Ending violence against women
Violence against women continues to be one of the most pervasive human rights violations. A report from the World Health Organization makes it clear that:
Violence against women is not a small problem that only occurs in some pockets of society, but rather is a global public health problem of epidemic proportions, requiring urgent action. It is time for the world to take action: a life free of violence is a basic human right, one that every woman, man and child deserves.1
The most recent data show that in 2017 almost 96,000 people in Canada were victims of intimate partner violence,2 representing just over a quarter (30%) of all victims of police-reported violent crime. Four out of five victims of all police-reported intimate partner violence were women (79%)—representing over 75,000 female victims.3 Women make up an even larger share of victims in intimate partner homicides: in 2017, 84% of all victims of intimate partner homicides were women.4
Levels of sexual assault are another critical concern. The rate of police-reported sexual offences has been increasing,5 especially among young women and girls.6 In 2017 alone, there were approximately 25,000 police-reported sexual assaults, an increase of 13% from 2016,7 following the #MeToo movement.8
The #MeToo movement has also prompted women to speak out about violence in the workplace. Women are twice as likely as men to report physical violence against them at work, and more than five times as likely to report sexual harassment or unwanted sexual attention.9 This is especially true for women working in female-dominated sectors such as health care, teaching, social services and hospitality workers – occupations that all involve a high degree of interaction with the public.10 A survey conducted by the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions in 2017 found that 61% of nurses had experienced an incident of extreme violence in previous months.11
It is important to note that police-reported statistics provide only a partial picture of the violence women experience. Sexual assault and intimate partner violence are vastly underreported. Statistics Canada estimates that 90% of the incidents of sexual assault and harassment12 and 70% of the incidents of intimate partner violence are never reported to the police.13 And only a fraction of those that are reported lead to a conviction.14 Concern about deeply embedded biases of the criminal justice system is just one of the barriers deterring victims from reporting. Negative attitudes that expose survivors to blame, shame, scepticism and stigma, as well as well-founded fears of continuing violence for themselves and others work to silence women.15
Certain groups such Indigenous women, women with significant mental health concerns, LGBTQI2S+ people, women with disabilities, and immigrant and refugee women16 are at a much higher risk of violence than others.
According to the 2014 General Social Survey, Indigenous women and girls had an overall rate of violent victimization that was close to triple that of non-Indigenous women and girls, and Indigenous women were three times more likely than non-Indigenous women to have been a victim of spousal violence.17 Research from the National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls found that Indigenous women and girls were 12 times more likely to be murdered or missing than any other women in Canada, and 16 times more likely than caucasian women.18 One quarter of all female homicide victims in Canada in 2015 were Indigenous, up from nine per cent in 1980.19
Women with disabilities were nearly twice as likely to be sexually assaulted or the victim of repeated violent crimes compared to women without a disability.20 In 2014, over one in five (23%) women with disabilities experienced emotional, financial, physical or sexual violence or abuse committed by a current or former partner in the previous five years, a rate almost double those without disabilities.21 It is important to acknowledge that women and girls with disabilities can be subject to unique forms of violence that spring from their dependence on caregivers (e.g., threats of abandonment, withholding needed care and supports) which can in turn make it extremely difficult to leave violent situations.22
Individuals who identified as lesbian, gay or bisexual were also more than twice as likely to be sexually assaulted as those who identified as heterosexual. Bisexual women, in particular, reported much higher levels of violent victimization and sexual assault compared to their heterosexual peers.23
Key milestones since 2014
Federal Strategy to Prevent and Address Gender-based Violence
Much work has been done since 2014 to address the issue of violence against women. The cornerstone has been the federal government’s Gender Based Violence Strategy. Launched in June 2017, the strategy is based on three pillars—prevention, support for survivors, and promotion of responsive legal and justice systems—under which a number of measures have been introduced and are being implemented.24
The 2017 and 2018 federal budgets committed resources ($100 million and $86 million, respectively) for the rollout of the strategy over a five-year period.25 Much of the funding has been earmarked for internal federal government priorities and initiatives and selected community projects.
Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls
Following concerted and long-term pressure by families of survivors, Indigenous women’s movements, settler women’s groups, as well as many civil society activists, the federal government fulfilled its pledge to carry out an inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women. The inquiry was launched in December 2015, and the final report, Reclaiming Power and Place, was officially presented to the government on June 3, 2019. 26
The report calls for transformative legal and social changes to resolve the crisis that has devastated Indigenous communities across the country. Over 200 calls for justice are directed at governments, institutions, social service providers, industries and all Canadians.
