We need more than words to end violence against women

March 7, 2014

It’s easier to think that violence is something that happens to someone else—in a different country, a different community, a different home. But the truth is that every day, everywhere, women are raped, beaten and killed just because they are women.

Women like Loretta Saunders, an Inuk student at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax. A young woman who was committed to understanding why aboriginal women and girls continue to experience violence on a scale far beyond the rest of Canada’s population. A young woman whose body was found at the side of a New Brunswick highway last week.

Women like Funeka Soldaat in South Africa, a rape survivor who was severely beaten by the police when she sought justice.

Women who are murdered and tossed into mass graves in Central America, where homicide is a leading cause of death for young women. Where only two per cent of those young women’s deaths are investigated.

Women like Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani girl shot three times because she stood up for the rights of girls to an education.

These women and many more like them understand that it isn’t enough to count the crimes already committed—that an end to violence against women and girls means a co-ordinated and well-supported global and national effort.

Ending violence against women takes more than words, it takes money and movements.

The largest-ever global study on violence against women, published by Cambridge University Press in 2012, reveals that the mobilization of feminist movements is more important to ending violence against women than the wealth of nations, political parties, or the number of women politicians.

Yet funding for women’s rights and women’s organizations is declining. The Canadian government and Canadian philanthropists need to step up to the plate and support women’s groups as crucial partners in this fight.

Our government has made it a priority to combat violence against women both in Canada and abroad. The initial commitment of $5 million to address sexual violence committed during armed conflict is welcome, but wildly outpaced by the scale of the problem.

The Canadian government spends an estimated $2.77 per person per year to address violence against women within Canada. This support is welcome, but dwarfed by the levels of violence occurring in Canada, where intimate partner violence accounts for an estimated 25 per cent of all police-reported violent crime. In a country where rates of violence have remained virtually unchanged for the past decade.

When the world looks at Canada they see a leader in the fight against early and forced marriage, but they also see the faces of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls. Our government’s commitment to support a missing persons database is a start. But we do not honour these women and girls if we stand by while more fall victim to the same violence.

What we need now is a co-ordinated and well-resourced effort to put an end to violence against women both in Canada and globally. We need our government to bring its political and financial resources to the table and to recognize that a problem of this scale cannot be combated by a few brave individuals.

We ask that:

1. Canada create a global fund to support women’s organizations, movements and women’s human rights defenders;

2. our government commits to making measurable progress on women’s rights and gender equality a central goal of Canadian international development assistance;

3. Canada matches its past investment (of $1.1 billion over five years) to reduce maternal and infant mortality with a comparable investment in advancing women’s rights and ending violence against women and girls at home and abroad.

With the recent events at the University of Ottawa, students across Canada are speaking out against misogynist attitudes and the acceptance of violence against women on university campuses. It is time we all get up from our seats in the audience and join them.

Kate McInturff is a senior researcher with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. Lauren Ravon is a senior policy adviser with Oxfam Canada.

This op-ed was originally published in Embassy.