Violence against women isn’t picky. It crosses various lines including socio-economic status, religion, race, and culture. Statistics from the Canadian Women’s Foundation show that 50% of Canadian women experience physical or sexual assault after the age of 16 and that a woman is killed, on average, every six days by her intimate partner. With such disturbing figures and trends, today’s National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women and the recent International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women provide a welcome opportunity to focus our attention on this issue and give us the chance to have important discussions on its elimination. Critically, these conversations have to include race.
For racialized women, exposure to recurrent poverty and racism in everyday life puts them at greater risk for domestic violence. In Canada 54% of Aboriginal women reported severe forms of family violence compared to 37% of non-Aboriginal women, and other racialized women suffer greatly from domestic violence.
Poverty is a racialized issue with racialized Canadians earning 81.4 cents for every dollar earned by non-racialized Canadians; and the reality for racialized women is even worse. In Toronto, 62% of people living in poverty identify with a racial group. While poverty doesn’t necessarily lead to domestic violence, consequences of it can exacerbate the effects of violence. In some cases, poverty keeps women dependent on their partners, making it difficult to leave abusive relationships. In other cases it isolates women, therefore limiting their social supports to escape violence. Negative outcomes of poverty, disproportionately experienced by racialized women, increase the threat of violence and limit victims’ options.
Multiple barriers to services also affect racialized women. A study by Women’s Health in Women’s Hands Community Health Centre found that one in five women have experienced racism when using the healthcare system, as a result of cultural insensitivity, stereotypes, name-calling, and inferior quality of care. Further, immigrant women who do not speak English or French have difficulties navigating through an often unaccommodating system. These situations do not encourage or assist racialized women to access help. As well, mainstream services that do not consider cultural norms and practices risk isolating women from their communities and/or not serving their immediate needs. Such barriers are problematic when considering solutions to violence against women.
These are just two examples in a long list of why race matters in discussions on violence against women. It is important to not stop at race though. We need to consider numerous perspectives when looking at the larger experience of domestic violence, from the lens of religion, to sexual orientation, to women with disabilities, to culture and so on. We also need to complicate matters by overlaying one lens on top of the other to consider how each condition intersects to perpetuate domestic violence. Violence against women is not a singular issue that requires a single approach, but a complicated, dirty and harmful mess that requires an equally complex solution. Today, on the National Day of Remembrance, we owe it to women past and present to start working towards this solution.