Wednesday November 25th marked the start of an annual international campaign by the United Nations called the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence (GBV). This campaign calls for the prevention and elimination of violence against women and girls. GBV is a leading public health problem, and refers to acts that result in, or are likely to result in, physical, sexual, or psychological harm or suffering to women. This includes threats of acts of violence, coercion, or depriving someone of their liberty in public or in private settings. The theme of this year’s campaign is: Orange the World: Fund, Respond, Prevent, Collect!”
In Canada alone, half of all women will have experienced at least one incident of physical or sexual violence since the age of 16. Violence against women has life-long consequences through its impact on a woman’s well-being, and the well-being of her children and family, as well as the negative effects on her physical, psychological, reproductive and sexual health, and her ability to pursue employment and educational opportunities. Violence against women also has a significant economic impact, through medical, legal, social service, and employment costs. The COVID-19 pandemic has further highlighted the importance of this campaign, as violence against women has sky-rocketed due to social isolation, mandatory lock-down procedures, financial and food insecurity, limited physical transportation options, stretched capacity of support services, increases in problematic coping behaviours and controlling behaviours by partners, and loss of connection with social supports.
Who is affected?
GBV is not defined by race, socio-economic status, nationality, religion, or sexual orientation — it affects everyone. However, due to colonialism, political conflicts, racism, sexism, homophobia, and social inequality, some groups of women may be more vulnerable than others.
GBV especially impacts racialized women. For example, in Canada, immigrant and refugee women are more vulnerable to domestic violence due to economic dependence, social isolation, language barriers, lack of knowledge of resources, and trauma from their previous homes, resulting in a fear of reporting due to victimization or the threat of deportation. Additionally, Indigenous women in Canada are killed at six times the rate of non-Indigenous women, and are more than twice as likely to have experienced violence. Similarly, while Canada lacks data on the rates of violence against Black women, data from the United States shows that in 2014, Black women were more than twice as likely to die from domestic violence — a dire statistic. Black women are also disproportionately affected by sexual assault, sexual exploitation, and intimate partner violence. Alarmingly, when Black women do seek help or support, they often face racism, discrimination, and a lack of culturally-safe support.
Data on GBV in Black and other racialized communities is further limited by a lack of reporting, which stems from culturally-reinforced notions of solidarity with their communities, as well as cultural stigma, and fear of law enforcement and legal systems due to their continued oppressive and discriminatory actions. So, Black women face the extremely difficult decision of reporting violence to law officials (which is challenging because the relationships between law officials and Black and other racialized communities are fraught with abuse, mistrust, and neglect), or staying silent and avoiding the perceived betrayal of their community.
GBV also has a disproportionate impact on LGBTQQI2S (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex and two-spirit) and gender non-conforming people. Transwomen are almost twice as likely to report experiencing partner violence compared to national rates. Women who identify as lesbian or bisexual are three to four times more likely than heterosexual women to report experiencing partner violence. Racialized LGBTQQI2S women experience even higher rates of violence due to discrimation, social isolation, persecution, stigma, and poverty, among other factors.
Among all women, young women between the ages of 15 to 24 years are at the highest risk of experiencing physical violence and homicide. This is followed by senior women, who are also at risk of experiencing elder abuse and violence, including emotional, physical, and sexual violence. Women with disabilities are twice as likely to experience physical violence and three times more likely to experience sexual violence. Women living in remote communities, especially the territories, face rates of violence eight times higher than women living in provinces.
Overall, GBV is a complex issue; however, it is clear that the factors that exacerbate violence against racialized, immigrant, refugee, LGBTQQI2S women, young women, elderly women, women with disabilities, and women living in remote communities reflect the societies and countries that have left women out of policies, programs, and support for too long. GBV has been a pandemic throughout human history and it is only in the last century that we have acknowledged its existence and started to change the status quo.
What can we do?
Promoting education and raising awareness of GBV is one of the first steps that we can take in addressing the pandemic of GBV. Improving responses to GBV can only happen when we take responsibility to understand GBV and action to improve systems that respond to GBV.
Understanding what GBV is can help you understand whether you or someone you know may be experiencing it. Depending on your location, context, and the violence you are experiencing, you may seek out support that is specific to you. Support looks different for each survivor of GBV, and not all supports and resources may be appropriate for everyone. Many supports have measures in place to protect your confidentiality and privacy. Whether you choose to seek out support immediately is your choice and decision, regardless of if or when you seek support, empowering ourselves with knowledge about supports and resources will ensure we can seek them out when we need them. If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, call 911 or your local emergency services.
Ending GBV will require a concerted effort from everyone. All segments of society, all aspects of government, must commit to efforts that not only support those experiencing violence, but also efforts aimed at preventing violence in the first place. Policies and programs that teach healthy relationships, positive masculinities, provide greater power and agency to women to allow them to leave abusive circumstances, are survivor-centred, and take responsibility for gender-based violence are needed to address this pandemic. However, each and every one of these solutions will require greater awareness of GBV among the public and in our communities.
What are some resources for those affected by GBV?
For those affected by GBV, the Government of Canada has provided a list of services that include crisis lines, shelters, information, and other supports.
There are many shelters within the GTA that can house women fleeing GBV. A directory of shelters in Canada can be accessed here.
Significantly, there are supports within Ontario that have been created to serve specific groups:
- Akwesasne Family Wellness Program
- Fort Albany First Nation Women’s Shelter
- Kabaeshiwim Respite Women’s Shelter
- Anduhyaun Emergency Shelter
- Anishnaabe Kwewag Gamig Inc
- Battered Women’s Support Services
Immigrant, refugee, and non-status women:
Some of the resources that we can use to prevent GBV and seek support for someone experiencing GBV are listed below:
Workplaces violence and harassment:
To learn and understand more about GBV, check out the following resources: