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UPDATED: February 5, 2010 NO. 6 FEBRUARY 11, 2010
We Can End Violence Against Women
Canada's government and NGOs pay more attention to protecting women's rights

Yang Yuli

Holiday decorations started appearing as early as late November around Vancouver, Canada and reminded people that the holiday season was around the corner. People's moods lifted as a result of this reminder, and they looked forward to the holidays after another year of hard work. The holiday atmosphere also reminded people it was the time of year again to show goodwill and generosity in sharing the joy of the holidays with those who were less fortunate. Social issues such as homelessness and child poverty once again drew the attention of people, who donated generously to such charities as Salvation Army and the United Way. They provided families in need of help with Christmas dinner baskets and holiday presents. One of the highlighted social issues in Vancouver was violence against women.

The issue of violence against women was emphasized through a series of events organized by the We Can BC campaign. We Can is the short form of We Can End All Violence Against Women, an international campaign that seeks to end gender-based violence. The We Can campaign was launched in South Asia in 2004 as a six-year, six-country campaign that is currently running in Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Nepal and Afghanistan. The International We Can Secretariat is located in New Delhi, India. The campaign has spread to Canada, the Netherlands, Kenya, Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Indonesia. We Can was launched in BC, Canada, in June 2007, which became the first region outside South Asia to implement the campaign. We Can BC has quickly grown into a coalition of over 50 organizations and hundreds of individuals committed to ending violence against women. It should come as no surprise that people in BC embraced this campaign considering the large South-Asian population here. This year, We Can BC participated in the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence by organizing a number of events to raise awareness and to mobilize the public. The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence is an international campaign that came from the first Women's Global Leadership Institute in 1991.  It runs from November 25, the International Day Against Violence Against Women to December 10 which is International Human Rights Day. 

We Can BC attributes violence against women to a number of socio-cultural factors: historically unequal power relations between men and women; differentiated socialization of boys and girls; women's unequal access to the political, economic and legal sectors of society; the use of violent means to solve interpersonal conflict; and unequal symbolizations of women's and men's bodies.

Further, We Can BC lists some factors that contribute to an increased prevalence in violence against women at different levels of society:

- Individual Level: Research indicates that an individual who experiences violence or abuse as a child or witnesses marital violence in the home is more likely to perpetrate or suffer from partner violence. Frequent use of drugs or alcohol can also lead to an increased prevalence of violence against women.

- Family and Relationship Level: Cross-cultural studies have cited male control of wealth, male decision-making within the home and marital violence as strong predictors and indicators of violence against women.

- Community Level: Women's isolation and lack of social support, together with male peer groups that condone and legitimize men's violence, predict higher rates of violence against women.

- State Level: Studies have found that inadequate legislation and policies to prevent and punish acts of violence as well as low levels of sensitivity and awareness among law enforcement agencies and social services are linked to a higher incidence of violence.

- Institutional Level: Studies conducted globally have found that violence against women is most common where gender roles are rigidly defined and enforced, and where the concept of masculinity is linked to toughness, male honor and dominance.

Acknowledging that violence against women is a serious social issue, governments at the federal, provincial or territorial and municipal levels in Canada have taken efforts to tackle this problem. Canada is a signatory to numerous international agreements and conventions including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women that was adopted in 1979 by the United Nations and is considered to be the international bill of rights for women. The federal government launched a Family Violence Initiative 10 years ago involving 12 departments and agencies. The initiative complements other federal government strategies to reduce violence in the family and society. Amendments to the Criminal Code have been made to increase protections for women and children.

The most recent federal effort in ending violence against women was the government's contribution of $1 million, announced on December 3, 2009, to support Uniting to End Violence Against Women, a project that will bring together shelter organizations from across Canada and support efforts to end violence against women and their children. Since 2007, through Status of Women Canada, the federal government has funded 117 projects with $22 million to work to eliminate violence against women.

Across the country, numerous women's organizations and community-based service providers are doing the frontline work in helping victims of violence including education, providing shelters and seeking social assistance. In the past, violence against women was considered a private matter, not a public issue. As a result, violence against women has been extremely difficult to document and even more difficult to fight. However, in recent years, violence against women has finally been recognized as both a health and human rights issue. International agreements and government policies are necessary, but the increased prevalence of violence against women shows that more work needs to be done. It is important to change existing societal and individual attitudes that accept violence against women as normal; to mobilize all sections of the family, community and society to prevent violence against women; to build popular pressure to implement equitable policies and to sustain the political will to achieve them; and to bring together diverse local, national, regional and international efforts to end violence against women.

Change is the focus of the We Can BC campaign. Its guiding principles are that change is the responsibility of the individual, is within the power of the individual and is a social process. Therefore, the campaign draws attention to the violence that ordinary people experience, witness or commit. It highlights violence against women as a public matter. It provokes women and men to think about their attitudes and behavior. It encourages people to find their own solutions and make their own choices. It invites people to become Change Makers—a person who pledges never to commit or tolerate violence against women in his or her own life and to talk to five more people around them to influence them to do the same. This does not end after the 16-Day campaign. Rather, it is a year-round effort.

The holiday season may not see a drop in numbers of incidents of violence against women, but social gatherings during the holidays provide good opportunities to spread the message. The holiday season becomes more meaningful because of this.

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