What is femicide?
The United Nations has recognized femicide as the most extreme form of violence and discrimination against women and girls. Femicide is defined as the killing of women and girls due to their gender. In Canada, in 2020 alone, 160 females were victims of violent homicide, which averages to a woman or girl being killed every 2.5 days. Out of the 128 cases where the accused was identified, over 90% of the perpetrators were men, and in 41% of the cases, the perpetrator was a current or former intimate partner. While there are a variety of risk factors for women and girls experiencing violence, they are often at greatest risk when they are leaving or have left an abusive relationship.
Who is at risk of femicide?
While women are the most at risk of being a victim of intimate partner violence (IPV) and femicide, some women are at greater risk than others. Indigenous women have a greater risk of experiencing violence than non-Indigenous women and are overrepresented as victims of violent femicide. Making up less than 5% of Canada’s population, Indigenous women make up 16% of femicide victims. Older adults also experience unique risk factors for intimate partner violence and intimate partner homicide due to their physical and mental health and increased barriers to seeking and accessing help.
Other risk factors include:
The impacts of COVID-19 on femicide
The number of women experiencing intimate partner violence has increased during COVID-19, with a 20-30% increase in some parts of Canada. During the first lockdown, women’s helpline call centers received an unprecedented volume of calls, and over the span of three months, Canada’s Assaulted Women’s Helpline received 20,334 calls, almost double of that of the previous year (12,352). Police across Canada responding to domestic violence disturbances also increased by 12% over a month in 2020 when the pandemic first started.
What can we do?
In June 2022, the jury at the inquest into the deaths of Carol Culleton, Anastasia Kuzyk, and Nathalie Warmerdam delivered 86 recommendations to prevent intimate partner violence. It is time to act upon these recommendations. Recommendation #78 specifically is related to information sharing and “working together with the Domestic Violence Death Review Committees (DVDRC), justice partners, and IPV service providers to develop a tool to empower IPV professionals to make informed decisions about privacy, confidentiality and public safety.” WomanACT’s MARAC project has started some of this important work.
Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conferences (MARAC) bring together multiple agencies to share information and respond to high-risk domestic violence cases in communities. MARAC was developed in Wales in 2003 and is now in place in more than 250 communities across the United Kingdom. The model has shown to reduce repeat victimization, increase survivor safety and connect survivors with the support and services they need. WomanACT is leading the implementation of this model in two communities across Ontario. At the centre of multi-agency high risk tables are three key components – risk assessment, safety planning, and information sharing.
Interested in learning more about MARAC or setting up a multi-agency response to high-risk intimate partner violence in the community? We’d love to hear from you.
 Statistics Canada (2016). ‘Women in Canada: A Gender-based Statistical Report’. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/89-503-x/2015001/article/14313-eng.htm
 Thompson, N. (2021). ‘Reports of domestic, intimate partner violence continue to rise during pandemic’. 16 Feb. CBC News. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/domestic-intimate-partner-violence-up-in-pandemic-1.5914344
 Quenneville, G. (2022). ‘Jury at triple-homicide inquest makes 86 recommendations to prevent intimate partner violence’. 28 June. CBC News. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/coroners-inquest-intimate-partner-violence-renfrew-probation-1.6503862
 Culleton, Kuzyk & Warmerdarm Inquest Jury Recommendations (2022). https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/22072317-inquest
Toronto, ON – A new poll from the WomanACT in partnership with Angus Reid Group shows that experiences of harassment are common on public transit in Toronto. While 86% of transit riders have experienced some form of harassment, it was more common among women, especially experiences of sexual harassment. Women (59%) were more likely than men (22%) to have experienced unwanted sexual looks or gestures, as well as sexual comments (experienced by 50% of women and 19% of men).
The survey of 1550 people in Toronto also found that feelings of safety are impacted by gender and race. 27% of people said they feel unsafe taking public transit. Women were more likely to feel unsafe (30%) than men (23%). This was further impacted by race. Racialized men were more likely to feel unsafe (26%) than white men (19%). Racialized women were more likely to feel unsafe (28%) than white women (23%).
The mode and time of travel also impact how safe a rider feels. The subway was the type of transit where people felt most unsafe when compared to streetcar or bus. Riders also felt more unsafe when travelling in the evening or at night. At night, 57% of men felt very safe or safe, compared to 39% of women.
Public transit riders use various tactics to cope with feeling unsafe, and women are more likely than men to do so. Women said they were often on high alert (59%), used their phone to avoid unwanted attention (46%), avoided public transit in the dark (38%), got off at an earlier stop (37%), traveled with others (32%), or decided not to take a trip at all and stay home (16%) to avoid harassment or feeling unsafe.
