Our communities in Ottawa, Lanark County, Renfrew County and Prescott-Russell are experiencing historic levels of femicide, highlighting the urgent need for a targeted, strategic and well-resourced community-wide response to violence against women.
As a member of End Violence Against Women (EVAW) Renfrew County, United Way East Ontario took part in a provincial inquest that aimed to understand the conditions and challenges unique to rural communities that contribute to intimate partner violence and femicide.
The inquest largely focused on the circumstances that led to the 2015 murders of Carol Culleton, Anastasia Kuzyk, and Nathalie Warmerdam in Renfrew County, but we know that violence against women is a catastrophic issue in all rural communities: rates of police-reported intimate partner violence experienced by rural women in Canada are 75 per cent higher than those for urban women.
The list of 86 recommendations from the inquest provides a roadmap to increasing safety for women across our region, particularly in rural communities. These recommendations follow the adoption of a Federal National Action Plan to End Violence Against Women which was similarly informed by survivors, key experts, and service providers.
Here are six issues identified in the recommendations that we are working to resolve:
Upwards of 4,000 women and children are turned away from East Ontario shelters in any given year due to a lack of available beds.
The lack of affordable places to live directly puts women, families, and gender-diverse people at risk of continued violence or death: when a woman has nowhere she can afford to go, they may choose to stay in a violent situation longer. This is especially true in rural and remote areas of our region, where alternative housing options are even fewer.
United Way continues to advocate for more deeply affordable housing and women’s shelters to all levels of government. We also continue to invest in second stage housing and gender-based violence support programs in both urban and rural areas.
The ability to seek support safely and privately is essential to developing a plan to escape a violent situation.
Early in the pandemic, Interval House Ottawa and Maison Interlude House in Prescott-Russell launched Unsafe at Home—secure, discreet text and online chat supports for women and gender-diverse people experiencing violence in the home. However, any communications tool depends on a reliable internet connection, which is often poor in rural and remote areas.
United Way co-chairs a partnership focused on digital equity in our region, and we continue to advocate to governments for digital infrastructure that will address gaps and, in turn, enhance safety and security for vulnerable residents no matter where they live.
We know that one of the main factors influencing whether someone chooses to leave a violent situation is economic stability.
Women are more likely to take on additional, unpaid labour, such as providing care to young children and aging parents. Because they are also over-represented in jobs that have been hard hit by the economic effects of COVID-19 (long-term care, food, retail, etc.), women’s financial independence has been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.
But even before COVID-19, women have long faced employment and pay disparities. Our Women United initiative, and our focus on building an equitable economic recovery from the pandemic, fuel women-led programs that empower marginalized communities to break out of the cycle of poverty.
Changing harmful attitudes towards women and reducing the stigma survivors face requires more than hosting a workshop or handing out pamphlets. It requires a deliberate investment of time and funds into programs that promote diversity and inclusion, denounce hate and systemic discrimination, and foster beliefs that a better society is one with equitable success and wellbeing for men, women, and gender-diverse people.
We must also improve the public’s understanding of the risks, signs, and community supports that are required to reduce violence at an individual level.
United Way continues to host critical discussions through our Women United initiative and with the United For All coalition that promote community-wide engagement in hate and violence prevention by building resilience at the grassroots level.
We know that access to reliable transportation is a significant barrier for many people looking to escape violent living situations in rural communities. It’s one reason why transportation is a key priority in community safety and wellbeing plans for Lanark County and the United Counties of Prescott-Russell.
United Way advocated to maintain a local transportation pilot project in the United Counties of Prescott and Russell, recognizing that mobility is paramount to independence.
Supporting survivors of gender-based violence requires specific skills and resources. Women fleeing violence (and their children) need culturally appropriate trauma counselling, legal support, help with basic needs, and access to shelter space and longer-term housing after they transition out of crisis.
These services had been heavily burdened even before the pandemic and now, as demand has increased, need significant investments in core services and infrastructure to continue supporting women in crisis.
Working toward a brighter future
Women are the cornerstone of our communities and the leaders for their children and families. Their safety and well-being affect future generations and the success of our communities.
United Way East Ontario continues to advocate for increased capacity of the social services sector so we can address systemic challenges, identify resources and supports, and invest to support women and gender-diverse people in our communities.