No time like the present

In a mere .63 of a second, Google popped up 161,000,000 results in response to my search for “woman abuse prevention month,” which began on November 1st. As I glanced through the offerings, I noticed one thing right away: shelters, sexual assault centres and other women’s organizations across Ontario are busy this month with activities to raise awareness about gender-based violence in their communities. These already over-extended and hard-working organizations are holding vigils, marches, walks and talks to help people understand both the prevalence of gender-based violence across this country and around the world and the need for serious government response to end that violence.

Would that we could see equally enthusiastic endeavours by our governments: municipal, provincial or federal. However, at least so far, the silence has been deafening.

Perhaps on November 25th, declared by the United Nations as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, we might hear something from elected officials. Or, maybe at some point during the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, a politician or two will appear at an event in their community.

I am doubtful about whether those potential appearances will be linked to meaningful commitments to end gender-based violence. I am sorry to be so cynical, but with a minority federal government about to enter its first sitting and a majority provincial government getting ready for an election in just a few months, I think I am right to suspect that so-called “women’s issues” will not be high on anyone’s list of priorities.

Time’s a-ticking

Meanwhile, rates of violence against women in the family, which rose astronomically when the pandemic forced many families to shelter in place 24 hours a day, remain high. Domestic homicides are also on the rise. Women are taking a major economic hit during the pandemic because we continue to carry the largest responsibility for raising children and caring for other vulnerable family members, such as aging parents.

Whether in Canada or elsewhere in the world, even as 2021 comes to a close, it is not safe to be a woman, and women do not have equality.

As UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said:

“Violence against women is a global human rights challenge. The COVID-19 pandemic has further exposed this issue as a global emergency requiring urgent action at all levels, in all spaces and by all people. . . The global community needs to hear the voices and experiences of women and girls and take into account their needs, especially survivors and those who face multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination. . . Action must involve predictable and flexible funding for women’s rights organizations, who so often act as first responders during crises. . . .These measures should not only focus on intervening once violence against women has occurred. They should work to prevent violence occurring in the first place, including through addressing social norms and power imbalances, and police and judicial systems need to increase accountability for perpetrators and end impunity.”

Taking action

Just because politicians are not rolling up their sleeves to prevent violence against women this month doesn’t mean the rest of us should just let November drift by. Here are some ideas for action:

  1. Write to Canada’s new Minister for Women and Gender Equality, Marci Ien, and encourage her to continue the work of her predecessor to engage with community-based women’s organizations to build and implement a National Action Plan on Violence Against Women and Girls and Gender-Based Violence
  2. Write to the new Minister for Crown Indigenous Relations, Marc Miller, and the new Minister for Indigenous Services, Patty Hajdu, to tell them it’s time to implement the Calls to Action of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. Now. No more delays.
  3. Find out who intends to run in your riding in June’s provincial election and put them on notice that the issue of violence against women will be important to you when you vote. Ask them if they will ensure that adequate annualized funding is made available for shelters and other violence against women services if they are elected. Encourage them to reconvene the Violence Against Women roundtable.
  4. Support the shelter, sexual assault centre or other women’s organizations in your community with your dollars, your time, your voice. Make a donation, go out to events, join the Board, volunteer, write a letter to your local paper talking about the important work the women’s organizations in your community do.
  5. Call out sexism and misogyny everywhere you see and hear it.

There is no quick fix to gender-based violence, but it is time for all of us to do more not just to respond to it after it happens but to stop it from happening all together.

As Windsor’s Hiatus House said in its media release for Woman Abuse Prevention Month:

“The courage of the woman is not enough. It takes the strength of an entire community to end violence against women.”

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