As the NDP critic for women’s issues, I am honoured to rise today in this House to speak about Woman Abuse Prevention Month on behalf of the Ontario NDP caucus.
Woman Abuse Prevention Month recognizes the rights of girls and women to live free from the threat of violence in their homes, in their schools, in their workplaces and in their communities. Throughout November, the Wrapped in Courage campaign of the Ontario Association of Interval and Transition Houses lets Ontarians show their support for the elimination of violence against women by wearing purple scarves purchased from a local women’s shelter. Purple symbolizes the courage it takes a woman to leave her abuser. When we wear purple, we are saying to abused women that they have more than their own courage to rely on, that the entire community stands with them in a shared commitment to ending violence against women.
Speaker, in March of this year and again in October, all members of this House came together to support my private member’s bill, Bill 26, that will provide up to 10 days of paid leave for employees experiencing violence, who are overwhelmingly women, so that they can deal with the legal system, find a new place to live, see a doctor or access counselling. Too often, women feel trapped in the violence, unable to leave an abusive relationship because of what it will mean for themselves and their children. By allowing women to leave without jeopardizing their employment, this bill will remove one of the most powerful barriers for women seeking to end a violent relationship. It will give them the financial security they need to make this incredibly courageous decision.
My bill also includes mandatory workplace training to help all workers recognize the warning signs of domestic violence and sexual violence. This November, I call on the government to bring my bill forward for public input at committee as a demonstration of our collective resolve to end violence against women.
While much has been achieved since Woman Abuse Prevention Month was first declared in this province, for those of us who have been fighting this fight for years, it is easy to become discouraged when change is so painfully, achingly slow.
According to Statistics Canada, every six days in Canada a woman is killed by her current or former intimate partner. In Ontario alone, 20 to 30 women are murdered each year. In 2012, 77% of the domestic homicide victims whose cases were reviewed by Ontario’s Domestic Violence Death Review Committee were women. In 2013, 85% of the victims were women. In 2014, 90% of the victims were women.
When women seek shelter from violence and abuse, they do so out of a very real sense of terror for the safety of their children and for themselves. One of the goals of Woman Abuse Prevention Month is to raise awareness through campaigns like Wrapped in Courage or Shine the Light. Prevention also means education through school-based programs and training for other community organizations.
I salute those amazing front-line staff from violence-against-women agencies who do this work, because they know how essential it is to stop the violence. But in the context of declining budgets and increasing needs, agencies are forced to make agonizing decisions. How many women and children do they turn away in order to fund outreach programs? When violence-against-women services are not funded adequately, this is the difficult choice they face.
Speaker, in addition to public education and awareness, effective prevention also requires changing the behaviours of men. There is a direct link between violence against women and gender inequality, between woman abuse and a society that fails to challenge misogyny and rape culture, even—as we saw in the US—that excuses such behaviours as mere locker room talk. That’s why campaigns like White Ribbon, campaigns to engage men in ending men’s violence against women, are so important.
At the same time, we must find ways to stop the abuse. We must hold perpetrators accountable to the fullest extent possible, but we can’t lock them up forever. Evidence-based programs to change abusive behaviours like Partner Assault Response, or PAR, are an essential component of a comprehensive woman abuse prevention framework. Unfortunately, instead of acting on the 2009 recommendations from its own expert panel that PAR be strengthened, that it be delivered on a differentiated basis rather than one size fits all, that it be made available to abusers who voluntarily want to change, not just those who are ordered by the courts, this Liberal government has watered down the program by reducing the number of sessions available to offenders. Instead of listening to warnings from experts and community leaders about the risk these changes have created for women and children, this Liberal government has potentially created a revolving door for abusers.
So let’s all wear a purpose scarf on November 28, but let’s also make the meaningful changes necessary to prevent woman abuse.