At the closing ceremony, Chief Commissioner Marion Buller noted that “the hard truth is that we live in a country whose laws and institutions perpetuate violations of fundamental rights, amounting to a genocide against Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people.” The Commission called on all political leaders to work together to create and implement a national action plan with Indigenous peoples at the table to address violence against Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people. The federal government has announced it will bring forward a national action plan, but no further details are currently available.
United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on violence against women
In June 2019, the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on violence against women, Dubravka Šimonović, released her final report following her visit to Canada in April 2018. The rapporteur highlights that there is an urgent need for a more comprehensive and holistic national action plan on violence against women, ensuring that women and girls in all areas of the country have access to comparable levels of services and human rights protection.
In her report Šimonović notes: “Canada is a federal system with a division of responsibilities between the federal, provincial and territorial (FPT) governments, including in the area of violence against women. While the federal government has jurisdiction over criminal law, the administration of justice is a provincial and territorial responsibility. However, federalism should not constitute a barrier to human rights implementation.”27
The rapporteur recommended that Canada adopt, in co-operation with independent human rights institutions and civil society organizations, a national action plan on violence against women, and a national action plan on violence against Indigenous women that ensures the same level of protection across the country, based on the implementation of international human rights standards and the recommendations of the CEDAW inquiry28 report.29
Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability
The Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability (CFOJA) was established in 2017 and released its first report on January 30, 2019.30 The CFOJA’s mandate is to establish a visible and national focus on femicide in Canada by: (1) documenting femicides as they occur; and (2) monitoring state, legal and social responses to these killings. Its 2018 report found that:
- 148 women and girls were killed by violence in 2018. On average, every 2.5 days one woman or girl is killed in Canada—a consistent trend for four decades.
- Where an accused has been identified, 91% are male, consistent with national and international patterns.
- Indigenous women and girls are overrepresented as victims, comprising about 5% of the population in Canada but 36% of women and girls killed by violence.
Canadian Centre to End Human Trafficking
Human trafficking disproportionately affects women. According to a report released by Statistics Canada, between 2009 and 2016, 95% of the victims of human trafficking were female, with young women and girls under age 25 representing 70% of all victims.31 With funding from the federal government, the Canadian Centre to End Human Trafficking launched the Canadian Human Trafficking Hotline in May 2019, a new multilingual, 24/7 service that works to connect victims and survivors with social services, law enforcement and emergency services.32
Legislation linked to violence against women since 2014
In 2017, the Canadian Human Rights Act was amended to include gender identity as a prohibited ground for discrimination. Violence motivated by gender identity was also included as a form of hate crime under the Criminal Code.33
In 2018, the Canada Labour Code was amended to strengthen the existing framework for the prevention of harassment and violence, including sexual harassment and sexual violence, in federal workplaces.34 Several provinces have also amended occupational health and safety and employment standards legislation, recognizing domestic violence as a workplace hazard and establishing paid and unpaid leave for domestic violence survivors.
On June 21, 2019, Bill C-78 came into law, amending the Divorce Act. Although the legislation did not include key amendments proposed by advocates,35 it is a step forward that provides more protection to women fleeing violence.36 At the same time, Bill C-71 received royal assent, amending current firearms regulations. This is seen as an important first step forward in reducing the number of women and children who are victims of femicide in Canada.37
Click the link below to download the full study
Unfinished BusinessA Parallel Report on Canada’s Implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action
1 World Health Organization (2013), Global and regional estimates of violence against women: prevalence and health effects of intimate partner violence and non-partner sexual violence.
2 Intimate partner violence (IPV) includes violent offences that occur between current and former legally married spouses, common-law partners, dating partners and other kinds of intimate partners. Figures are for individuals aged 15 to 89 years.
3 Intimate partner violence is the most common kind of violence experienced by women. In 2017, 45% of all female victims of violence had been victimized by a current or former partner. Marta Burczycka (2018), “Police-reported intimate partner violence in Canada, 2017,” In Family violence in Canada: A statistical profile, 2017. Statistics Canada, Catalogue no. 85-002-X.
