Working to end violence against women

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Our society, for all its relative progressiveness, is still based on unequal wealth, status, opportunity and power that can easily lead to abusive behaviour.

We are coming to the end of 16 days of activism on violence against women, which started on November 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and wrapping up today, December 10, International Human Rights Day. These dates were chosen to symbolically link violence against women with human rights violations.

On December 6, 2008, Canada commemorated the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women with various events, including organized vigils, marches and memorials. December 6 is the anniversary of what is known as the Montreal Massacre, when 14 young women were gunned down at the École Polytechnique de Montréal in 1989. The date was proclaimed by the Canadian government in 1991 and is intended to encourage Canadians to think about the results of deliberate acts of violence against women and to take action to eliminate such violence.

Violence against women is a part of the fabric of Canadian society

The Montreal Massacre is an extreme and obvious example of the violence that women face in general. Mark Lepine's shooting spree specifically targeted women, and he left behind an explanatory letter containing a tirade against feminists as well as a list of 19 prominent women who he particularly despised. Other recent Canadian examples include the murder of over 25 women in British Columbia by Robert Pickton and the investigation into the 20 Edmonton women who have been killed or missing since 1983.

It is easy to see such examples as exceptional cases and not representative of most women's experience of violence in Canada, and, in one sense, they are. But they are also merely an extreme on a continuum of violence to which all Canadian women are exposed. While rates of violent crime have been decreasing overall, rape and sexual assault have actually been on the increase and rates of spousal violence against women have remained relatively unchanged in nearly all of the provinces over the last few years.

Today, despite a marked rise in awareness about violence against women, half of Canadian women will experience criminal violence by men in their homes, communities, workplaces and schools in their lifetime. That means that an average of 8 million Canadian women will experience violence in their lifetime, which is a number that is hard to ignore.

Eliminating inequality will help eliminate violence

Violence against women is more than just a violation of their rights; it also prevents their full participation in the economic, social and political life of Canada. Our society, for all its relative progressiveness, is still based on unequal wealth, status, opportunity and power that can easily lead to abusive behaviour. Women are especially vulnerable to acts of violence because of their continued lack of economic and political power and many social and economic factors make it difficult for women to escape violence.

Because the causes of violence against women are multiple and intertwined, there are many roads to progress on this issue. December 6 is about remembrance and action and there are many steps we as individuals can take that can make a difference.

In addition to raising awareness and speaking out against violence perpetuated against women, we must demand programs, adequate financial resources and improved legislation from all levels of government, and in particular the federal government who under the current Conservative administration have cut funding to the Status of Women organization, eliminated the Court Challenges Program and reduced funding to legal aid, all of which affect women's rights and women's ability to take action against the violence they experience.

We must demand a re-investment in a National Affordable Housing program, a rethinking of how to prosecute and punish those who commit violence against women and develop community-led solutions to ending violence against Aboriginal women in particular. Finally, we must continue to lobby for a national public child care program, equal access to employment insurance, pay equity and a living wage, all of which will enhance women's social, political and economic role in our society and decrease the risk of violence against them.

Perhaps most importantly, we can stop viewing violence against women as mere isolated cases, as something that happens to someone else, as being something private, and start recognizing that this issue affects all of us, men and women, as human beings and as citizens of Canada and the world.


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