by Michèle Taïna Audette and Robert Fox
Many women around the world live in daily fear of violence. In South Africa, every six hours a woman is killed by her partner. In Guatemala, two women are murdered on average daily. In Canada, thousands of women suffer serious physical assaults by their current or former partners each year. Too many do not survive.
Globally, violence against women causes more deaths and disabilities among those of child-bearing age than cancer, malaria, traffic accidents, and war combined.
International Women’s Day, March 8th, is an opportunity to highlight the many individuals and organizations demanding genuine action to change these brutal facts and to encourage more people to raise their voices for those who cannot.
Courageous 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai continues to promote education for girls in Pakistan even though this was why she was shot in the head and seriously wounded by a Taliban gunman.
In the aftermath of the brutal murder of a woman journalist, indigenous women, journalists and female officials have joined forces to press for passage of Bolivia’s first comprehensive bill to guarantee women a life free from violence.
Oxfam Canada and the Native Women’s Association of Canada are calling on Canadians to take action to help build a safe and just world, where women and girls have power over every aspect of their lives and need not fear violence because they are female.
Some progress has been made.
There now are international agreements and treaties enshrining fundamental human rights specifically for women and girls, stating their right to respect, dignity, choices and freedom. Today, domestic violence is outlawed in 125 countries.
Canada is one of 39 countries committed to ending violence against women as part of the United Nations ‘Say No, Unite to End Violence’ campaign. Canada is also a signatory to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
These commitments are welcome. However, more must be done in dialogue and collaboration with Canadians who want change. A first step is a national public inquiry into the deaths and disappearance of First Nations, Métis and Inuit women and girls.
Canadian government statistics show that Aboriginal women are five times more likely to die as a result of violence than non-Aboriginal women. The Native Women’s Association of Canada has also documented more than 580 cases of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls in Canada.
Law enforcement must track the ethnicity of victims and create multi-jurisdictional databases to reveal trends and links among cases.
Canada lacks a comprehensive action plan to end violence against women with deadlines, funds and accountability mechanisms.
A plan would make ending violence against women a top government priority, ensure all legislation addresses women’s needs and provide long-term, predictable funding for community organizations dedicated to the prevention of violence against women and services for survivors. It would include specific measures addressing the situation of Aboriginal women and girls.
The cost of violence against women in Canada for health care, criminal justice, social services, lost wages and productivity totals billions of dollars every year.
This week in New York at the UN-led Commission on the Status of Women, thousands of representatives from governments around the world, the UN, civil society and the private sector are focusing on concrete measures to prevent and end of all forms of violence against women.
All citizens can take this on, influencing attitudes and beliefs about women and violence through education, awareness and example in our daily lives.