Where's the funding for abused women?
by Judy Rebick
It was 11 years ago, when 14 young women were slaughtered by a single gunman who proclaimed his hatred of feminists. The death of those young women would not be in vain, we promised. We would turn our mourning into organizing to put an end to male violence against women. How are we doing?
We now have a Day of Commemoration and Action on Violence Against Women, one day where our government encourages us to think about the women who have died at the hands of violent men. While a special day to commemorate the Montreal Massacre is important, the problem is still not getting enough public attention.
Despite a spate of wife killing over this summer, there was absolutely no mention during the federal election of ending violence against women. Prime Minister Chrétien issued a statement on December 6 asking Canadians to pause and reflect. I think he should follow his own advice. The federal Liberals promised $50 million direct federal funding for rape crisis centres and shelters years ago. It's time to come through on that promise.
The first step in ending violence against women and children is to get them to a safe place. Women have created those safe places across the country but in most provinces, they are severely underfunded. Women's groups have always argued that ending violence against women is a human rights issue as well as a justice issue. Women should have the right to live free of violence and the federal government has an important role in ensuring that women's rights are respected.
Jean Chrétien could begin his new third term on the right foot if he finally came through on the promise to provide federal funding for shelters and rape crisis centres that are on the front line in the battle to end violence against women and children.
At the provincial level, governments are moving to make long-needed reforms to the justice system but, at most, 25 per cent of battered women use the justice system. In addition to a well-funded system of women's services, including province-wide crisis lines, women need economic assistance to leave violent situations.
While there are few studies in Canada, U.S. studies show that a large proportion of women using welfare are victims of abuse. One study of more than 1,000 female applicants for social assistance in Colorado found that, of welfare cases, 40 per cent of them were being abused or had been abused, most of them by male partners or former partners.
Violence is usually the most extreme form of control exerted by an abusive partner. Another study of four domestic violence shelters in Chicago found that 46 per cent of participants had been forbidden by their partner to get a job. Of those who did work, 52 per cent had to quit or were fired because of the abuse. Women escaping abusive situations need financial support.
The recent comments by Ontario's Social Services Minster that he doesn't want battered women to become dependent on the state is both ignorant and offensive. Women who are fleeing the control of an abusive partner are dealing with enormous stress and emotional trauma, everything from fears for their family's physical safety and economic security to the ordeal of divorce court.
Surely providing an abused woman with economic support until she can get back on her feet again is a worthy purpose for social assistance, even for a hard-hearted right-wing ideologue. The Cross-Sectoral Violence Against Women strategy group in Ontario has been waging an intensive campaign to move the Ontario government ever since last summer's terrible killings.
Most women who are victims of male violence do not turn to the criminal justice system for help. Law and order agendas, so popular with right-wing governments, do little to help women. Women are much more likely to be victimized by someone they know than by a stranger. In 1998, according to the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, 78 per cent of female victims were victimized by someone they know, 35 per cent by a close friend or acquaintance, 32 per cent by a current or past partner and 11 per cent by a family member. Cracking down on criminals won't help these women. Fully funding women's services and restoring cuts to social assistance will.
To truly honour those 14 women so cruelly struck down 11 years ago, governments should start listening to the women who work every day to stop violence against women.
Judy Rebick is a frequent contributor to a number of Newsworld programs and author of Imagine Democracy (Stoddart). You can e-mail her at Judy Rebick