“It is every woman’s fundamental right to live in safety and security in her home and community – free from the threat of violence.”
It might be more realistic to add the words: “But we are still a long way from there.”
Less optimistically, but more honestly, the United Nations, in announcing November 25th as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, notes that violence against women:
- is a human rights violation
- is a global pandemic
- is not inevitable. Prevention is possible and essential
- is a consequence of discrimination against women
November offers an opportunity for all of us, inside and outside the movement to end violence against women, to reflect on the pervasiveness and persistence of this serious social issue, to celebrate where there are moments of light and to commit to taking action to create more of those moments.
What needs to be fixed?
Here are just a few random items that are on my mind as we make our way through Woman Abuse Prevention Month, one more time:
- The killing of a woman by her pro football husband, who had previously kidnapped his child from another relationship.
2. The ruling of an Ontario court that a husband was not guilty of raping his wife even though the judge said he believed her statement that she had repeatedly and clearly told her husband to stop.
3. Federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, who has had to take on right-wing journalists for labelling her “Climate Barbie.”
4. Quebec’s Bill C-62, which will have a disproportionate and discriminatory impact on women who wear face coverings for religious reasons, especially those who need the protection of the police, the ability to use public transit and access to health care when they are abused.
What’s to celebrate?
Despite the impact of violence on the lives of so many women, it never takes long to find examples of resiliency and courage:
- The number one spot this month goes to the Miss Peru 2017 competitors, who turned an offensively misogynist event on its head by using their time in front of the camera to talk about violence against women in their country. The first contestant came to the microphone and, rather than telling the judges and audience the measurements of her body, said: “My name is Camila Canicoba, and I represent the department of Lima. My measurements are: 2,202 cases of femicide reported in the last nine year in my country.” Each of the remaining 22 contestants did likewise, sharing information and statistics about violence against women in Peru. (Clearly, this is not a beauty pageant owned by Donald Trump, who owned the Miss USA pageant from 1996 – 2015)
2. Every woman who leaves an abusive relationship or speaks out about sexual violence. There is inspiration to be found in the determination and courage of each of these women, many of whom face enormous obstacles in their journeys.
3. The discussion on NPR’s Democracy Now on November 7th, in the wake of the mass shooting in Texas a few days before, when three very smart women – host Amy Goodman and guests Soraya Chemaly, Director of the Women’s Media Center Speech Project, and Mariame Kaba, an organizer and educator working on anti-domestic violence programs – spoke about the connection between violence against women and mass shootings, the false distinctions made between private and public violence, the undercurrent of structural racism and white supremacy and the need to legitimize violence against women in its own right and not just as a precursor to public acts of violence.
4. The thousands of women across Canada who work in shelters, rape crisis centres, family court programs and elsewhere. Every day, they hear another woman’s painful story of abuse and, every day, they have to tell that woman that the systems she is turning to for support – criminal court, family court, child protection, social assistance – will not keep her safe or hold the abuser accountable for his actions.
What can I do?
There is no shortage of opportunities to engage in the struggle to end violence against women:
- Find out about the shelter, sexual assault centre or women’s legal clinic in your community. Go to their Annual General Meeting. Donate your time or money.
2. Read a recently published book about the history of the shelter movement in Canada.
4. Interrupt a misogynist joke or comment at work or in a social setting. It’s not easy to do this, so check out these websites for some tips:
Woman Abuse Prevention Month 2017 is not going to end violence against women. I think it is unlikely that we will end it in my lifetime; but we need to take these opportunities to engage in discussion with one another, to think more consciously ourselves and to contribute something that we have never contributed before to the movement. We need to challenge ourselves; to step outside our comfort zone.
Slowly, slowly, we will build a world that does not need a special month about ending woman abuse.