The proportion of Torontonians who don’t feel safe taking public transit is alarmingly high,” says Demetre Eliopoulos, Senior Vice President, Public Affairs at the Angus Reid Group, “The fact that women are adapting their travel behaviour in so many ways, to the point where some are just opting to stay home, indicates that there is a fundamental accessibility issue at play here.”
Most of the public transit riders (82%) were optimistic and felt that public transit could be much safer with the correct investments and safety measures. When asked about which proposed safety measures would help end sexual harassment on transit, good lighting, security features such as a cameras and request-stop programs topped the list.
“Tackling sexual and gender harassment requires change at system, organizational and behavioural levels. This is no different when addressing sexual harassment on public transit.” Said Harmy Mendoza, Executive Director of WomanACT. “In addition to transit policies, services and infrastructure that promote safety, it is critical that transit employees and riders can identify harassment and intervene when safe to do so.”
While the majority (95%) of survey respondents said that it was important to have information on how they can intervene, only 56% of respondents reported that they would know how to intervene if they saw someone in danger on public transit.
Other survey findings:
About this survey:
In partnership with WomanACT, Angus Reid Group conducted an online survey among a representative sample of n=1550 adults in Toronto. The respondents are members of Angus Reid Forum. For comparison purposes only, this sample plan would carry a margin of error of +/- 2.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
For over 30 years, WomanACT has been working closely with governments, organizations, and communities to eradicate violence against women through research, policy, education, and community mobilization. WomanACT uses research to promote public dialogue, transform practice, and shape policy to advance women’s safety and gender equity.
About Angus Reid Group:
Angus Reid is Canada’s most well-known and respected name in opinion and market research data. Offering a variety of research solutions to businesses, brands, governments, not-for-profit organizations and more, the Angus Reid Group team connects technologies and people to derive powerful insights that inform your decisions. Data is collected through a suite of tools utilizing the latest technologies. Prime among that is the Angus Reid Forum, an opinion community consisting of engaged residents across the country who answer surveys on topical issues that matter to all Canadians.
Toronto, ON: Today, WomanACT and The Society for Canadian Women in Science & Technology (SCWIST) are pleased to announce partnerships with three employers who are dedicated to creating workplaces free from sexual harassment: Chandos Construction, EllisDon, and TandemLaunch. The Department of Justice has funded WomanACT and SCWIST to provide custom support to STEM and trade employers to improve company-wide prevention and response measures that address gender-based and sexual harassment.
On the importance of these partnerships, WomanACT Executive Director Harmy Mendoza says, “Our 2021 survey found that 4 in 10 Canadians experienced some form of harassment in the workplace—a rate significantly higher for women (50%) than men (33%). That is why these cross-sectoral partnerships are critical to ending sexual and gender-based harassment. We are heartened by these three companies’ investments to create a culture of safety, and we are committed to supporting them to improve workplace policies, procedures, and practices.”
SCWIST President Dr. Khristine Carino reinforces this project by explaining, “As the voice for women in STEM for 40 years, we understand first-hand the impacts of discrimination, gender-based and sexual harassment in the workplace. Addressing these behaviours can decrease stress, improve productivity and motivation, and improve retention rates for women.”
As to why this work is important to them, Chandos Construction and EllisDon shared:
“Harassment of any kind shouldn’t exist in any workplace. Period.” says Tim Coldwell, President, Chandos Construction. “We will do whatever is needed to ensure that every employee is part of a pleasant and comfortable working environment. We support WomanACT and SCWIST. Their values align with our own, and we look forward to collaborating with them, and being forces for good, together.”
“Empowering our employees to prevent and respond to gender-based violence is not only an important step for EllisDon’s safety practices and culture but is crucial to advance our industry as a whole,” says Geoff Smith, President and CEO of EllisDon. “It’s no question that we are a male-dominated industry — we need to be doing everything possible to attract and retain women in our workforce, while providing safe and respectful workplaces to build meaningful careers.”
About WomanACT: WomanACT has been providing planning and coordination in Toronto since 1991. Today, we are a charitable organization working collaboratively to end violence against women and advance gender equity through education, policy and community mobilization. For more information, please visit www.womanact.ca.
About SCWIST: SCWIST is a leader in programs, partnerships, mentoring and networks across Canada for women and girls in STEM. Through innovative research, capacity building and collective advocacy, SCWIST has advanced women and girls’ participation and leadership in STEM since 1981. For more information, please visit www.scwist.ca.
About Chandos: Chandos Construction is the first and largest B Corp Certified national technical builder in North America. We are 100 per cent employee owned, and a pioneer in integrated project delivery (IPD) and collaborative construction. Please visit www.chandos.com.
