What is Violence against women?
Violence against women is perhaps the most shameful human rights violation, and it is perhaps the most pervasive. It knows no boundaries of geography, culture or wealth. As long as it continues, we cannot claim to be making real progress towards equality, development and peace.– Kofi Annan
According to the United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women (1993), violence against women is defined as:
“Any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.”
These acts can include but are not limited to:
- Physical abuse: hitting, beating, threats or attacks with objects or weapons, murder
- Sexual abuse: any unwanted act of a sexual nature imposed through threats, intimidation or physical force
- Emotional or verbal abuse: can include threats, intimidation, insults, confinement to the home, surveillance, destruction of objects, verbal aggression, humiliating and degrading comments, all of which erode self-esteem and can be just as devastating as physical abuse
- Financial abuse: an issue of particular concern to older women – can include controlling access to basic needs like food, employment and/or finances
- Spiritual abuse: includes using a person’s religious or spiritual beliefs to manipulate, dominate, or control them5
- Criminal harassment/stalking: obsessive behaviour directed toward another person. It can involve persistent, malicious and unwanted surveillance, and invasion of privacy that is a constant threat to the victim’s personal security6
Is violence against women a serious issue in Canada?
- 51% of women in Canada have experienced at least one incident of physical or sexual violence since the age of 16.7
- One to two women are murdered by a current or former partner each week in Canada.8
- Spousal violence makes up the single largest category of convictions involving violent offences in non-specialized adult courts in Canada over the five-year period 1997/98 to 2001/02. Over 90% of offenders were male.9
- 36% of female victims of spousal violence and less than 10% of victims of sexual assault reported these crimes to the police in 2004.10
- Physical and sexual abuse costs Canada over $4 billion each year (factoring into account social services, criminal justice, lost employment days and health care interventions).11
- Violence against women occurs across all ethnic, racial, religious, age, social and economic groups. However, some women are more vulnerable and more likely to experience violence, including women with disabilities, geographically isolated women, young women and Aboriginal women.
- 61% of adults in Canada say they personally know at least one woman who has experienced physical or sexual abuse.12
Why does this campaign focus on violence against women? What about violence against men?
- The Canadian Women’s Foundation believes that violence against anyone is unacceptable, whether it’s perpetrated against a male or a female, and we applaud other campaigns that focus on ending violence in its other forms. As a women’s organization our mandate is to focus on ending violence against women.
- A generic approach to ending violence against all Canadians risks failing to address the different gender-specific experiences and support needs of victims of violence. For example, while men are more likely to be injured by strangers in a public or social venue, women are in greater danger of experiencing violence from intimate partners in their own homes. Women are also at greater risk of sexual violence.13
That said, some of the violence prevention programs that the Canadian Women’s Foundation funds work with males and females to prevent violent behaviour. For example, we support initiatives that teach both teen boys and girls about healthy relationships, personal boundaries and mutual respect. We also support programs that counsel children who have witnessed abuse in their homes to prevent them from becoming victims or abusers themselves.
- This campaign is not about depicting men as bad or evil. We know that the vast majority of men are not violent and that most men are deeply concerned about this issue: it could be their mothers, sister, daughters, or friends who are victims. In fact, approximately half of Shelter from the Storm donors are men.
- While some men do experience violence within an intimate relationship, most victims of domestic violence are women
- Women are more likely to be the victims of the most severe forms of spousal assault, as well as sexual assault, stalking, and spousal homicide.14
- In 2004, there were nearly 28,000 incidents of spousal violence reported to the police: 84% of victims were female; 16% of victims were male.15
- Over a 10 year period, police reports showed males were much more likely than females to be the perpetrators of spousal violence incidents coming to the attention of police and more likely to repeatedly abuse their spouse:16
- One time incidents – 86% male vs. 15% female
- Repeated abuse incidents – 94% male vs. 6% female
- Chronic abuse incidents – 97% male vs. 3% female
How does violence against women affect children?
- Every year in Canada, up to 360,000 children are exposed to domestic violence.17
- For children who are exposed to violence, consequences can include emotional trauma, depression, injury and permanent disability, as well as other physical, psychological and behavioural problems that can extend into adolescence and adulthood.18
- 58,486 women and 36,840 children sought refuge in one of 473 shelters across Canada between April 1, 2003 and March 31, 2004.19
Why would a woman stay in an abusive relationship?
- Leaving a violent relationship is the most dangerous time for a woman: she may fear for her safety and her children’s safety if she leaves
- He may promise to change, or she may believe that things will get better
- He may threaten her if she tries to leave
- She may live in an isolated area, or be socially-isolated, and lack access to information, resources and support
- She may face communication, language or cultural barriers
- She may be economically dependent on her partner and lack access to financial resources
- Emotional abuse may affect her confidence and cause her to fear failure or the unknown
- She may blame herself for the violence or think that she provokes the abusive behaviour
- She may have been abused as a child, or witnessed abuse in her home, and accepts it as normal behaviour
- She may hold beliefs about keeping family together, or may experience pressure to do so from relatives
- She may fear losing her children
How do shelters help abused women?
- Shelters for abused women do more than provide emergency housing and food for women and their children. Services include:
- counselling and support for women as they rebuild their lives after violence
- counselling for children who have witnessed violence to help them heal
- legal advice
- assistance in finding affordable housing
- community outreach: to build awareness about domestic violence
- The cost of operating shelters for abused women in Canada totals more than $135 million each year.20
- Many shelters have waiting lists and are dependant on the support of their local communities to keep the doors open.
What is the Canadian Women’s Foundation doing to end violence against women?
Ending violence against women requires a long-term strategy that empowers women, and changes the attitudes and beliefs that lead to abusive behaviour.
The Canadian Women’s Foundation funds initiatives in shelters and community organizations across Canada that work along the full continuum of ending violence against women: teaching young people about healthy relationships; providing shelter to women fleeing abuse; counselling children who have witnessed abuse; and rebuilding the lives of women and their children after they have experienced violence.
Learn more about the violence prevention programs funded by the Canadian Women’s Foundation.
Can I donate food or clothing to Shelter from the Storm?
Shelter from the Storm can only accept money donations. We suggest you contact a shelter in your area, as many facilities gratefully accept donations in the form of clothing, food and other necessities.
To find a shelter in your community, please go to shelternet.ca or look in the front pages of your telephone book.