Prevent and respond

For many, November is now synonymous with “Movember,” an international campaign to raise money for and awareness about men’s health through a wide range of activities, including the growing of moustaches.

As the facial hair of men around us blossoms over the upcoming weeks, let’s not forget that November is also Violence Against Women Prevention Month in Ontario and that November 25th is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

Centuries of male domination

This year is the 25th anniversary of the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action at the fourth world conference on women. Despite this, women’s equality rights – including the right to equal access to health care — remain fragile in many parts of the world, and violence against women is endemic.

As United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres said:

“Sexual violence against women and girls is rooted in centuries of male domination. Let us not forget that the gender inequalities that fuel rape culture are essentially a question of power imbalances.”

The pandemic has brought the high level of gender-based violence (GBV) into sharp focus, with women and girls in all parts of the world facing increased levels of all forms of violence. Key risk factors for violence against women and girls, including food shortages, unemployment, economic insecurity, school closures and confined living conditions, have been exacerbated by the public health pandemic protocols put in place in most parts of the world, including Canada.

This year, the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, which begin on November 25th, are focusing on the impact of the pandemic on women’s and girls’ safety. The campaign has four areas of focus.

Fund, Prevent, Respond, Collect

Activities will urge governments to acknowledge that women’s equality organizations that support survivors of GBV are essential services and ensure they are provided with adequate and flexible funding.

States will be encouraged to declare national zero tolerance for GBV policy and to launch COVID-19 behaviour change social mobilization campaigns.

The campaign calls for explicit measures so that services for GBV survivors are maintained as essential and for the appropriate collection of data so GBV services and programs can be improved.

A principled approach

The campaign has a number of laudable principles: to honour and acknowledge the many women’s movements around the world, to leave no one behind, to be survivor-centred and multi-sectoral, to be transformative and to advance the voices of young feminists.

There are a lot of ways for individuals to get involved in the campaign, none of which involves growing a moustache.  You can use social media to talk about GBV and what’s happening in your community; donate (more on that below!), speak up when you see or hear misogynist incidents, talk with your family and friends about GBV and the importance of everyone being involved in ending it, and educate yourself about the problem and the solutions.

Here at home

As the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women, issued by the U.N. General Assembly in 1993, says, violence against women includes any act:

“that results in or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.”

Women and girls in Canada are not immune from such acts, despite legal provisions including the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, federal and provincial laws and policies intended to address GBV, a public health care system and a standard of living that is generally high compared to much of the world.

Women in this country have much formal equality but not so much real life equality, and rates of violence remain high. The pandemic and the public health protocols put in place to slow its spread have increased women’s risk factors, especially of intimate partner violence.

This November, consider supporting the Wrapped in Courage campaign run by OAITH, the Ontario Association of Interval and Transition Houses. Now several years old, this year’s campaign will look different because of the pandemic.

You can provide much-needed financial support to women’s anti-violence organizations across the province by simply texting COURAGE to 41010 with your donation of $5 to $25. Your support will assist shelters, the Family Court Support Worker Program, crisis lines, counselling and transitional support for survivors, and services for children and youth.

If you are not in a position to make a financial contribution, or if you want to do more after making a donation, consider contributing your time to a women’s organization in your community or simply raising the issue of GBV in your workplace, social circles and family. Whatever your skills or interests, there is a place for you in the work to end violence against women.

The women and children of Ontario who are fleeing GBV and those of us who support them every day thank you.

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