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Violence Against Women

As long as there is violence against women, women’s equality will not be fully achieved.

Women experience violence in many different ways — it can be physical or sexual abuse, emotional or verbal abuse, spiritual abuse, criminal harassment, stalking, or even being controlled financially. (This is called economic abuse.)

Did you know?

In Canada:

  • Nearly four out of ten (39%) women report experiencing sexual assault sometime during their lives.*
  • In just one year, 427,000 women reported they had been sexually assaulted.*
  • On any given day, over 3,000 women (along with their 2,500 children) are staying in an emergency shelter to escape domestic violence.*
  • At least one and as many as two women are murdered each week by a current or former partner.*
  • Two-thirds of all women victims of sexual assault are under the age of 24 — young women are killed at nearly three times the rate of all victims of domestic homicide.*
  • Nearly four out of five victims of family-related sexual assaults (79%) are girls.*
  • Over half (55%) of physical assaults of children by family members are against girls.*
  • Women with disabilities and Aboriginal women are particularly vulnerable. Nearly 60% of women with disabilities will experience violence in their lifetime, and Aboriginal women are three times more likely to report being the victim of a violent crime.* *
  • Violence against women costs Canada over $4 billion each year (social services, criminal justice, lost employment days, health care, etc.).*

Missing and Murdered

The Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) has documented over 600 disappearances and murders of Aboriginal women — a figure representing roughly 10% of the women homicides in Canada (Aboriginal women make up only 3% of the women population). Canada’s failure to decisively address the alarming rate of missing and murdered Aboriginal women has even provoked an inquiry by the United Nations.

Roots and Solutions

There are lots of inequities in our society, and violence against women (VAW) is a reflection of some of them. We have to challenge the systems that contribute to VAW if we’re going to succeed in ending it. For example, we have to challenge and get rid of stereotypes, empower young women and girls, and make sure our institutions and systems are set up so that equality is a given. We have to support one another as young women, listen to each others’ stories. The idea of equality needs to be better understood and desired by everyone — men and boys, women and girls — and that has to do with how we are socialized from a very young age.

Men and boys should be part of the collective response to VAW. There are lots of initiatives underway to help them understand how they can and do address this issue.

We need to fix the things that make many women feel trapped in abusive relationships. If there were more affordable housing, they’d have more places to go. If there were more well-paying jobs, they’d have more employment options. If there were more services (and better-funded ones) to help abused women and their children, they’d have added help. If the criminal justice system did a better job of addressing VAW, women would feel more confident about reporting and prosecuting abuse.

What’s more, our entire educational system, from curricula to policies, can do so much more to empower children from an early age so they can experience and understand equality, and demand it in society and personal relationships. We can always do better at helping children grow up with values of mutual respect, non-violence, and anti-oppression.

This might all seem pretty big. But remember, we can always start small.

The YWCA Rose Campaign

Each year, YWCA Canada leads the Rose Campaign to remind communities that Canada is not yet a safe country for women. It kicks off on November 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, and runs to December 6, the date 14 young women were murdered at Montréal’s École Polytechnique in 1989.

The annual Rose Campaign sees YWCA Member Associations across Canada inspiring and engaging people to re-commit to taking action on violence against women and girls until our streets, campuses, and homes are safe.

This campaign coincides with the global initiative known as 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence, sponsored by the United Nations.


On September 6, 2008, Maisy Odjick and her friend Shannon Alexander went missing from Kitigan Zibi, an Algonquin First Nations reserve in Québec, not far from Ottawa. Sixteen-year-old Maisy was last seen at a dance. Her purse, phone, clothing, and other personal items were left behind, and the house door was locked. The police decided to treat Maisy and Shannon as runaways — even though Shannon was scheduled to attend nursing school that semester. Forensics experts did not examine the house for evidence of a possible abduction. And neither the Québec nor reserve police would coordinate searches, so Maisy’s mother, Laurie, did. The Aboriginal community helped spread the word and recruited volunteers to look for the girls. They put up their own missing posters and billboards around the area. But without the help of authorities, there is little more the Odjick and Alexander families can do.

Harassment can be many things, and it’s NEVER okay

When it comes to sexual harassment or sexual bullying, the line isn’t always clear between what’s unacceptable and what’s just horsing around.

The terms sexual harassment and sexual bullying both refer to unwelcome or unwanted sexual comments, attention, or physical contact. And the person being targeted pretty much always knows when something is uncool.

Someone continually and obviously leering at a girl’s breasts, for example, is not okay. Someone patting a girl’s bottom on the bus is not okay. Someone posting offensive remarks on Facebook about a girl’s sexual orientation is not okay.

Unlike other bullying, sexual bullying focuses on things like a person’s appearance, body parts, or sexual orientation. It includes spreading gossip or rumours of a sexual nature. Girls and boys tend to do it equally.

Exercise: Your Story

Have you ever experienced harassment, sexual assault, or violence? Has violence touched a woman you care about? Whether or not you share your personal story with others, contemplating your own experience with violence against women is an important step to becoming more engaged with the effort to ensure every woman can live free from violence.

3 Things You Can Do

Chat it up. Having conversations with friends, family, colleagues — even the media —
about VAW is a great way to “start small.” It’s all about increasing public awareness on the issue. Every single attitude or behaviour you influence is a valuable step toward a society that does not tolerate VAW, and has the policies to back it up.

Join something. Many organizations and campaigns that are working to end violence against women, provide services for survivors of violence, and advocate for women’s equality can use your valuable help. Offer it.

Get lobbying. Some of the structural solutions listed above are the responsibilities of provincial or territorial governments, while others have to do with the federal government. Something you can do on your own or with others is contact both your provincial or territorial political representative and your Member of Parliament — ask them point-blank what, specifically, they are doing to reduce VAW. Remind them that the problem of VAW persists and ask how they can make a real difference toward ending it. Get clear commitments and follow up regularly to check on her or his progress. And if an answer doesn’t sound good enough, don’t feel shy to press the issue — that’s what our elected officials are there for (find out exactly who your elected reps are online, or ask around)! A fun follow-up would be to invite her or him to talk to your class or workplace about ending VAW.