About EllisDon: EllisDon is an employee-owned, $5 billion-a-year global construction services company. With over 3,000 salaried and hourly employees across fifteen national and international offices, EllisDon has become a leader in every sector and nearly every facet of the construction industry. Please visit www.ellisdon.com.
About TandemLaunch: TandemLaunch creates, incubates and accelerates early-stage technology start-ups based on inventions from the world’s top universities in the areas of artificial intelligence, computer vision, IoT, audio and advanced sensors. Having successfully executed over 50 technology transfer agreements, TandemLaunch is a spinout foundry with an international scope, producing high-impact, IP-focused companies with an unprecedented rate of success. Please visit www.tandemlaunch.com.
Today is Equal Pay Day.
Equal Pay Day raises awareness of the gender pay gap and acknowledges how far into the year the average woman must work to earn what the average man earned in the previous year. In Canada, Equal Pay Day is on April 12th symbolizing that on average, a woman must work 15 and a half months to earn what a man earns in 12 months.
What is the gender pay gap?
The gender pay gap describes the average difference between the wages for women and men who are working. Women earning less than men is a pattern that is seen globally. The global gender pay gap is estimated at around 20%, meaning women earn 77 cents to every dollar men earn for equal value of work.[i] At this rate, it will take between 135 – 202 years to close the gender wage gap globally.[ii]
Canada ranks 24th out of 156 countries in the gender pay gap.[iii] In Canada, women earn on average .89 cents to every dollar a man earns. Ontario reflects this national average as well. When compared with other provinces, Ontario ranks 6th for its gender wage gap.[iv]
Does the gender pay gap impact all women equally?
It is important to note that the gender pay gap impacts women differently based on race, age, gender identity, and disability. For example, racialized women in Canada earned .59 cents to every dollar a man makes compared to non-racialized women who made .67 cents in 2015.[v] The average annual income for LGBTQ women in Canada is significantly lower than heterosexual men[vi] and women living with disabilities make an average annual income of $3,630 less than women living without disabilities.[vii]
What causes the gender pay gap?
The gender pay gap is caused by a number of factors. Women are more likely to be in part-time employment and take time away from employment for childcare responsibilities industries. Women are also more likely to be pushed into certain industries and occupations through discriminatory practices. Women often excluded from occupations that are seen as more lucrative, such as STEM industries. Instead, women are over-represented in occupations that are traditionally seen as women’s occupations such as the care economy.[viii] Work in male dominated industries is seen as valued at a higher rate compared to work in female dominated industries. According to the ILO, in addition to these factors, the gender wage gap is further caused by the underrepresentation of women in leadership positions.[ix]
It is calculated that these factors account for one third of the gender pay gap.[x] The rest of the gender pay gap is generally attributed to discrimination.[xi] This reinforces the point that the gender pay gap is very much an active form of oppression.
Why does the pay gap matter?
The gender pay gap has significant impacts on women’s economic wellbeing, especially for those women most marginalized. The long-term consequences of pay inequity mean that by the time women retire, they can be in a precarious economic position with limited pensions, or living in poverty.
For Canada, closing the pay gap could earn .6% incremental GDP growth to Canada, and between +0.4–0.9% for each province annually.[xii] We are currently losing on a large part of our labour market and potential for growth.
The gender pay gap also has an impact on women’s safety. Poverty can increase women’s risk of victimization and also trap women in violent situations. The lack of access to income and housing is the key barrier to women leaving abusive relationships. Having access to financial resources can significantly improve women’s access to housing, health care and legal supports.
What is the social cost?
The gender pay gap is an intentional form of discrimination and oppression against women. It is a visible sign of the value we place on women’s work and time. Ultimately, the gender pay gap perpetuates gender inequality, which is the root cause for gender-based violence.
