Breaking the silence and taking action on violence against women

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Violence against women is a priority for women's groups and the Congress of Union Retirees of Canada. Across Canada and internationally, women are mobilizing to fight back. November 25 is marked each year as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. Its origin dates back to 1960 in the Dominican Republic, when the Mirabal sisters were murdered because they were fighting for their rights.

Statistics compiled by the United Nations show that abuse and brutality inflicted on women and children are real and increasing at an alarming rate, and these numbers don't take into account victims who remain silent for fear of reprisals.

According to the UN, in the United States, a woman is beaten by her partner every 15 seconds. In South Africa, a woman is raped every 23 seconds. In Bangladesh, almost half of women have suffered physical abuse at the hands of their spouse.

In Canada, every six days a woman is killed by her intimate partner. In 2009, 67 women were killed by their husbands or boyfriends. Every day, there are more than 3,000 women (and 2,500 children) in Canada staying in emergency shelters to escape domestic violence. In 2010, there were 582 known cases of murdered or missing aboriginal women. And in just one year, 427,000 women ages 15 and up are reported to have been victims of sexual assault.

Why we waiting to take action?

Although women of all backgrounds are vulnerable to violence, some are at higher risk -- especially young women and children, disabled women, women with lower incomes, the elderly, indigenous women, and those belonging to ethnic and racial minorities.

Cases of violence against women take many forms: physical, sexual, psychological, or verbal abuse, and criminal harassment.

How to offer help

Given the numerous cases of abuse in Canada, there is a strong possibility that someone in your life, personal or professional, is experiencing violence. We must be ready to face this situation and offer help without putting the woman or her children at greater risk. A woman experiencing abuse may be afraid to tell anyone what is happening. If you recognize signs of violence, you can tell her she is not alone and that you are believe her.

We often forget that the elderly suffer abuse from their spouses or a family member. According to police-reported data for 2010, there were also 99,000 seniors who were victims of family violence, accounting for 25 per cent of all victims of violent crime. The seniors were abused by a spouse or other family member.

Violence against women is still not a priority in policy and resource allocation within governments and police departments, despite the fact that women account for 52 per cent of the population. This lack of government commitment is evident in the constant reduction of financial and political support to organizations working for equality.

Mobilization and action

In Quebec, the campaign 12 Days of Activism for the Elimination of Violence Against Women is held from November 25 to December 6, commemorating the massacre at the École Polytechnique in 1989. December 6 is a National Day of Mourning, with many vigils held across Canada on that day.

At the United Nations, in March of next year, representatives of the Canadian government as well as non-governmental representatives will be making recommendations in a brief entitled The Elimination and Prevention of All Forms of Violence Against Women and Girls. It will be the priority theme at the United Nations 57th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women.

The Congress of Union Retirees of Canada joins with the Canadian Labour Congress in asking the Harper government to:

1. Develop a comprehensive national action plan to end violence against women in Canada;

2. Launch a national public inquiry into missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls; and

3. Make a  public commitment to work toward an agreement at the 2013 United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW) which builds upon and strengthens existing rights for women, and holds governments accountable for their progress toward eliminating and preventing all forms of violence against women and girls.

There must be zero tolerance. 

Retiree Matters is a monthly column written by members of the Congress of Union Retirees of Canada (CURC) that explores issues relevant to retirees, senior citizens, their families and their communities. CURC acts as an advocacy organization to ensure that the concerns of union retirees and senior citizens are heard throughout Canada.

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