Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to support my colleague from Churchill's Motion No. 444 to develop a national action plan to address violence against women.
I congratulate the member for Churchill on her work and her dedication to fighting violence against women. She and so many others are doing inspiring work to tackle this problem.
The Canadian Network of Women's Shelters & Transition Houses defines violence against women as follows:
Violence against women is a form of gender-based discrimination, a manifestation of historical and systemic inequality between men and women, and the most widespread human rights violation in the world. It refers to any act, intention or threat of physical, sexual or psychological violence that results in the harm or suffering of women and girls, including restrictions on their freedom, safety and full participation in society. It is inflicted by intimate partners, caregivers, family members, guardians, strangers, co-workers, employers...and service providers. It occurs in the home, at work, in institutions and in our communities. [Violence against women affects all of us.] Women’s experiences of violence are shaped by multiple forms of discrimination and [unfair] disadvantage, which intersect with race, ethnicity, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, immigrant and refugee status, age, and disability.
By refusing to address or even recognize the systemic nature of violence against women, the Conservative government's minister is perpetuating the situation. Women are still being subjected to the most violent manifestations of inequality simply because they are women. The federal government could help them, but it does not.
The Conservatives' record on violence against women is simply atrocious. The Conservatives' failure to act is nothing more than negligence, particularly when it comes to the intolerable rates of violence that aboriginal women experience.
Since they have been in power, the Conservatives have been blatantly attacking the equality of women in Canada. They did away with the court challenges program. They cut the budget of Status of Women Canada by 70% and also took the word “equality” out of its mandate. They banned research and advocacy in the programs funded by that organization. They introduced a number of bills and motions against abortion. They passed regressive legislative measures with regard to income equality, measures that even went against the recommendations of experts. They refuse to allocate sufficient funding to combat violence against aboriginal women and conduct a national public inquiry, when everyone in Canada is calling for them to do so. They are blocking the NDP's bill on transgendered rights. They are refusing to allocate funding to development assistance and to abortion and family planning services, even in cases of forced marriage and rape committed as an act of war. They are constantly reducing funding for social programs, which harms all women. They are attacking the unions that protect good paying jobs for women and proposing programs, such as income splitting, that will reduce the number of working women, at the expense of a national child care program that would ensure the financial security of women.
This erosion of equality makes women more vulnerable to violence. Violence against women is systemic and widespread in Canada. It is a sociological phenomenon. The number of violent crimes is decreasing, but the number of rapes and sexual assaults remains stable. Women are 10 times more likely to be victims of sexual crimes and three times more likely to be victims of criminal harassment.
Whether they are at school, at work or at home, this is a reality that all women live with in one way or another, simply because they are women. It is an oppressive and systemic violence that affects half of our population.
Although violence harms all women, those who are dealing with multiple forms of oppression have more obstacles to overcome, and any solutions must recognize and take into account the thousands of oppressive forms that discrimination and marginalization can take.
We are living in a time when many disciplines are recognizing the effects of the inequality created by various systemic problems. The more oppression there is, the more vulnerabilities we see.
Aboriginal women, women from visible minorities, older women, LGBTTQ women, and women with disabilities are the most affected to the extent that we might call them the most targeted populations. The intersectionality of oppression is very clear when we talk about violence against women.
Fully 67% of all Canadians say they personally know at least one woman who was the victim of sexual or physical assault, and in Canada 50% of all women experience at least one incident of physical or sexual violence by age 16.
Canada has no plan to combat violence against women. It is clear that this is a national problem and it is important to point out that most of these crimes are not reported. A national plan of action would provide a framework for consultation and for strengthening the systems that prevent and respond to violence against women. For this plan to work, there will have to be a consultation process with the people, organizations, communities and researchers who have worked tirelessly to put an end to violence against women. The call for a strategy is coming not just from the NDP, but also from women's organizations across the country and even from the UN.
Without a strategy, services are disjointed and lack coordination and consistency. According to the Canadian Network of Women's Shelters & Transition Houses, without a national plan, responses to violence are often fragmented and inaccessible and can even undermine rather than enhance women's safety.
We need to tackle the underlying problem of inequality, which helps perpetuate this violence. That is why we need a national child care plan, because creating accessible and affordable child care spaces, as Quebec did, would help improve gender equality in Canada.
We need a plan for affordable housing and ongoing commitments to invest in a national housing strategy so that women do not have to choose between staying in an abusive relationship and being homeless.
We need to reduce and eliminate the wage gap and take measures such as making EI more accessible, increasing the minimum wage, creating a national strategy to reduce poverty and dropping the age of eligibility for the GIS back down from 67 to 65. All of these things affect women more directly than men.
Budget cuts made by successive Liberal and Conservative governments have only made matters worse for women in Canada. In 1999, Canada ranked first on the UN gender inequality index, but now we are ranked 23rd.
Meanwhile, every night, 4,600 women and their children are forced to sleep in shelters to escape violence. Many are even turned away because the shelters are already at 100% capacity.
Nearly 2,000 aboriginal women, 1,181 to be precise, disappeared or were murdered between 1980 and 2012.
A national strategy to address violence against women in Canada is absolutely crucial. We need to reduce and eventually eliminate it. This has been an urgent matter for some time now, and we need to deal with it immediately.