Gender-based violence is one of the most pervasive human rights issues today. On November 24, 2019, UN News published an article stating that “a third of all women and girls experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime, half of women killed worldwide were killed by their partners or family, and violence perpetrated against women is as common a cause of death and incapacity for those of reproductive age, as cancer, and a greater cause of ill health than road accidents and malaria combined.”
Salt Spring is not immune. In 2017 alone, Islanders Working Against Violence (IWAV) took 464 crisis calls and served 205 women and 35 children fleeing violence on Salt Spring Island. That's an average of more than one call per day.
IWAV creates opportunities for life-changing outcomes for people experiencing violence in our community. One successful story is for a client and a young child who came to IWAV's Outreach office after an extremely violent incident with the client’s husband. She was sleeping at an acquaintance's house, but it wasn't working out, so she was considering a return to her home. This is risky as almost 75% of domestic femicide happens at the point of, or soon after, separation. The client couldn't afford to pay for housing as her husband had spent every cent she had earned for years.
Countering this violence was a challenge. Through IWAV’s intake, safety planning and risk management were completed, and the client moved into the Transition House and then to a house off island. IWAV helped the client access resources, develop healthy boundaries, and secure a protection order for her and her child. With secure long-term housing, the client is raising her child in a healthy home while working part-time and returning to post-secondary education.
"Ending violence against women is not solely the job of women or women’s organizations. This is a whole community issue. It’s all of our duty to know the facts and work towards change. Raising awareness and preventing violence is proven to be effective tools to help decrease gender-based violence. We must do this work together," says Katie Aitken, of IWAV’s Women's Outreach Services.
SWOVA Community Development and Research Society addresses this human rights issue with a preventative approach. SWOVA works with School District 64 to offer youth programs in the schools that encourage young people to challenge stereotypes, rethink assumptions, and learn skills for healthy, equal relationships.
Peace Kids is delivered over three years to Grades 3, 4, and 5. Respect Project is a violence prevention workshop series offered in middle school classrooms. Pass-It-On is an after school cross-peer mentorship between high school youth and Grade 8 students. The benefit of these programs is that, throughout their development, students are receiving the programs' messages, which build upon one another from elementary through to high school. Over time, students develop the self-awareness and agency to build healthy relationships.
At the national level, in 1991 the Parliament of Canada established the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women in Canada to commemorate the 14 young women who were murdered by a gunman on December 6, 1989, at l’École Polytechnique in Montreal as a deliberate act of violence against women.
Thirty years have passed since the École Polytechnique massacre, but gender-based violence continues to be a real and horrific issue in the world, in Canada, and in our own community.
Therefore, every December 6, communities are called together to reflect on gender-based violence in our society. "On December 6, we let the remembrance of a past tragedy inspire us to take action here and now—to do what we can to make our communities more just and violence free," says Sarah Belknap, the Chair of SWOVA Community Development and Research Society.
This December 6, SWOVA and IWAV invite islanders to gather—at 5pm in Centennial Park—in memorial and solidarity. It’s an opportunity to light candles and join in community to renew our strength, honour the lives of women, and hope for more inclusive and peaceful communities. We hope to see your support at Centennial Park this Friday!