Gender-based violence and discrimination fester and spread when unchecked by legislation. The government’s role in ensuring gender equity is therefore paramount. Women and allies have been crusading for fair treatment, equal pay, and minimization of violence in Canada since before Confederation. More than 150 years later, the fight continues. Thankfully, the Canadian government has pledged to be a partner in that fight with its Strategy to Prevent and Address Gender-Based Violence.
When Interval House was founded in 1973, laws supporting and protecting women were weak. Married women were seen as their husbands’ property and had little social support to turn to when they found themselves living with abuse. It was only nine years earlier that women gained the right to open a bank account without a husband’s signature. Still, financial, emotional and physical abuse persisted in homes across the country and politicians along with the general public viewed family violence as a private issue to be kept behind closed doors. This was famously illustrated in 1982 when NDP MP Margaret Mitchell raised the issue of widespread domestic violence in the Canadian House of Commons. She was met with an eruption of laughter and ridicule by her male colleagues. Despite women’s calls for justice and a wave of shelters having been opened for survivors of intimate partner violence, concerns around violence against women were not being heard and honoured by the men in power.
Advocates like Margaret Mitchell and the founders of Interval House did manage to effect change by pushing women’s issues and gender-inequity into the spotlight. 1982 was also the year that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms was signed into law, ensuring equality for women and visible minorities. This gave marginalized groups a legal foundation from which to build their cases for better treatment. The following year, Bill C-127 passed, making it illegal for men to sexually assault their wives. We can see historically how each law passed to support marginalized groups became a plank on the bridge to the next major milestone. Everyone committed to ending gender-based violence continues to walk on and build that bridge today.
As far as we’ve come in the quest for gender equity, there’s still a long way to go. Every 2.5 days in Canada, a woman is killed. 53% of those women are murdered by a current or former intimate partner. The rates of missing and murdered Indigenous women continue to alarm Canadians. Canada’s hate crimes statistics exclude transgender and non-binary individuals to this day. Shelters for abuse survivors are at capacity and unable to keep up with the demand. A lack of affordable housing and childcare puts extreme financial strain on single parents—most of whom are women. Women continue to take on the bulk of domestic labour, in addition to working jobs outside of the home. Women make up the majority of Canada’s minimum wage workers. Women who take maternity leaves earn less than their childless counterparts. And despite the Canadian Human Rights Act passed in 1977 prohibiting discrimination and requiring equal pay for work of equal value, there is still a gender wage gap in Canada with women working full-time making 75 cents on every dollar made by men.
This is why the Canadian government’s commitment to stand with activists and work towards a brighter future for women, trans and non-binary folks continues to be so important. It’s Time: Canada’s Strategy to Prevent and Address Gender-Based Violence was launched in 2017 and was it ever time! Based on the pillars of prevention, support for survivors and their families; and promotion of responsive legal and justice systems, the strategy aims to address some of the most pressing concerns in regards to gender-based violence today. There have been some major accomplishments in the two years since the strategy was launched. Specialized training for the RCMP has been implemented; the Canadian Human Trafficking Hotline was launched; boys and men have been engaged in the conversation and educated about gender-based violence; the government committed at least 33% of National Housing Strategy funds to projects geared towards women; recommendations from the Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women have begun to be implemented including a fund to support victims’ families; and more.
The Canadian government’s commitment is appreciated. Still, we must acknowledge that commitment comes in response to the tireless advocates pushing for a better quality of life for women, trans and non-binary folks and a minimization of gender-based violence. Interval House has been at the forefront of this advocacy for 46 years, bolstered by our many supporters. We have always known that when it comes to violence, it’s never a private matter. Because violence felt by one reverberates far and wide, creating a darker world for all of us. It is so necessary for the government to uphold the pillars of prevention, support and justice. It makes the load a little less burdensome for those on the front lines, determined to make this country, this world, a little bit kinder and fairer for everyone.