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  • Yusra Qadir

Preventing and Ending Gender-Based Violence: Why Doesn’t the Needle Move?

Updated: Mar 21

Written by Yusra Qadir (Vice President, Programs and Advocacy)



Gender-based violence (GBV) is a universal and critical human rights and women empowerment issue. In Canada, more than  4  in 10  women have experienced some form of intimate partner violence (IPV) in their lifetimes. (Statistics Canada, 2021). GBV is rooted within systems and is perpetuated by patriarchal structures and approaches wielded by those in positions of power. Racialized and Indigenous women and gender minorities bear a disproportionately heavier burden of GBV. A woman or girl is killed every 48 hours in Canada (Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability, 20202021, and 2022).


Apart from the devastating impact on survivors and their families, GBV has severe economic consequences. It costs Canadian taxpayers $7.4 billion to deal with the aftermath of spousal violence alone (Justice Canada 2009). While certain types of GBV reporting may have reduced, the overall incidence of GBV or its prevalence has not decreased over the past many years. The COVID-19 pandemic and its impact have increased the incidence of GBV, exposing more women and girls to violence either for the first time or by suffering increased intensity of violence.


This data begs some critical questions: what is being done and how? what are we missing? And how do we move the needle to prevent and end GBV?


 

WHAT IS BEING DONE AND HOW?

Canada supports GBV response efforts at both federal and provincial levels. In 2022, a 10-year National Action Plan to end GBV was introduced to support and strategically direct GBV programming.


Various programs respond to GBV and support survivors – all of which are vital services to support healing and rebuild the lives of women and girls, and in many cases, their children as well. These programs range from providing emergency or transitional shelter, legal aid, clinical counselling, etc., to institutional strengthening and capacity-building training for frontline staff. The GBA plus framework has been promoted, and government departments and organizations funded through them are required/encouraged (depending on how/by whom they are funded) to use it to design and implement their programs.


Organizations often experience funding gaps to offer responsive services at the scale at which they are required. They endure much pressure as they must fish for projects to continue providing their clients the services that they need. Many organizations have piloted responsive projects that build on good practice and innovation, but while pilots are funded, there are seldom resources to scale successful pilots.


Although efforts have been made for more coordinated programming, there is significant silo-ing which ultimately strains already vulnerable women, girls, and children with multiple and complex needs to go to GBV support programs, anti-poverty programs, family programs, legal aid programs, mental health support programs etc. to access a continuum of support to heal and rebuild their lives effectively, and those of their children.


 

WHAT ARE WE MISSING?

GBV prevention efforts are chronically underfunded despite being a critical need. Dealing with GBV and its aftermath has high social, emotional, and economic costs. Recognizing the importance of making investments in prevention programs is a proactive way to stop GBV from happening in the first place. Prevention programs need to be more funded, despite having the potential to significantly lower costs associated with managing GBV. This can potentially reduce the burden on the law enforcement and justice system, strengthening the social fabric, creating resilience at the household and community levels, and helping families stay together.


Consistent funding remains a gap - organizations must look for and operate on piecemeal funding. Given the limited staff capacity, the focus will be removed from quality service delivery and program improvement to mobilizing resources for continued programming.


Coordinated and synergetic programming within and between government departments, various levels of government, and organizations serving communities can enable all stakeholders to optimize resources and performance, contribute effectively based on their value additions, build on each other’s work, and avoid duplication.


Holistic programs with explicit GBV objectives and resourcing – global and Canadian experience shows that using the GBA+ approach across program cycles or ‘mainstreaming GBV or gender equality’ does not cut it. Having explicit GBV objectives, indicators, and resourcing embedded across all programming is crucial - this moves programs from thoughts to actions with associated accountability.


Culturally appropriate prevention and response services – existing services are not culturally appropriate, especially for Indigenous or newcomer/immigrant communities, based on their way of life, social/community systems, practice of faith and culture, and value alignment. This leaves women from most vulnerable communities stranded in abusive relationships – as they are made to choose between fleeing abuse or compromising/losing religious and cultural identity, practices, and values. This significantly complicates fleeing abuse for mothers as raising their children in a culturally appropriate way is of particular importance in their way of life.


Targeted programming for most vulnerable and high-incidence groups – GBV programming is standardized, and this makes it less effective for groups that are overrepresented in GBV data – which often have specific vulnerabilities requiring specific services. Flexible and adaptable approaches that center clients are critical. For example, programming to support women who belong to racialized and Indigenous communities, certain faiths, or live in small centres and rural communities may need to look different than mainstream GBV response programming.


Engaging men and boys is crucial to effective GBV prevention and response. This needs to be recognized and highly funded. Creating behaviour change and focusing on positive masculinities with men and boys will not only support the women in their families and communities but also shape the next generation of men and boys – so they join the fight to prevent and end GBV with the women in their homes and communities.


 

HOW TO MOVE THE NEEDLE?

We need feminist funding to drive GBV programming. Canada applies an effective feminist lens to international assistance – we need to do the same at home – and urgently. In practical terms, this will mean centring a human rights-based approach, simultaneous investments in prevention and response, flexible and adaptable programs, wrap-around holistic programming including childcare and family support services, recognizing unpaid care work and mental load borne by women and girls, restoring dignity and building resilience by use of strength-based approaches, employing community-based and community-led approaches, meaningful engagement of men and boys, enhancing institutional and sector capacity through appropriate, timely, and consistent resourcing, and intentionally fostering a culture of reflection, collaboration and accountability.


GBV programming deals with the most vulnerable groups in this country. Investing in GBV prevention and response will save lives and taxpayer dollars. So, there should be no politics and point scoring in creating, implementing, and continuing programs and funding for GBV.


Policymakers and organizations offering programming must leave the scarcity mindset out of the room. Canada is a rich country and given the suitable programming funding models and political will, it should attain gender equality nationally and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals about gender equality. This will start with understanding and implementing equity mindsets, models, and metrics.


Make space on the table, listen to the communities, and let them lead – communities are best placed to assess needs and devise solutions to issues. Their solutions are feasible, culturally appropriate and aligned with communal values as they are primary stakeholders. Women and girls and organizations working with them should be given space at policy-making tables and heard meaningfully. Safe spaces for advocacy also need to be opened to assess existing policies and identify gaps.


Get the correct data and use it – collecting and using disaggregated statistics, including specifically collecting data on gender and intersecting forms of inequality, is crucial to leaving no woman or girl behind. This is crucial for effective policymaking, programming, and impact mapping. Taking stock by creating time and space to analyze data regularly and intentionally will support data-led responsive programming that evolves with community needs.


Embrace innovation and change – being disruptive and bold to challenge and dismantle funding, partnership, or service delivery models that do not work. Advocate for financing innovative programming and models, which can provide solutions that can be scaled for larger scale impact.


Create multi-stakeholder fora for high-impact strategic partnerships – tackling GBV against women and girls requires a multi-pronged and multi-stakeholder approach. Given the societal and economic impact of GBV, bringing together community groups, academia, government departments, service-providing organizations, and the private sector can help foster partnerships, knowledge mobilization, and innovation for high-impact interventions.


 

To learn more about the Violence Against Women project, please visit: https://www.mothersmattercentre.ca/violence-against-women


To explore how the MMC engages men and boys, please visit: https://www.mothersmattercentre.ca/men-like-me

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