This National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women, here are 3 ways you can advocate for change, and 3 things you can do in your daily life.

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On December 6, 1989, fourteen women at l’École Polytechnique de Montréal were murdered. It was later revealed they were on a list the shooter titled “feminists to slaughter.”

31 years later, for National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women, we’re reflecting on what’s changed since, and what still needs to be done, as women experience disproportionate levels of violence in Canada.

Gender-based violence needs to be taken seriously.

The World Health Organization and the Public Health Agency of Canada have both recognized gender-based violence as a significant public health issue.

Gender-based violence is most commonly committed by an intimate partner or family member. This has severe consequences for women’s health, many of which persist long after the violence has stopped.

Quick facts on health impacts:

  • Women exposed to intimate partner violence are twice as likely to experience depression
  • 42% of women who have experienced physical or sexual violence at the hands of a partner have experienced serious injuries as a result.
  • Approximately every six days, a woman in Canada is killed by her intimate partner.
  • There are approximately 4,000 missing or murdered Aboriginal women in Canada.
  • Canada spends $7.4 billion every year to deal with the aftermath of intimate partner violence.

Stats are likely much higher than we know.

Silence and lack of resources is why domestic and sexual violence persists. In Canada, half of all women have experienced at least one incident of physical or sexual violence since the age of 16.

But it’s also important to remember that the rate of domestic violence is likely much higher than we know. The past year, with the rise of #MeToo into the mainstream, the number of women sharing their personal accounts has only emphasized the pervasiveness of this issue.

The recent stats say 67% of Canadians know a woman who has experienced physical or sexual abuse. But it’s also predicted that less than 10% of sexual assaults are reported. So that total 67% is likely much, much higher.

Where does the healthcare system come in?

Healthcare providers are often the first professional contact for survivors of intimate partner violence or sexual assault. In fact, the World Health Organization states that women who have been subjected to violence seek healthcare more often than women who are not abused, even if they do not disclose.

That’s why BC Women’s strives to offer trauma-informed care in every program, through a new free online learning series for healthcare workers, We Can All Help.

What is trauma-informed care?

  • The principle of trauma-informed care recognizes that people who have experienced trauma may not always interact with the healthcare system in the same way as others.
  • There’s a lot involved, but the two main principles are asking permission and offering control to the patient.

3 things you can advocate for:

  1. Custody laws – losing custody of their children is a concern that keeps many women from disclosing their experiences.
  2. Affordable housing – 6,000+ women and children sleep in shelters on any given night because it isn’t safe at home.
  • This past April, Dubravka Simonovic, a UN special rapporteur on violence against women came to Canada. After her visit, she urged us to start addressing issues facing Indigenous women now, and not wait for the National Inquiry to end.
  • She specifically emphasized more affordable housing as an area of focus deserving our immediate attention.
  1. Universal free access to contraception – Conflicts over methods (and use) are common in abusive relationships.
  • Women exposed to intimate partner violence are 1.5 times more likely to acquire HIV.
  • Women exposed to intimate partner violence are 1.5 more likely to contract sexually transmitted infections.
  • According to a study of young women electing an abortion, 40% revealed intimate partner violence in the past year.

3 things you can do in your daily life:

  1. Believe survivors – many women say the fear of not being believed by their friends, family, or authorities keeps them from disclosing their experiences.
  2. Encourage men to be a part of the conversation. We must invite allies – women and men – to embrace a message of transparency, accountability, and inclusion. There is an opportunity for men to educate themselves on consent, challenge ideas, jokes, and “locker room talk” that justify violence.
  3. Learn about emergency services in your community, such as your local women’s shelter or sexual assault centre. Consider supporting them as you’re thinking about a charitable donation this December.

Explore the facts. Check out the UN’s interactive infographic.

Join the conversation with us @bcwomensfdn, with the hashtag #MyActionsMatter.

BC Women’s Health Foundation is BC’s largest non-profit organization dedicated to advancing the full spectrum of women’s health. The information shared is intended to educate, inform, and point readers to credible sources. It is not intended to substitute professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of qualified healthcare professionals with any questions specific to your medical condition.