5 Shana Conroy (2018), Police-reported Violence against Girls and Young Women in Canada, 2017. Juristat, Statistics Canada, Catalogue no. 85-002-X.
6 Cristine Rotenberg (2017), Police-reported Sexual Assaults in Canada, 2009 to 2014: A Statistical Profile. Juristat, Statistics Canada, Catalogue no. 85-002-X.
7 Mary Allen (2018). Police-reported Crime Statistics in Canada, 2017, Juristat, Statistics Canada, Catalogue no. 85-002-X.
8 The number peaked in October, with 29% more reports than the month before and 46% more than the October of the prior year. Cristine Rotenberg and Adam Cotter (2018), Police-reported Sexual Assaults in Canada before and after #MeToo, 2016 and 2017. Juristat, Statistics Canada, Catalogue no. 85-002-X.
9 In 2016, one in five women aged 15-64 years (19%) reported experiencing at least one form of harassment in the workplace in the previous 12 months. Darcy Hango and Melissa Moyser (2018), Harassment in Canadian workplaces, Insights on Canadian Society, Statistics Canada, Catalogue no. 75-006-X.
10 House of Commons Standing Committee on Health (2019), Violence facing health care workers in Canada.
11 Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions (2017), National Membership Poll: Nurses Speak Up on Patient Safety and Working Conditions. The Vector Poll.
12 Shana Conroy and Adam Cotter (2017), “Self-reported sexual assault in Canada, 2014,” Juristat, Statistics Canada, Catalogue no. 85-002-X.
13 Marta Burczycka (2016), “Trends in self-reported spousal violence, 2014.” In Family violence in Canada: A statistical profile, 2014. Juristat. Statistics Canada, Catalogue no. 85-002-X.
14 Cristine Rotenberg (2017), “From Arrest to Conviction: Court Outcomes of Police-Reported Sexual Assaults in Canada, 2009 to 2014,” Juristat, Statistics Canada, Catalogue No. 85-002-X.
15 Alana Prochuk (2018), We are here: Women’s experiences of the barriers to reporting sexual assault, West Coast LEAF.
16 Rupaleem Bhuyan, Bethany Osborne, Sajedeh Zahraei, and Sarah Tarshis (2014), Unprotected, Unrecognized Canadian Immigration Policy and Violence Against Women, 2008-2013, University of Toronto.
17 Jillian Boyce (2016), “Victimization of Aboriginal people in Canada, 2014.” Juristat. Statistics Canada, Catalogue no. 85-002-X.
18 National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (2019), Reclaiming Power and Place: Final Report. Volume 1a, p. 55.
19 Tina Hotton Mahony, Joanna Jacob and Heather Hobson (2017), Women and the Criminal Justice System, In Women in Canada: A gender-based statistical report. Statistics Canada, Catalogue no. 89-503-X.
20 Adam Cotter (2018), Violent victimization of Women with disabilities, 2014, Juristat, Statistics Canada, Catalogue no. 85-002-X.
22 Mary Ann Curry and Fran Navarro (2002), “Responding to abuse against women with disabilities: Broadening the definition of domestic violence,” In End Abuse Health Alert, Vol. 8, No. 1.
23 Laura Simpson (2018), “Violent on of lesbians, gays and bisexuals, 2014,” Juristat, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, Catalogue no. 85-002-X.
24 Status of Women Canada (2018) Strategy to Prevent and Address Gender-Based Violence.
26 National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls (2019).
27 UN Human Rights Council (2019), Report of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences. A/HRC/41/42/Add.1, p. 5.
28 UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (2015), Report of the inquiry concerning Canada of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, CEDAW/C/OP.8/CAN/1.
29 UN Human Rights Council (2019), p. 18.
30 Myrna Dawson, Danielle Sutton, Michelle Carrigan, and Valérie Grand'Maison (2019), #CallItFemicide: Understanding gender-related killings of women and girls in Canada, 2018. Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability, University of Guelph.
31 Dyna Ibrahim (2018), Trafficking in persons in Canada, 2016, Juristat Bulletin – Quick Fact, Statistics Canada, Catalogue no. 85-002-X.
35 See: Luke’s Place Support and Research Centre and National Association of Women and the Law (2018), Brief to Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, Study of Bill C-78.
36 Bill C-78: An Act to amend the Divorce Act.