Good afternoon, Madam Chair, and members of this committee. We thank you, and we are grateful for the invitation to address the committee.
In the development of any best practice, policy, legislation, or charter, we must never forget that violence against women is preventable. That fact must be the very foundation that any real change is built upon. Violence against women is yet to be considered preventable; instead, it is simply considered one of the many social ills that we must endure and manage. We need not look very far back in our own history to find a time when it was indeed acceptable.
Through the hard work of feminism in our country we are moving towards a culture in which these forms of interpersonal violence are now widely considered unacceptable. Great women doing great work have spoken before this committee. Best practices, new and emerging programs, research, and critical analysis have been brought forward with intelligence and with experience.
We suggest that women's organizations are all well versed in best practice and that we have been creating it and utilizing it for many decades. Evidence of this body of work can be found in the submissions to this committee, in scholarly research, in the endless reports we write, in university gender and social work classes, and around women's kitchen tables, yet women continue to die.
We have made great advancements in education and awareness both nationally and internationally. Policies and programs are implemented at all levels of government and within our communities and within our schools, yet the statistics that we are all intimately aware of are staggering.
Violence against women has been called the global epidemic of our times. It can lead one to think that there is nothing left to add to this discourse, but if we hold steadfast to the truth that violence against women is preventable, then there is much for us to discuss.
Best practice, education, and all of our combined work in the field will not be enough if we do not directly eliminate the root causes: gender inequality, long-standing neglect in upholding women's human rights, and decades of closures and funding cuts to front-line and advocacy women-led organizations.
Imagine if the programs and policies we created together were aimed at these root causes, at breaking down the systems that create gender inequality. Imagine if they were built on our existing human rights framework, and imagine if they were resourced sustainably so that women-led organizations could do what they have done well for many decades regardless of fluctuations in the economy, politics, and our laws.
If we re-envision how we conceive and develop best practice so that it eradicates gender inequality, then a national child care strategy, a national housing strategy, pay equity, access to women-centred health care, education, and a fair justice system is best practice. Further, the lack of these strategies in Canada is not only a causal factor, they are simultaneously the very barriers that prevent women leaving violence and living to their full potential.
This work, we cannot do alone. Women are protected in principle by the charter of human rights as individuals of this nation. These rights must apply to all women equally, including trans women, seniors, indigenous women, sex workers, disabled women, young women, and women new to our country. Women's organizations struggle daily to keep women safe in communities where there are no lawyers, no social workers, no courthouses or doctors, where women are left dangerously vulnerable and without access to basic supports. This must be viewed as a denial of their basic human rights.
Still, Canada has signed on to numerous conventions protecting and advancing the rights of women, including CEDAW, where article 3 states that the convention gives positive affirmation to the principle of equality by requiring state parties to take “all appropriate measures, including legislation, to ensure the full development and advancement of women, for the purpose of guaranteeing them the exercise and enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms on a basis of equality with men.”
Yet women continue to die. Why? We have not applied these basic human rights to our work in ending violence against women. If anti-violence work were built on our existing human rights frameworks, then access to this that fosters safety and quality of life should not and could not be denied women, no matter their geographical or social location.
Years of funding cuts and closures, and silencing of women's organizations are in themselves a pervasive form of violence against women. Federal policy must act to strengthen women's organizations and to secure sustainable funding, so they do not continue to be casualties of the fluctuations in our economy, political agendas, and our laws.
Our Province of Newfoundland and Labrador is a great example of this double bind. Dropping oil prices leads to dramatic job loss, job losses lead to a dramatic rise in domestic violence. Already overburdened we scramble to cope with the increased need for services, while simultaneously being told that because of falling oil prices there will be no increase in funding, and there are silent whispers of impending cuts that will affect our work.
The economic boom that arrived at our doorstep 10 years ago created a dramatic rise in women who are exploited by the sex trade, and the new prostitution bill, Bill C-36, has left us scrambling to provide supports and safety for a population left vulnerable and moving deeper and deeper underground.
This scenario plays out time and time again in our work, leaving us with band-aid solutions, patchwork support, and never the time nor the resources to tackle the fundamental issues of gender inequality and justice, human rights, and advocacy. It is time that we recognize and redress the fact that diminished or no access to basic services because of chronic underfunding places women's lives at risk and by extension their children and by extension our communities.
This is a very real cause of continued violence against women, and it is preventable. We need the indelible human rights of all women to be upheld in law and in policy in their entirety. We need long-promised and undelivered national strategies to target and eradicate structures and social norms that perpetuate gender inequality. We need sustainable resources to do what we do well—advocate and provide services, supports and resources to women, freely and without threat.
There must be a shift in how we view gender inequality and how we eradicate it together as a nation. Gender inequality is simultaneously inherent to and produced by our institutions. We must shift our focus to improving our nation's ability to respond to the needs of all Canadian women. Until our Canadian institutions and our social systems prioritize and nurture the unimaginable and untapped potential of women in this country, we fear we will be living in a state of never-ending, managed violence.
In closing, we need to recognize that the situation is dire, but that the future need not be bleak. The real solutions to the issues already exist. Symbolically, it is there in the human rights framework that we uphold in this country. Practically, it is in the work of those on the ground, our women's centres, our female-serving organizations. The missing ingredients are the social and political will and sustainable resources necessary to create a coordinated national strategy. If we as a country can commit to these things, then we have not only created best practice, we have built the very foundation to prevent violence against women.