July 13, 2017

It’s Time for Less Talk and More Action to Address Gender-Based Violence

On June 19, the federal government released It’s Time: Canada’s Strategy to Prevent and Address Gender-Based Violence. This federal strategy is informed by the Standing Committee on the Status of Women’s report Taking Action to End Violence Against Young Women and Girls in Canada, which the Federation was encouraged to see included recommendations on taking a survivor-centric approach, addressing intersectionality and implementing a national education campaign. Sadly, these key recommendations were not incorporated in the federal strategy.

The federal strategy does a good job of recognizing and acknowledging the causes of gender-based violence and the communities who are most at risk, including young women, Indigenous women and trans people. Unfortunately, the strategy offers little in terms of concrete actions to address widespread sexualized and gender-based violence in Canada.

The federal strategy is divided into three pillars: prevention, support for survivors and their families and promoting responsible legal and justice systems.

Prevention

The Federation is glad to see the prevention pillar of the strategy focuses heavily on education. Gender-based violence is a pervasive cultural phenomenon and requires a cultural shift from rape culture to a culture of consent.

However, the federal strategy doesn’t outline what a robust national education campaign should look like and doesn’t commit the resources necessary to implement it. The strategy also fails to acknowledge the work of students and young people in the fight to end sexualized and gender-based violence, of which they have been at the forefront, and doesn’t draw on their expertise to develop an education campaign.

Support for Survivors and their Families

The Federation welcomes the inclusion of clear definitions of trauma-informed and culturally safe approaches to addressing gender-based violence. The federal strategy also seeks to fund and strengthen survivor supports for marginalized populations, members of the Canadian Armed Forces, victims and survivors of family violence and employees of the federal government.

But, the government doesn’t tie these values to allocated funding. Rather, it focuses on repackaging pre-existing programs that address housing, homelessness and mental health supports for First Nations and Inuit communities, none of which include specific language on gender-based violence. The only new funding committed to survivor supports is dedicated to members and families in the Canadian Armed Forces affected by violence, but doesn’t effectively address the epidemic of sexual violence in the military.

Responsive Legal and Justice Systems

The Federation is encouraged to see the federal government identify legal and judicial reform as a necessary step to addressing gender-based violence. This is an important shift away from a long history of governments denying gender-based violence as being a systemic and institutionalized issue.

This pillar includes the most robust funding commitments, which are long overdue and are steps towards transforming the legal and justice systems so that it will protect Canada’s most marginalized communities. Given recent high-profile cases of judicial mismanagement of sexualized violence trials, this pillar should do more to include explicit commitments to address the failures of Canada’s legal system to provide justice for victims and survivors, including broadening the limited legal definition of consent.

Gender-Based Violence Knowledge Centre

The federal strategy has committed to establish a Gender-Based Violence Knowledge Centre under Status of Women Canada, which will have the mandate to oversee the implementation of the strategy. This is an important step in ensuring that ending gender-based violence remains a political priority and the Federation will work to ensure the Centre relies on the expertise of frontline workers, community organizations and students, who have been at the forefront of this work.

Conclusion

The Federation is happy to see the federal government is finally taking concrete steps towards eliminating sexualized and gender-based violence in Canada. We are encouraged to see that this strategy recognizes and acknowledges the ways in which gender-based violence disproportionately affects marginalized communities and are looking forward to its implementation, but we would like to have seen more concrete actions to address gender-based violence in Canada.

In order to ensure that each student is able to pursue their education free of sexualized and gender-based violence regardless of where they choose to study, students need a national action plan that involves the participation of all levels of government, mandatory preventative education, proper policy and procedure, well-funded and varied support resources and accountability measures.

The backgrounder on “It’s Time: Canada’s Strategy to Prevent and Address Gender-based Violence” can be found here and includes a complete breakdown of all funding allocated under the strategy. The six fact sheets can be found here.