Labour Views: Combat Gender-Based Violence

By Lorraine Rousseau

There is no city or community, on this land, Canada, or across the world, immune from this crisis: gender-based violence. And it’s our collective responsibility to take action. Mark your calendars beginning this Friday: the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence kicks off.

This annual international campaign kicks off on November 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, and runs until December 10, International Human Rights Day. We’re all invited to take action— there is no small action, each and every word, social media post and petition signature counts.

The global theme for this year’s 16 Days is “UNITE! Activism to end violence against women and girls.” Visit UN Women website and you will find resources that you can use to raise awareness and take action:

There is no one way to eradicate gender-based violence, but we’re all responsible to ensure that our workplaces, schools and communities are safe.

What can we do as individuals?

According to a survey conducted by the Canadian Women’s Foundation, only 1 in 6 people in Canada are very confident that they would know what to say or support someone experiencing sexual or emotional abuse. Only 1 in 5 are very confident that they would know what to say or do to support someone experiencing physical abuse.

There are some terrifying numbers. According to a report from Statistics Canada (2019), approximately every six days, a woman in Canada is killed by her intimate partner. Silence costs lives.

Believe victims and survivors— women, girls and gender-diverse individuals who face and those who survived gender-based violence must be received with open hearts and genuine support. It’s important to believe survivors who come forward because when faced with denial, victims would often choose to remain silent or stay in abusive relationships and/or situations.

We cannot be passive bystanders. However, it is important to stay safe. It’s also crucial to intervene when needed. What can you do when a victim needs help? Over the past couple of years, we have seen videos to help us identify the “signal.” If you see a woman signalling the need for help, please help. First, we need to able to identify “the violence at home signal for help.” The Canadian Women’s Foundation website offers resources: Please share the resources with your colleagues and friends.

Together let’s help raise awareness.

Workplaces have a role

Zero tolerance towards any form of harassment or violence at workplaces, schools and everywhere. The regulations must be clear— and no organization, whether a workplace or school, must shy away from putting in writing what needs to be said. Phrases like “our workplace has zero tolerance towards harassment” empower victims to come forward and give a clear message that there are consequences to harmful actions.

Workplaces are also able to empower victims and survivors of gender-based abuse. Our union has always been vocal and urging all employers to provide “domestic violence leave” and identify that in collective agreements and/or contracts. Victims who’re fleeing abusive relationships must not choose between their livelihoods and staying in such situations that affect their physical as well as mental well-being. 

Financial security is one solution

Financial security creates safer communities for women, girls and gender diverse individuals— and everyone. According to Statistics Canada, 1.5 million women in Canada live on a low income. Living on a low income doesn’t cause the abuse, but it’s a main reason why many stay in abusive relationships. Financial insecurity is real, and financial abuse exists. While emergency shelters are available, inadequate affordable housing poses a fear that women face when leaving abusive intimate partners.

In the last column, I wrote about Guaranteed Livable Basic Income that aims to leave no one behind. Financial security help victims and survivors. No one should stay in an abusive relationship because they can’t afford to leave.

The upcoming 16 days of activism provide an opportunity for us to take action as individuals— and for organizations, politicians and governments to help find solutions to eradicate all forms of gender-based violence.

We can’t afford to be silent.

This column appeared in the Yellowknifer on November 23, 2022.