International Women’s Day is a time to reflect on the experience of women across communities in Canada, and internationally. Violence against women is a recurring theme internationally and closer to home. Recent statistics on violence against women in Canada points to some decline in violent attacks against women between 2009 and 2011. While such trends are broadly promising they can overlook the everyday, often unreported violence that exists for women in many communities. International Women’s Day serves as a potent reminder to us that the task of eliminating violence against women, in all its forms, is far from complete.
For example, figures put out by the Canadian Women’s Foundation are a harrowing reminder of the extent to which violence is part of everyday life for most women:
- 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.
- 67% of all Canadians say they personally know at least one woman who has been sexually or physically assaulted.
For some women, violence and abuse are even more pronounced. Research released in the past year by Ryerson University and the Wellesley Institute points to the alarming rates of routine psychological, physical and sexual violence in the lives of immigrant women. More recently, community research by Springtide Resources draws attention to the risks faced by some immigrant women in trying to access services, including the fear of deportation for those women without status, or the lack of accessible and appropriate services where women encounter language and cultural barriers. Their work challenges us to think more about the way violence can intersect with other factors in women’s lives, bringing attention to women who are overlooked in research and in frontline services, including women with physical disabilities.
The Federal Government has identified violence against women as the theme underscoring International Women’s Day this year. The theme Working Together: Engaging Men to End Violence against Women is accompanied by “5 things everyone can do,” a campaign intended to get people thinking and to encourage people to intervene to fight denial and take action. The campaign recognizes some of the contributing factors to violence in our society, but, problematically it may miss the ways in which violence occurs and is experienced in our families, our relationships and across our communities. This IWD needs to be a call for more than a shift in language, or a neighbourhood watch approach to addressing violence against women. Real change calls for decisive action within the structures that we rely on for health care, protection, and legal intervention, in addition to challenging and reframing the norms and principles that guide our language and actions in everyday life in the communities we live in.