: How Non-Canadian Jurisdictions Have Implemented Workplace Protections for Victims of Domestic Violence. They also build on past work on domestic violence at work in Canada. The recommendations include legislating paid domestic violence leave and other workplace protections, funding community-based supports, and supporting prevention.

NUPGE has submitted the set of recommendations, along with the international comparison paper, to the Premiers. The material has also been sent to federal government officials, including the Prime Minister and the Minister for Women and Gender Equality. 

Understanding the scope of violence

NUPGE is also encouraging its members and Canadians to complete the survey on violence and harassment in the workplace. Launched by the Canadian Labour Congress, in partnership with the Centre for Research and Education on Violence Against Women and Children at Western University, and the University of Toronto, the survey is intended to shed light on and develop mechanisms for workers exposed to harassment and violence in the workplace.

Like we saw with the national survey on the impacts of domestic violence on workers and the workplace, figures can be used to stress to governments and employers that protections must be put in place to protect workers.

The survey can be found online.


NUPGE

The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 390,000 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