Warning: This article discusses gender-based violence, intimate partner violence, and femicide.
The United Nations has designated femicide as the most extreme form of violence against women which severely undermines the safety, security, and rights of women and girls. Femicide, in all of its forms claims the lives of 137 women and girls daily and 50,000 annually, globally. Canada is certainly no exception when it comes to staggering rates of femicide, where it is reported that a woman or girl is killed every other day and that every six days a woman is killed by her intimate partner. These confounding rates, coupled with the infamous École Polytechnique Tragedy (Montreal Massacre) that claimed the lives of 14 women, point to the imminent threat and devastating consequences of femicide in Canada. To provide space for Canadians to reflect on the senseless anti-feminist tragedy that sent shockwaves throughout the nation, the Government of Canada has designated December 6 as the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. Moreover, this day and the supporting 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence presents an opportune time for Canadians to assess progress made in combatting the prevalence of gender-based violence (GBV); a much-needed assessment, especially since it has been established that the Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated domestic violence and intimate-partner violence, further deepening gender inequality.
The Covid-19 pandemic had unprecedented impacts on global health and economic, social, and political systems which propelled governments to enact measures to mitigate the further spread of the virus. Perhaps the most universal measures were the lockdowns and social distancing that restricted the mobility of everyone, and in turn, worked to slow down the spread of the virus. Despite the efficacy of these measures, these restrictions proved to be consequential for some women and girls whose mobility was restricted which forcibly confined and isolated them in the home with their abuser(s).
As a result, these restrictions allowed abusers to subject women and girls to more severe forms of GBV at heightened levels. Moreover, tensions induced by the pandemic, such as increased financial constraints, point to the intricate link between emergencies or crises and higher incidences of GBV. As a result, many women and girls grappled with a double and silent pandemic, the Shadow Pandemic of Violence Against Women, that exposed them to greater risks of both Covid-19 and GBV. Furthermore, the Shadow Pandemic illuminated the presence of gendered barriers that allowed for the surge of GBV to be overshadowed by the Covid-19 pandemic, further solidifying the pervasiveness of gender inequality.
The Shadow Pandemic propelled the United Nations to call for urgent action to end the “pandemic of femicide and violence against women” that has been eclipsed by Covid-19. Canada responded promptly to this call by launching the National Action Plan to End Gender-Based Violence, which proposes collaborative and coordinated actions from all levels of government, external stakeholders, and Indigenous partners to address and combat the root causes of GBV in Canada. The National Action Plan is a significant step towards combatting the pervasiveness of GBV that takes a much-needed intersectional approach in informing coordinated actions. It is undeniable that GBV is a multifaceted issue that impacts victims in specific and unique ways, especially for women and girls whose identity factors such as race, gender, disability, and socio-economic status intersect in a way that exposes them to heightened vulnerabilities, risk, and rates of GBV.
For instance, Indigenous women have been subjected to systemic genocide as evidenced by the incidents of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. Indigenous women and girls in Canada face a disproportionate homicide rate that is six times higher than that of non-Indigenous women, and despite Indigenous women making up 4.3% of the Canadian population, they make up 16% of all female homicide victims and 11% of missing women who are persistently targeted as victims of violence due to their gender and Indigenous identity. These staggering rates propel the urgency to eliminate all forms of GBV while maintaining a focus on the intersectionality of victims. GBV is a multilayered issue that impacts all realms of society, notably public health systems, the economy, national security, and the overall stability of nations, and therefore, collective efforts are required to drive change. These responsibilities extend to businesses and the workplace, where incidences of GBV can hinder employees’ ability to secure full economic participation, work in a barrier-free and inclusive workplace, feel safe at work, and achieve gender equality. Here are some ways employers can tackle the persistence of GBV in the workplace or the implications of GBV on its workforce:
- Create inclusive and gender-responsive work initiatives to protect employees
Combating GBV in the workplace requires employers to take an inclusive, integrated, and gender-responsive approach. The International Labour Organization argues that it is important for employers to acknowledge that GBV and harassment disproportionately impact women and girls, and therefore, it is imperative to address the underlying risk factors that include, but are not limited to, gender stereotypes, multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination, and unequal gender-based power relations. Therefore, employers can create policies that explicitly address GBV, require employees to undergo anti-harassment (including sexual harassment) training, and educate employees to recognize and change systemic gendered barriers that contribute to unequal power dynamics that exacerbate the risk of GBV.
- Establish reporting process to monitor the risks of GBV
GBV is a persistent threat that directly endangers victims and those around them, but it also follows them to the workplace which means that employers, businesses, and organizations have a responsibility to recognize and react. One key way to do this is incorporating proper mechanisms for victims to report GBV in a safe space via a process that is free from repercussions and protects the reporter’s confidentiality. At the same time, organizations can consider creating feasible and appropriate reporting mechanisms for employees who suspect that colleagues are victims of GBV.
- Provide comprehensive resources for GBV victims in the workplace
GBV takes an immense toll on its victims, and therefore, proactively providing resources is crucial. Providing mental health support and comprehensive resources for GBV victims and survivors can help remove barriers to accessing crucial health and psychological support. By engraining resources, such as support phonelines and easily accessible information, in the workplace, employers can demonstrate their commitment to achieving gender equality and reduce the stigma faced by survivors of GBV.
The UN Global Compact Network Canada is committed to advancing Sustainable Development Goal 5.2 which calls for the elimination of all forms of violence against women and girls in both the public and private spheres, including all types of exploitation and trafficking.
Learn more about our current multi-year project funded by Women and Gender Equality Canada that works to advance gender equality in the Canadian labour market by tackling gender-based barriers such as GBV within post-pandemic initiatives here.
Written by: Sarin Aman, Project Associate, UN Global Compact Network Canada