Eliminating gender-based violence is a shared duty across all levels of government

Randy Robinson: Gender-based violence is surgingIn recent months, Canadian politicians have been rushing to the microphones to lay out their plans to fight rising crime. Law and order are back on the agenda.

The latest driver of this new sense of purpose? Auto theft.

Statistics Canada says thieves made off with 105,000 cars and trucks in 2022, a 21 percent jump compared to the pre-pandemic level. The Insurance Bureau of Canada has called for a “whole-of-society” approach to combat the problem. In February, Ottawa hosted a national summit on auto theft and pledged funding to find stolen cars and trucks before they can be shipped abroad.

Having your vehicle stolen is terrible. It’s costly. It’s inconvenient. And it feels like a personal violation. In some cases, it can even be violent.

But some crimes are violent by definition.

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International Women’s Day, March 8, is an urgent reminder that gender-based violence has not gone away in this country. Quite the opposite: while overall violent crime in Canada has trended upward since 2014, it has risen fastest in cases where the victims are women or girls. Statistics Canada reports that the rate of violent crime against female victims went up 27 percent from 2014 to 2022.

This is probably an underestimate. Gender-based violence is known to be under-reported due to stigma, shame, and fear of consequences. Sometimes, the victims are simply missing.

Indigenous women and girls are 12 times more likely to be murdered or missing than other women in Canada. Two-spirit, trans, and non-binary people are also known to routinely experience violence in their day-to-day lives.

Gender-based violence is real.

But it’s not like auto theft. The logic of stealing cars and trucks is simple: steal vehicles, get money. The thieves in question are often connected to organized crime; to them, auto theft is an industry. It’s a job.

Gender-based violence is something else altogether. For one thing, it often happens much closer to home. In 2022, 184 women in Canada were murdered by an intimate partner.

That’s one woman murdered every 48 hours.

In Canada and around the world, gender-based violence surged during the pandemic as stay-at-home protocols increased women’s isolation and tensions within households. The effects of this “shadow pandemic” are still being felt today.

So what’s the solution?

For starters, it would help if our highest-ranking political leaders spoke out about gender-based violence at least as much as they have been talking about stolen vehicles.

It’s not enough to leave the issue to the police and the courts to solve – the roots of gender-based violence are deeper than that.

“It’s built right into the fabric of who we are as a society and how we value women and girls,” to quote University of British Columbia professor Vicky Bungay.

If any issue requires a “whole-of-society” response, it’s this one. Because ending gender-based violence means changing who we are.

Police and courts are part of the solution, but only a part. Teaching school-age children about gender equity is essential. So are increased services for survivors and better training and wages for frontline workers in the field. And we need an economy in which women’s contributions are recognized as equal to men’s.

In all these areas, government must lead – with vision and resources.

We are seeing some action lately, but the pace is far too slow. The federal government’s National Action Plan, announced in November 2022, is vague on details and short on clear targets. It relies on the provinces and territories to produce their own plans to spend federal dollars over the next four years. No doubt some provinces will do better than others, but without national standards there is no way to ensure that the lessons of the best are applied Canada-wide.

Let’s hope all levels of government give gender-based violence the urgent attention it deserves. Because there is much more at stake than stolen cars.

Randy Robinson is director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives’ Ontario Office.

For interview requests, click here.


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