The National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women – marked every year on 6 December – provides an opportunity to reflect on how violence affects women in Canada and how our communities can take action to end violence against women. Established in 1991 by the Parliament of Canada, the day commemorates the anniversary of the 1989 gender-based murders of 14 young women at l’École Polytechnique de Montréal.
In Canada and around the world, violence against women and girls remains a serious challenge. It impedes women’s full and equal participation in public life; it causes short- and long-term damage to women’s mental and physical health; and it hurts families and society as a whole.
Violence Against Women: Overview
In Canada, according to 2014 self-reported data, women face a higher rate of violent victimization than do men: 85 incidents per 1,000 women compared with 67 incidents per 1,000 men. This difference reflects in large part the stability over the past decade of rates of sexual assaults, in which the majority of victims are women, and the recent decrease in rates of other violent crimes, offences involving mostly male victims.
The violence faced by women in Canada is of a different scope and severity than that faced by men:
- Women are more likely to experience violence at the hands of men they know, such as intimate partners or family members, whereas men are at greater risk of violence from acquaintances or strangers.
- Women are at greater risk of certain forms of violence, including intimate partner violence, sexual assault and criminal harassment (stalking).
- Women are more likely to experience intimate partner violence of a severe nature, which includes being sexually assaulted and beaten, living through chronic incidents of violence, and being threatened with a gun or knife.
Recent statistics on violence against women in Canada reveal that:
- the rate of intimate partner homicides in Canada is more than four times greater for women than for men;
- on a “snapshot” date in April 2014, 7,969 women and children were staying at the 627 shelters for abused women in Canada; 73% of these individuals were there primarily because they had suffered domestic violence and 25% had stayed at that same shelter before;
- women comprise 70% of sexual violence victims according to self-reported data and in the majority of police-reported incidents (94%), the accused perpetrators were male; and
- reporting rates to police of sexual assaults are low; only 5% of sexual assaults were reported to the police in 2014.
Current Federal Government and Parliamentary Initiatives to Address Violence Against Women
One of the priority areas of the federal agency Status of Women Canada is “ending violence against women and girls.” This focus is reflected in the mandate letter for the Minister of Status of Women, which calls for developing and implementing “a comprehensive federal gender violence strategy and action plan, aligned with existing provincial strategies.” In June 2016, an Advisory Council on the Federal Strategy Against Gender-Based Violence was created as a forum for exchanging knowledge, experience, promising practices and research on gender-based violence. From July 2016 to September 2016, roundtables were held across the country to discuss priorities for a federal strategy on gender-based violence.
In terms of current parliamentary initiatives in this area, the House of Commons Standing Committee on the Status of Women is completing a study on violence against young women and girls, with a particular focus on cyberviolence, harassment in public spaces and sexual assault on post-secondary campuses.
Vulnerable Populations: Indigenous Women and Girls
Violence affects women of all social, economic and cultural groups. However, certain groups of women, such as Indigenous women, are at greater risk of victimization.
Indigenous women – First Nations, Métis and Inuit women – are more likely to be targets of violence than non-Indigenous women. For example, the self-reported rate of sexual assault was three times higher for Indigenous women (11.5%) compared to the rate for non-Indigenous women (3.5%). Between 1980 and 2012, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police indicated that Indigenous women accounted for a greater percentage of missing women (11%) and female homicides (16%) than their representation (4%) in Canada’s total female population.
A 2014 report by the House of Commons Special Committee on Violence Against Indigenous Women and Girls outlined some of the root causes of such violence. Recognizing that the underlying causes are varied, complex and interrelated, the Committee identified factors such as “human trafficking, substance abuse, prostitution, poverty, lack of housing and poor living conditions, lack of prevention services such as mental health services, and the ongoing legacy of residential schools,” as well as systemic racism.
In response to the Special Committee’s report, the Government of Canada outlined its efforts to reduce violence against Aboriginal women in its 2014 Action Plan to Address Family Violence and Violent Crimes Against Aboriginal Women and Girls.
In February 2015, Indigenous leaders and territorial and provincial premiers convened a one-day National Roundtable on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, in which the federal government participated.
On 8 December 2015, the Minister of Justice, the Minister of Status of Women and the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs announced the creation of a National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. The Inquiry began with a pre-inquiry design process, followed by the release of the Terms of Reference for the Inquiry, and the selection of the five commissioners who will lead the Inquiry. Budget 2016 allocated $40 million over two years, beginning in 2016–2017, for the Inquiry.
Sinha, Maire. Measuring violence against women: Statistical trends. Juristat 85-002X. Statistics Canada, Ottawa, 25 February 2013.
World Health Organization. Violence against women: Intimate partner and sexual violence against women. Fact sheet No. 239, November 2016.
Author: Laura Munn-Rivard, Library of Parliament