Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with my colleague, the member for Etobicoke—Lakeshore.
I want to speak on the subject of violence against women and girls as a health issue of grave concern.
As women have marched across the country, not only in Canada but around the world, governments have had to concentrate on and remind themselves of the enormity and complexity of this problem, a problem that continues in Canada despite the efforts of organizations, governments and individuals to eliminate it.
When we speak about violence as a health issue, we include violence in all its forms, physical, sexual, psychological and spiritual, which then includes things like abuse, date rape, stalking, violence in the home and in the workplace, and violence by family members, acquaintances or persons in positions of trust.
There is no doubt that all forms of violence seriously impact on the health and well-being of women. Along with immediate and more physical impacts of physical and sexual violence, there are many other possible consequences, which would include the possibility of HIV-AIDS, sexually transmitted diseases, unplanned pregnancies and permanent pain, injury and disability.
Violence against women and girls has serious psychological impacts. They can become withdrawn, have depression and low self-esteem, have eating disorders and self-destructive behaviours which I have seen evidenced in my own constituency office with people having to deal with these issues. They can have physical problems that are a consequence of poor mental health.
We do not have a simplistic viewpoint. There is a whole range of areas to be considered. These all have an impact on women's ability to empower themselves and to interact with their community, with their family and with society. In a sense they have this area of their lives where they feel powerless. I think that is wrong and it is very difficult to overcome.
Health is a function of much more than biology and health services. Health is also greatly affected and impacted by the social and economic factors. The social impacts of violence against women can include hours of lost work, lost income, loss of home and isolation. These can all worsen one's health.
In March of 1999 Health Canada released its “Women's Health Strategy” which had a significant component of the government's health agenda. There were 64 commitments in the strategy which were based on a health determinants approach. As part of the strategy, Health Canada undertook to integrate a gender based analysis. We have talked about that many times in the House. I think the fact that gender based analysis is integrated into the department's programs and policy development work will have an eventual impact on what we are trying to do.
Gender based violence is a risk factor that women face and has wide ranging consequences for not only health but for the health system. We had recent negotiations at the UN's special session of the general assembly. It has been commonly referred to as Beijing +5. It did address the violence issue as a health issue. States recognized that while some advances had been made in the provision of specialized health services for women and children, there was a lack of a co-ordinated multidisciplinary approach responding to violence. We need to include not only health systems but education systems, media, workplace knowledge as well as the justice system.
As a result of the Beijing +5 commitments, we have a view now of a more holistic approach to the issue of violence against women and girls, including marginalized women and girls. That would also then encompass those areas of provision for appropriate health care and services which on the whole are not well integrated in all our communities in Canada at the present.
However, in the health sector we need to do more than treat the impact of violence. This has been mentioned a number of times today. We need to encourage and engage in preventing violence before it starts, in all of our systems. Health care services should also recognize the symptoms of violence and provide support to women and girls.
We also know that we have marginalized women and girls in our society, often aboriginal women, immigrant and refugee women, lesbians, women with disabilities, older women, and women of minority, racial, ethnocultural and linguistic groups. They need services that are sensitive to their culture, their situation and their life experience. Unlike the reform alliance, one size does not fit all and cannot help all the people that need to be helped.
Along with those groups, women in isolated and rural communities also have difficulty accessing the services they require. Community groups and non-governmental organizations have been active in these areas and are to be commended for their work to date, which is essential to achieving the holistic system we are after, that holistic response to violence.
I will give a few examples. Through the Health Canada health transition fund, the University of Montreal completed a project to implement and evaluate the use of a screening tool in local community health service centres for the detection of women abuse. Recently in my home town, the London based task force on the health effects of women abuse released a report recommending that health care providers screen female patients for abuse. The Centre of Excellence for Women's Health has studied the relationship between health and violence among aboriginal women, the impact of violence on women's mental health and the provision of health services to women diagnosed with mental illnesses who are survivors of trauma and abuse.
Through family violence initiatives, Health Canada supports research related to health consequences of violence against women, particularly with a view to encouraging and educating the health care sector to respond more effectively to violence against women as a health issue. This includes guidelines for physicians who are dealing with women abuse and the criminal justice system, a handbook for health and social service providers and educators and children who are exposed to women abuse, and a handbook for health and social service professionals responding to abuse during pregnancy, a particularly vulnerable time.
The National Clearinghouse on Family Violence contains many resources that provide information to aid women, including women from these marginalized areas of our country and from minority groups. I hope that women and men will access these resources.
The government will continue to promote respect for the physical and psychological integrity of all individuals. Health and well-being are necessary to women's full participation in society. Girls and women of all ages, I believe, cannot achieve any real equality until they are free from all forms of violence. I see around this House people who understand the issues, many in different parties but certainly on the government side of the House. We have to understand the problem while we work at the solution. Women and men, civil society, all governments and all members of the House must be engaged to eliminate violence.
I was very pleased on Sunday to come to Ottawa a day early to spend time with some of the people who came from London, Ontario to visit the Hill and participate peacefully in a demonstration that raises very significant issues for Canadians to understand, to take action on and to involve themselves in. The government has been working in its various departments to continue the work that has progressed since we have been here. I can only speak of the time since 1993, but this is not my first debate on these issues of violence against women. I hope that by the time the grandchild of the hon. member opposite, who just had a grandchild today, reaches the age where she or he can enter the House, it not be in a similar debate.
There are good people in the House and in the communities who believe this is an important area. The Alliance Party in particular demonstrated earlier today some misunderstanding of some of the basic theory that goes with some of the issues we talk about in the House and that we have to follow through with our policy and practice in our ridings.
There will not be a debate in the House on violence that I do not want to participate in because it is important to recognize it, not to hide behind the statistics that say everything is getting better. It is always important to stand up and say that there are still marginalized people, that we are still underserviced in many ways and that resources, both human and monetary, have to go into these areas for progress to continue to be made. I believe that the government, with its gender analysis, will help integrate all those solutions into the policy development of the government.
I thank the members of the House for participating in this worthwhile debate. I also thank the member from the opposition party who put forward this motion today.