The International Day Against Violence Against Women
Ignoring a problem is no way to fix it. Whether we’re talking about vehicles, houses, or relationships. The only way to fix what’s wrong is to pay attention and respond to the indicators: the flashing check engine lights, the ringing smoke alarms, and the ways that people around us are suffering. Every year, the United Nations and hundreds of organizations around the world work to raise awareness about persistent social problems. November 25th is the International Day Against Violence Against Women and it marks the start of 16 days of activism leading up to Human Rights Day on December 10. Since 1991, communities around the world have used these days to raise awareness about gendered violence and to spur positive change. This year Violence Prevention Grey Bruce will release an article every day until December 10th to examine some of the challenges facing our twin counties and introduce some of the agencies working to address those challenges.
Today reminds us that women are disproportionately the victims of violence. At home, at school, at work, and while moving through public spaces. It is impossible to say for certain how many girls and women experience the more subtle forms of harassment, degradation, and discrimination but we know anecdotally that the numbers are high. Statistics Canada reports that 51% of women will experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetimes. Shockingly, 106 women and girls were killed in Canada between January 1 and August 31 2018. Fifty three of those murders were in Ontario.
These statistics are not surprising. People have been citing numbers like them for decades and – while there have been some improvements in awareness and reporting – the problems persist. We’ve been hearing the alarms ringing but haven’t put out the fire. Instead we’ve invested in systems that manage the smoke and tried to take the batteries out of the alarms.
In some ways, ending violence against women is simple. All we need to do as individuals is respect women and girls and make sure that our institutions and systems do the same. We’re so used to the smell of smoke however, that many of us don’t recognize the toxic smoldering of sexism and gendered violence all around us.
As a society we lay the kindling for gender violence in childhood. When we teach children that a girl’s appearance is her most important attribute and that she needs to be saved by a knight in shining armor they learn that girls should be pretty and helpless. In turn we teach boys to be the knights: invulnerable, violent, and powerful protagonists saving the day. When we blame young women’s experiences of harassment and assault on clothing, drinking, or a failure to protect themselves we teach them that their natural role is as prey or objects. At the same time, we teach the people who perpetrate violence that it’s okay to target women if the circumstances are right. These are narrow definitions of the roles and responsibilities of men and women. They intertwine with judgments and expectations that our society holds about sexuality, ability, race, class, and nationality and make for a complicated mixture of intersecting pressures and prejudice. In Canada this means that women who are indigenous, racialized, disabled, queer, or living in poverty are at even higher risk of experiencing violence.
Many women’s experiences of violence continue throughout their lives. The violence is verbal, emotional, financial, sexual, and physical. The aggressions are large and microscopic. We’ll examine these types of violence, ways we can address them, and organizations responding to violence locally over the coming weeks. In all cases, this violence is the result of the underlying beliefs that guide how we treat each other and that drive our actions. It’s not enough to deal with the smoke, instead we have to look to where the fires of gender violence are burning and examine what fuels them. Today, we recognize the violence that women and girls experience and commit to addressing the beliefs and systems that produce it.