A new report from anti-violence experts across Canada provides what they hope will serve as a roadmap for the federal government as it drafts a long-promised national action plan on gender-based violence.
The document – funded by the Ministry of Women and Gender Equality (WAGE) and with strategic engagement led by Women’s Shelters Canada – includes 100 recommendations covering everything from ensuring access to clean drinking water to reallocating police spending and bolstering data collection.
“Investment in public housing, education and community centres will help prevent violence because these will enable people to live in safer environments, learn about systems that perpetuate violence ... and access resources,” one recommendation reads. “Work toward creating universal free access to internet services across all jurisdictions,” another says.
“We’re not going to address gender-based violence in a one-page memo,” Lise Martin, executive director of Women’s Shelters Canada, which represents emergency shelters and transition houses across the country, said of the sweeping report. It is being released Tuesday and came together in a matter of three months this spring, a year into the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ms. Martin and her sector colleagues have been advocating for a national action plan for more than a decade. The Liberals promised to draft one in their 2019 election platform, and earlier this year included a funding commitment in the federal budget for $600-million over five years – which Ms. Martin says is a “signal” for the first time that “this is real.”
“We’ve been talking about this for so long, for so many years,” she said. “We’re at the point now, where basically two women a week are being murdered by either a current or past intimate partner. Last week, their names were Nathalie [Piché, 55] and Hanadi [Mohammed, 50]. Nathalie was killed in Quebec City, and Hanadi in Ottawa.”
More than 40 representatives from front-line and policy groups worked together to draft the report, which is divided into four pillars: enabling environment and social infrastructure; promotion of responsive legal and justice systems; support for survivors and their families; prevention. A fifth pillar, on Indigenous women’s leadership, is being looked at separately by WAGE’s Indigenous Women’s Circle.
“We had some of the most incredible minds focused on this,” said Angela Marie MacDougall, executive director of Battered Women’s Support Services (BWSS) in British Columbia; she served as a co-chair of the support for survivors working group. “That was so important, all those decades of experience and lived experience.”
Though the report is only now being released, it was presented to the federal government back in May. At that time, Ms. Martin said WAGE Minister Maryam Monsef expressed her support, ensuring that the government’s initial funding commitment would be a down payment.
“I was really pleased to hear her say that,” Ms. Martin said. “One of our key messages is that a fully fledged national action plan is going to require billions, not millions” of dollars.
In an e-mail statement Monday, Marie-Pier Baril, press secretary for Ms. Monsef, said the minister’s office welcomes the report, which “will be used to inform the federal government’s efforts to prevent and address gender-based violence and the ongoing development of the National Action Plan to End Gender-Based Violence.”
One of the key elements of the report, according to its authors, is its emphasis on intersectionality.
“These are very important conversations that the experts were having, that can’t be distilled into a simple recommendation,” said Krys Maki, research and policy manager for Women’s Shelters Canada.
“For any of us who’ve been doing this work for a long time, we know that the issues of race do intersect with gender,” Ms. MacDougall agreed. And yet often, she said, “it’s that intersectional piece that gets left on the cutting-room floor.”
With this report, she said, it was a conscious focus throughout.
A reoccurring theme throughout the report is the need for more and better data.
“Every single group, every pillar spent a significant amount of time talking about the lack of data we have. Like, we haven’t been able to get disaggregated data from [Statistics Canada] until recently – so how do we have an intersectional analysis when we can’t even pick that data apart?” Krys Maki said.
Another theme was the need for core funding within the anti-violence sector.
“Providing community organizations with stable funding will enable them to implement programs that are long-lasting and therefore more likely to be useful and effective,” the report says.
“The levels of services and protection provided to women and gender-diverse people should not depend on their postal code,” Ms. Martin said.
After the report is made public, Ms. Martin and Ms. MacDougall say the focus will be on continued advocacy.
“That’s the work now – we have to push. As communities, we have to push,” Ms. MacDougall said. “I’ve been around long enough to see some really great reports get shelved, and collect a lot of dust.”
But Ms. Martin is hopeful this will be a definitive step in seeing a national action plan take shape.
“We feel strongly that the time for consultation is done. There’s been a lot of consultation,” she said. “We need to move on to developing this thing and then implementing it.”
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