On November 25, 2015, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, Dubravka Simonovic, called on all States to focus on gender-related killing of women by the creation of a “femicide watch:”
“Violence against women is the most atrocious manifestation of the systematic and widespread discrimination and inequality that women and girls around the world continue to face.”
Since the Special Rapporteur called for a femicide watch, women have continued to be killed by men in Canada at similar rates year after year.
These numbers don’t lie
In Ontario, the Ontario Association of Interval and Transition Houses (OAITH) maintains an annual Femicide List of all women in Ontario killed by men. The list runs from November 25 to November 24 of each year.
The list for 2015/16 contained the names of 27 women.
The list for last year contained 32 names of women between the ages of 18 and 82.
The United Nations defines femicide as the murder of a woman or girl on the grounds of her sex and/or gender. While femicide includes all killing of women by men, most of the time women are killed by their partners or former partners. According to Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, Dr. Gregory Taylor, one woman is killed every four days by a male member of her family. Of those, one woman is killed every six days by her partner or former partner.
If other cases – unsolved murders, missing women, women who die living on the street because they have fled violence in their homes – were included, the numbers of women dead because of male violence would rise significantly.
What have we learned?
Ontario’s Domestic Violence Death Review Committee (DVDRC) was established in 2003, in response to recommendations made by the juries in two major inquests: one into the murder of Arlene May by her former boyfriend Randy Iles and the other into the murder of Gillian Hadley by her estranged husband Ralph.
The DVDRC reviews domestic violence homicides in Ontario and makes recommendations to help prevent such deaths in the future.
After more than a decade of work, the DVDRC has noted some clear patterns:
- most victims — more than 90% – of domestic homicide are women and children
- 74% of the time, there has been a history of domestic violence
- in 68% of the cases reviewed, there was a pending or recent separation
- 72% of the time, there are seven or more risk factors present
- 1/3 of the cases are murder/suicides
How can we turn the tide?
In response to the Special Rapporteur’s call, Canada has just launched the Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability. Located at the University of Guelph’s Centre for the Study of Social and Legal Responses to Violence, the Observatory is headed up by Myrna Dawson, Canada Research Chair in Public Policy in Criminal Justice. Dawson also sits on the DVDRC.
The Observatory will function as a web-based research and information centre with the goal of preventing femicide and other forms of gender-based killings in Canada.
Its work of conducting, mobilizing, exchanging and promoting research and knowledge will be led by a multidisciplinary, multi-sectoral panel of experts from across the country.
Encouragingly, the list of types of femicide it plans to monitor and investigate is long and broad-reaching, including both intimate and non-intimate killings of women as well as the killing of women in armed conflict, culturally framed killings and killings associated with human trafficking and sex work, among others.
It is my hope that the work of the Observatory leads directly and quickly to systemic changes across all systems that are or should become involved to prevent femicide.
Women in Canada do not need yet another report that gathers attention when it is released and then dust as it sits on a shelf with all the other reports that have been generated over the years. It is time to start to end the worldwide war on women; a war that is raging right here in this country.