December 6th is Canada’s National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women

“Women hold up half the sky” (Chinese Proverb)

December 6th, Canada’s National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women is nearly upon us.  Every year on this day, we commemorate the 14 women who were singled out for their gender and murdered while at school in 1989 at the Ecole Polytechnique.  But we also commemorate the lives of all girls and women every year whose lives are damaged or taken from them because of gender based violence.
It is said that violence against women and children is the world’s most pervasive human rights violation, one of the most systematic and widespread.  Trouble is, taking action on violence is a difficult task for most of us unless we are employed in services to women and children through supports, shelters, crisis services, or perhaps the healthcare sector.  What can we do to make a difference in our small corners of the universe?  What kind of action can I take to make a difference in my community or my neighbourhood, in my province, in my workplace when it comes to this?
And anyway, why should I get involved and take any kind of action?  It’s not really my problem.
On average, every six days a woman in Canada is killed by her intimate partner. In 2009, 67 women were murdered by a current or former spouse or boyfriend. (Homicide in Canada, 2009, Sara Beattie and Adam Cotter, Juristat, Volume 30, Number 3, Statistics Canada, page 14)
On any given day in Canada, more than 3,000 women (along with their 2,500 children) are living in an emergency shelter to escape domestic violence.( Family Violence in Canada: A Statistical Profile 2009, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, Statistics Canada, page 12.)
The cost of violence against women in Canada for health care, criminal justice, social services, and lost wages and productivity has been calculated at $4.2 billion per year. (Measuring Violence Against women: Statistical Trends 2006, Statistics Canada, p.34)
Rates of domestic violence have fallen in recent years.  There is indeed marginally improving social equality and financial freedom for women to leave abusive relationships sooner rather than later, but still, rates of violence have now flat lined and are no longer declining.  And victims are, for some reason, are now less likely to report an incident to the police.  Further, more women are experiencing violence after leaving their abuser. (Canadian Women’s Foundation Facts)
And this is the point where someone usually brings up the comment that “aren’t you women’s groups just man-bashing?”….Men are just as likely to be victims as females.  I am quite sure that this is not commonly understood.  According to Canadian Police Departments, men and women in this country are equally at risk of violent victimization.  Men are much more likely to be assaulted by a stranger or someone outside the family while women are much more likely to be assaulted by someone they know.  Most men are not abusive to their families, however, when family violence occurs, the victims are overwhelmingly female.
As the Chair of the Provincial Women’s committee, our mandate is to speak to women’s issues, our purpose is NOT to relegate men to the back of the room but rather, to concentrate, agitate, educate and promote women’s issues to the whole membership and to have influence where we can in order to create safe spaces and safe places for everyone.   And that brings me back to what we can each do as individuals or perhaps as a local in answering the “Call to Action” that December 6th asks us to consider.
1. The work of ending violence begins with each of us.  Visit http://www.draw-the-line.ca and be amazed at how you can draw the line and strike out sexual violence.  Share this website with others, add it to your Twitter feed or Facebook.
2. Find out if your local high school has a teen violence prevention program (Healthy Relationships project) and if it doesn’t, as the school to start one.  You don’t have to be an expert on anything to ask for something.  JUST ASK.
3. Tell your politicians, starting at the municipal level that you regard violence against women and children as a serious problem in Canada and ask them specifically what they are doing to end violence in your community.  JUST ASK.
4. If someone is in immediate danger, whether you know them or not, call 911 or the emergency number in your community.
5. If you know someone who is being abused, keep her safe by not giving her materials or information on abuse that could be found by her abuser-no emails or voicemails.  Speak to her only if you can do so safely and ask how you can help.  Make sure that you reinforce the message that she does not deserve to be harmed and that you care about her safety.  Don’t do anything that makes you uncomfortable or that makes you feel unsafe.
6. Financially and materially support the shelters and second stage safe housing facilities in your community.  Find out if they need gently used clothing for women and children, small appliances (or perhaps big ones too), fresh food donations or money.  If you are involved in community gardens there are no more worthy community recipients of fresh produce than these safe spaces.
7. Finally, encourage the men in your life to visit the following powerful websites:  http://www.iamakindman.ca/IAKM/ and http://www.whiteribbon.ca/ and finally from Western Ontario http://www.iknowsomeoneuwo.ca/
We can make a difference, one person, and one gesture at a time in the neighbourhoods and communities where we live.  We can support the work of those who help women and their children move out of abusive relationships and violent situations in tangible ways including answering the call for volunteers.
Our communities are needy places and our social programs are diminishing and operating on shrinking budgets.  But as social justice leaders, we can be partners in our communities to make a real difference right where we live.  After all, women hold up half the sky.  We are able.
Dora Robinson, Chair PWC
On behalf of the OPSEU Provincial Women’s Committee
December 2012

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