A long-awaited federal government strategy on gender-based violence, unveiled Monday, will focus on prevention, enhanced data collection, supports for survivors and engaging men and boys in violence-prevention initiatives.
Most of the funds – $77.5-million over five years of a total $101-million to establish the strategy – will go to the creation of a gender-based violence knowledge centre within the federal Status of Women Department. This centre will focus on data collection, research and programming, along with becoming a hub to share best practices in the area.
Better data is key to understanding who is affected by gender-based violence, and how they are impacted, said Anuradha Dugal, Montreal-based director of violence-prevention programs at the Canadian Women's Foundation.
"Our understanding of exactly what has been happening has been lacking, because of our inability to get gender-disaggregated data," said Ms. Dugal, who was on the advisory council for the strategy. "That we will now have strong evidence based on gender is really important."
Status of Women Minister Maryam Monsef said her department is working with Statistics Canada to bolster knowledge on gender-based violence, by collecting data that has not been gathered since 1993. The goal is to develop a new national survey that will look at where violence occurs, who is most affected and emerging problems, such as cyberviolence.
This week's announcement is "a recognition that the federal government has the capacity to step in and to make a significant impact and close gaps – one of those being around data and the sharing of knowledge," Ms. Monsef said in an interview.
"Some people in our communities in our country are more vulnerable than others. For example, a young woman, living in a rural community, with a disability, is more vulnerable and more at risk to gender-based violence, and the impact affects her differently."
It's a welcome step for many who work in the area, particularly the focus on prevention. Still, some experts identified gaps in the plan, such as few details on housing vulnerable populations, and scant attention to human trafficking.
Violence against women carries a steep cost to society. The economic costs of intimate-partner violence against Canadian women are pegged at $4.8-billion a year, the federal government said. The costs of sexual assaults and other sexual offences against women are about $3.6-billion annually.
The $101-million over five years, and $20.7-million a year after that, was first announced in the March federal budget. In addition to the new centre, funds will go to addressing teen-dating violence and online child exploitation, and for refugee-settlement programs. More funding will go to family crisis teams to support members of the Canadian Armed Forces and their families affected by violence.
In her remarks on Monday, Ms. Monsef said the issue affects everyone. "Gender-based violence is a barrier to gender equality and it holds us all back – women, girls, men and boys, gender-diverse peoples," she said. "Canada cannot reach its full potential as long as any of us are experiencing violence or the threat of violence based on gender."
The strategy recognizes that some populations are more at risk of experiencing gender-based violence, such as young women, Indigenous people, LGBT and gender non-conforming people, newcomers and those living with disabilities.
The strategy is a federal one, rather than national. Some groups had called for a more comprehensive, national strategy – an approach taken by countries including Australia.
This week's announcement is "a step in the right direction" toward a more co-ordinated approach, Women's Shelters Canada said in a release. It still wants to see a national strategy, which would include provincial and territorial governments and "ensure that women in all areas of the country have access to comparable levels of services and protection."
Right now, services to victims of violence, such as legal aid, access to women's shelters or mental-health counselling, vary widely across the country, and are especially lacking in rural or northern areas. A national strategy would give women more equal access to these services, Ms. Dugal of the Canadian Women's Foundation said.
Funding to address human trafficking, an extreme form of exploitation that mostly affects women and girls, was not included in the announcement. "This human-rights abuse requires an integrated co-ordinated strategy where the federal government can take an important and necessary leadership role," said Barbara Gosse, chief executive officer of the Canadian Centre to End Human Trafficking. "It was unfortunate that this issue was not addressed in the strategy today."
Canada's national action plan on human trafficking expired last year. Public Safety Canada said an evaluation of that plan is still under way and "there is no confirmed timing" for an announcement of a new plan.