The 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence is an annual international campaign that kicks off on November 25 and runs until December 10. This year’s theme is “UNITE! Activism to end violence against women and girls.”
Professor Simon Lapierre talks to us about the current situation and issues, as well as possible ways of countering this violence. Lapierre is a full professor at the University of Ottawa’s School of Social Work, a member of the FemAnVi Research Collective, and head of Reflets : revue d’intervention sociale et communautaire.
How would you describe the situation of violence against women in 2022?
In the main, rates of violence against women have remained largely unchanged despite all of the efforts in recent decades to prevent and eradicate this major social problem. It is a scourge that afflicts every community in every country, and crosses all social classes and groups.
Nonetheless, certain women, including Indigenous women, are more likely to be victims of violence. Some women also face specific obstacles in attempting to seek safety. Such is the case, for example, with disabled women, who may be dependent on their aggressors for care or for access to resources and services. We also know that racialized women may be more reluctant to seek help or to report their aggressors, in particular because of racism present in institutions, including the justice system.
What are the current issues, and what needs to be done to put a stop to this violence?
It is absolutely essential that we acknowledge the herculean efforts of the feminist movement in Canada and around the world over the past few decades. Militant feminists have denounced the many forms of violence perpetrated against women, created resources to ensure women’s safety and demanded changes to legislation, policies and institutional and community practices. Many of them are continuing the fight today to ensure women’s safety and eradicate violence against women.
We are talking about long-term changes on several fronts. Ultimately, since this violence is rooted in the inequalities between women and men, we must create a more egalitarian society. Promoting equal relationships among children and youth also holds a lot of potential. While such an approach inevitably includes education about consent, it involves much more than that.
If we lived in a more egalitarian society, female victims of violence would face fewer difficulties and obstacles when they try to leave abusive spouses. In such cases, they would not have to fear ending up homeless or becoming destitute.
We also need to improve the justice system (for example, criminal law, family law, youth law) so it can better meet the needs of female victims of violence. In recent years, the #MeToo movement and other waves of public denunciations have made it clear that many victims and survivors of violence have lost their trust in the justice system. That trust must be restored, a process which requires significant and lasting changes.
How can each of us help curb and prevent that violence?
Each one of us has a role to play in helping to prevent violence against women. To that end, we must begin by looking at our own behaviours and acknowledging not only our privileges, but also the relationships of power in which we are involved. Not only do we have to choose to not resort to violence, but we also need to take a clear stance against all forms of violence against women. We must therefore take steps to prevent or put an end to situations of violence, and denounce any attempts to whitewash this violence.
In general, everything we do should aim to ensure the safety of victims and to support them. We should always be focused on the needs and rights of victims and survivors.
We can also help eliminate violence against women by supporting the feminist movement in its fight against such violence.
In recent years, there has been greater public awareness of the issue of violence against women, thanks in part to the #MeToo movement and other waves of public denunciations. The many femicides that took place during the COVID-19 pandemic also highlighted the potentially fatal outcomes of this violence, not to mention the vulnerable living conditions of some of its victims. This collective awareness has put considerable pressure on politicians, resulting in measures to prevent violence against women and to better meet victims’ needs. It will be interesting to see what the long-term impact of the attitudinal changes in the general public will be.