Recognition of violence against women grows but problem severe

Jessenia Feijo 
life reporter

Last Tuesday marked the onset of 16 days dedicated to putting a stop to an issue hiding in the shadows of victims.

The National Day of Remembrance and Action of Violence Against Women falls on Dec. 6.

The Centre for Human Rights, Equity & Diversity in collaboration with Humber Students’ Federation (HSF) hosts a commemoration on Dec. 6 every year.

The day is marked in Canada on the anniversary of the 1989 École Polytechnique massacre, in which 14 women were singled out for their gender and murdered.

But a lone day of remembrance doesn’t eliminate the fact that a woman is killed every six days by her intimate partner in Canada, said Keetha Mercer, manager of Violence and Prevention Programs at the Canadian Women’s Foundation.

The United Nations defines violence against women as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or mental harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.”

Mercer said such violence is very common in Canada.

A 2009 Statistics Canada study found that more than 473,900 women experienced sexual assault in that year alone, Mercer said.

The Foundation’s research finds 67 per cent of Canadians know a woman who has experience physical or emotional abuse, she said.

The physical act of abuse is emphasized more than mental, verbal, emotional abuse and harassment, but they are all part of the abuse, said Andrea Gunraj, communications specialist at Metropolitan Action Committee on Violence Against Women and Children.

“I believe that there is more recognition of different forms of violence as time goes on and awareness increases through the efforts of many survivors and organizations,” said Gunraj.

Because domestic violence and other violence against women is common, the issue is in the media on a regular basis, she said.

“But, it should be in the media all the time with a focus on solutions and prevention,” said Gunraj.

Humber is committed to ending all forms of violence, including discrimination and harassment, said Jessica Bowen, Humber’s Human Rights, Equity and Diversity advisor.

“A clear reflection of Humber’s commitment is revealed in their ‘zero tolerance’ attitude as it pertains to any allegations of sexual harassment at Humber College,” said Bowen.

“One of the roles of the Centre for Human Rights, Equity & Diversity, HR Services is to deliver preventative education throughout the academic year,” she said.

Bowen said hosting an event for the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women with an information table and free educational resources is one way the centre is raising awareness to end violence against women and children.

Educational events are important because they help students to be aware and engaged in the issue of violence against women, said Bowen.

“Students are surrounded by survivors and so it is important to show solidarity to such an important cause. Additionally, students need to be aware of the steps they can take to prevent an incident of sexual violence,” she said.

There’s more awareness about abuse, which is good, but healthy relationships, consent and prevention of violence should be a topic of learning from Junior Kindergarten to post-secondary levels, Gunraj said.

“There’s still a lot to be worked on,” said Gunraj. There remains a need to change policies and practices in schools and work to make it easier for people to report and be safe.

Policing needs to change so people feel like they can report and get a good response, said Gunraj.

“We need a society where 100 per cent of people who have been abused feel like they can come forward if they choose, not just 10 per cent,” said Gunraj.

And for those who don’t want to report in that manner, services and supports need to be well-funded so they can meet the demand and do more to help prevent and educate, she said.

“If you or someone you know is going through this and they turn to you, believe her,” said Mercer.

“(It’s) very important to let a women know that it is not her fault and believe her when she tells you what is happening. Violence is not an answer and women are already told so often that it is their fault and, as a friend, you should be there to let her know it’s not,” she said.

By focusing on continually educating the Humber community on this topic, we can work toward a future without violence against women and children, Bowen said.