SJSWC Speech to the Standing Committee on the Status of Women

The St. John’ s Status of Women Council’s Address to the Standing Committee on the Status of Women – Best Practices in Violence against Women – Meeting 43 on January 29th 2015 in Ottawa.

Good Afternoon Madame Chair and members of the committee. We thank you and we are grateful for the invitation to address this committee.

In the development of any best practice, policy, legislation or charter we must never forget that violence against women is preventable.

This fact must be the very foundation real change is built upon.

Great women, doing great work have spoken before this committee. Best practice, new and emerging programs, research and critical analysis has been brought forward with intelligence and experience. We suggest that women’s organizations are well versed in best practice and we have been creating and utilizing it for many decades. Evidence of this body of work can be found in the submissions to this committee, in scholarly research, in the endless reports we write, in university gender and social work classes and around women’s kitchen tables.

And yet women continue to die.

We have made great advancement in education and awareness, both nationally and internationally. Policy and programs are implemented at all levels of government and within the community and schools. And yet the statistics that we are all intimately aware of – are staggering. Violence against women has been called the global epidemic of our times. It can lead one to think there is nothing new left to add to the discourse.

But, if we hold steadfast to the truth that violence against women is preventable then there is much to discuss. Best practice, education, and all of our combined work in the field will not be enough if we do not directly eliminate the root causes – gender inequality, long standing neglect in upholding women’s human rights and decades of closures and funding cuts to front line and advocacy women led organizations.

Imagine if the programs and policy we created together were aimed at these root causes; at breaking down the systems that create gender inequality; imagine if they were built on our existing human rights framework, and imagine if they were resourced sustainably so that women’s organizations could continue to do what they have done well for decades – regardless of fluctuations in the economy, politics and the law?

If we re-envision how we conceive and develop best practice so that it eradicates gender inequality – then a national child care strategy, a national housing strategy, pay equity, access to women-centred healthcare, education and a fair justice system is best practice. Further, the lack of these strategies in Canada and globally are not only a causal factor they are, simultaneously the very barriers which prevent women leaving violence and living to their full potential.

This work, we cannot do alone.

Women are protected in principle by the charter of human rights as individuals of this nation. These rights must apply to all women equally – including trans* women, senior and indigenous women, sexworkers, disabled, young and women new to our county. Women’s organizations struggle daily to keep women safe in communities where there are no lawyers, courthouses, social workers or doctors – women left dangerously vulnerable and without access to basic supports. This must be viewed as a denial of their basic human rights.

Still, Canada has signed on to numerous conventions protecting and advancing the rights of women, including CEDAW, where article 3 states:

The Convention gives positive affirmation to the principle of equality by requiring States parties to take “all appropriate measures, including legislation, to ensure the full development and advancement of women, for the purpose of guaranteeing them the exercise and enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms on a basis of equality with men”(article 3).

And yet women continue to die.


We have not applied these basic human rights to our work in ending violence against women. If anti-violence work was built on our existing human rights framework, then access to that which fosters safety and quality of life should not and could not be denied women no matter their geographical or social location.

Years of continued funding cuts, closures and the silencing of women’s organizations are in of themselves a pervasive form of violence against women. Federal policy must act to strengthen women’s organizations and to secure sustainable funding so that they do not continue to be causalities of the fluctuations in the economy, political agendas and our laws.

Our province of Newfoundland of Labrador is a great example of this double bind. Dropping oil prices leads to dramatic job loss – job losses lead to a dramatic rise in domestic violence. Already overburdened we scramble to cope with the increased need for services, while simultaneously being told that because of falling oil prices there will be no increase in funding. Silent whispers of impending cuts infect our work.

The economic boom that arrived on our doorstep 10 years ago created a dramatic rise in women who are exploited by the sex trade, and the new prostitution law Bill C#36 has left us scrambling to provide supports and safety for a population left vulnerable and moving deeper underground. This scenario plays out time and again in our work leaving us with band aid solutions, patch work support and never the time nor the resources to tackle the fundamental issues of gender inequality and justice, human rights and advocacy. It is time that we recognize and redress the fact that diminished or no access to basic services because of chronic underfunding – places women’s lives at risk. And by extension their children, and their communities. This is a very real cause of continued violence against women.

And, it is preventable.
•We need the indelible human rights of all women – to be upheld, in law, in policy and in their entirety.
•We need long promised and undelivered national strategies to target and eradicate structures and social norms which perpetuate gender inequality.
•We need sustainable resources to do what we do well, to advocate, and to provide services, supports and resources to women freely and without threat.

We do not consider violence against women preventable, instead it is simply considered one of the many social ills that we must endure and manage. We need not look very far back in our history to find a time when it was, indeed, acceptable. Through the hard work of feminism in our country – we are slowly moving towards a culture in which these forms of interpersonal violence are now widely considered unacceptable.

There must be a shift in how we view gender inequality and how we eradicate it together as a nation. Gender inequality is simultaneously inherent to and produced by our institutions; we must re-shift our focus to improving our nation’s ability to respond to the needs of all Canadian women. Until our Canadian institutions and social systems prioritize and nurture the unimaginable and untapped potential of women in this country, we fear we will be living in a state of never ending managed violence.

In closing we need to recognize that the situation is dire, but that the future need not be bleak. The real solutions to this issue already exists – symbolically it is there in the human rights framework we uphold in this country, practically, it is in the work of those on the ground, our women’s centres and female serving organizations. The missing ingredients are the political will and sustainable resources necessary to create a coordinated national response strategy. If we, as a country, can commit to this, then we have not only created best practice, we have laid the foundation for the prevention of violence against women.

Thank you.