We need to talk about violence against women, Canada

By Julie Delahanty
This op-ed was originally published on i-politics, March 5, 2015

Canadians are finally talking about violence against women.

The Jian Ghomeshi scandal jolted us into a national conversation about sexism, consent and double standards, which only deepened with allegations of sexual harassment on Parliament Hill. And then it all went viral with #rapedneverreported, where thousands of women spontaneously shared their experience of sexual assault on Twitter. As social and traditional media erupted, it became clear just how many women experience violence behind closed doors.

And yet somehow, with all the attention, certain painful truths continue to be ignored.

There are still over a thousand unsolved cases of missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls. But the government refuses to call a national public inquiry and address the entrenched systemic reasons behind the violence and marginalization aboriginal women face.

In 2014, we marked the 25th anniversary of the Montreal Massacre. But even with that trauma seared in our national psyche, levels of violence against women have remained virtually unchanged over the past two decades. And Canada still doesn’t have a comprehensive national action plan to tackle the problem.

While our government has been speaking out against forced marriage and sexual violence on the global stage, it continues to cut aid budgets, allocating insufficient resources to the achievement of women’s rights globally.

Here at home, Status of Women Canada — charged with increasing women’s economic security and prosperity, ending violence against women and girls, and encouraging women’s leadership and democratic participation in Canada — needs meaningful investment. Surely a federal body with such an important mandate should receive more than one one hundredth of one per cent of federal government spending. (No, that’s not a typo.)

This week, as we celebrate International Women’s Day, we need to turn the genuine awakening triggered by stories of scandal and violence in Canada this past autumn into meaningful change for women and girls everywhere.

With decades of experience in more than forty countries around the world, Oxfam has learned valuable lessons about ending the cycle of violence against women and girls. In India, Oxfam worked on the Close the Gap initiative, challenging inequality in all areas. Close the Gap launched conversations in malls and marketplaces, talking directly with women, girls, men and boys about gender inequality and shifting attitudes. The impact was measurable both in how and how often political leaders spoke about women’s rights and ending violence against women in the Indian election last year.

Here in Canada, Oxfam is part of the Up For Debate campaign, calling on all federal political parties to make substantive commitments to change women’s lives for the better, at home and around the world, in this election year. The campaign asks all party leaders to commit to a nationally broadcast debate focused on policies and issues that impact women’s lives. The last such debate was held in 1984. The next one is long overdue.

We want our leaders to get serious about ending violence against women and girls by addressing root causes — particularly for aboriginal women and girls — by providing support for survivors, by holding perpetrators accountable, by challenging sexism that perpetuates violence and by showing increased leadership on the international stage to end violence — including through investing resources in support of women’s rights organizations and women’s rights defenders.

Under international law, every country has an obligation to address violence against women. The United Nations has called on all countries to have a National Action Plan by 2015. Well, here we are in 2015 — an election year — with a critical national and international conversation still to be had.

More than 17,000,000 Canadian women and girls are ready for that conversation — and for concrete, courageous steps that end violence against women once and for all.

Julie Delahanty is the executive director of Oxfam Canada.

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