[i] United Nations Women. ‘Equal pay for work of equal value’. https://www.un.org/en/observances/equal-pay-day
[ii] World Economic Forum (2021). ‘Global Gender Gap Report 2021’. https://www.weforum.org/repo`rts/global-gender-gap-report-2021
[iii] OECD (2022). Gender wage gap https://data.oecd.org/earnwage/gender-wage-gap.htm
[iv] Statistics Canada (2022). Average and median gender wage ratio
[v] Block, S., Galabuzi, G., and Tranjan, R. (2019). ‘Canada’s Colour Coded Income Inequality’. Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. https://policyalternatives.ca/publications/reports/canadas-colour-coded-income-inequality
[vi] Lourenco, D. ‘Researchers confirm substantial income disparities among lesbian, gay and bisexual Canadians’. Published Aug. 13, 2021. https://www.ctvnews.ca/business/researchers-confirm-substantial-income-disparities-among-lesbian-gay-and-bisexual-canadians-1.5546857
[vii] Burlock, A. (2017). ‘Women with Disabilities’. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/89-503-x/2015001/article/14695-eng.htm
[viii] Moyser, M. 2019. ‘Studies on Gender and Intersecting Identities: Measuring and Analyzing the Gender Pay Gap: A Conceptual and Methodological Overview’. Statistics Canada. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/45-20-0002/452000022019001-eng.htm
[ix] ILO. (2019). ‘Understanding the gender pay gap’. https://www.ilo.org/actemp/publications/WCMS_735949/lang–en/index.htm
[x] Pay Equity Office Ontario. The Gender Wage Gap: It’s More Than You Think. https://www.payequity.gov.on.ca/en/LearnMore/GWG/Pages/default.aspx#fn1
[xi] ILO, 2019
[xii] McKinsey Global Institute. (2017). ‘The power of parity: advancing women’s equality in Canada.’ https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/gender-equality/the-power-of-parity-advancing-womens-equality-in-canada
In recent decades, the number of women and gender diverse people in STEM-related fields has been increasing. These folks are making important discoveries and spearheading progress in their industries and academia. For example, Dr. A.W. Peet is a tenured physics professor at the University of Toronto who focuses their research on the subatomic structure of space-time. Peet also co-chairs the physics department’s Inclusivity Committee and plans to continue their advocacy work until LGBTQ+ people feel as welcome as heterosexual and cisgender people on U of T’s campus.[i] Expanding the gender diversity of STEM fields also expands the diversity of perspectives able to offer answers and breadth to new problems.
Entering a traditionally male-dominated field presents a unique set of challenges for those who have been historically excluded from STEM industries. One of these challenges is workplace sexual harassment and violence. Workplace sexual harassment is defined by the Occupational Health and Safety Act as “(a) a course of vexatious and unwelcome comment or conduct against a worker because of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression, and (b) an unwelcome sexual solicitation or advance by a person in a position to confer, grant or deny a benefit or advancement to the worker.”[ii] Gender-diverse people and women are subject to higher rates of sexual harassment and violence in the workplace. Data shows that in natural and applied sciences, 32% of women compared to 12% of men experience sexual harassment at work.[iii] And while companies have legal responsibilities to prevent and respond to instances of harassment and violence in the workplace, typical measures are consistently ineffective and continue to enable cultures of harm.
Workplace sexual harassment and violence can have serious impacts on a person’s mental and physical wellbeing, as well as their professional development. Experiences of sexual harassment and violence in the workplace are associated with negative outcomes, such as decreased job satisfaction, withdrawal from work, worsened physical and mental health, and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. In addition, misogyny and harassment in the workplace are linked to decreased organizational commitment and diminished career progression.[iv]
A lack of data on workplace sexual harassment and violence against gender diverse, LBT women, and Two Spirit people demonstrates the need for stronger governmental support for advocacy for safe and decent employment. Almost half of LGB workers have experienced harassment in the workplace based on their sexual orientation and about 90% of transgender and gender-variant employees report experiences of workplace harassment and violence based on their gender identity and expression.[v] Dr. A.W. Peet has first-hand experience with workplace harassment, sharing in a 2019 interview with The Varsity, “the amount of transphobic harassment I’ve had… as a consequence of being an out trans person in the last few years is more than all of the misogyny that I’ve ever experienced as a presumed woman in physics for over 20 years.”[vi]
International data indicates that LGBTQ employees are less likely to report workplace harassment and violence because of a lack of appropriate policies.[vii] Additionally, a recent survey conducted by WomanACT found that fear for one’s safety was a major reason for underreporting.[viii] It is up to policymakers and advocates to push for evidence-based and trauma-informed action to be taken in STEM industries, including prevention and response measures such as climate assessments, training, communication, reporting systems, policies and procedures that are trauma-informed. Trauma-informed practices promote environments of accountability, collaboration, transparency, healing, and recovery.[ix] Advocating for more effective policies is a step in the right direction. Evidence-based workplace solutions have the power to alleviate and eliminate barriers to reporting and help make STEM workplaces a safe and harassment-free environment for women and gender-diverse folks.
The Supporting Safe STEM Workplaces project is working with STEM industry partners across Canada to create safer workplaces through policy development, capacity building and improving access to legal supports and resources for victims of sexual harassment.
[i] Aziz, M., & Raveendran, R. (2019, October 7). In the spotlight: Dr. A.W. Peet. The Varsity. Retrieved January 18, 2022, from https://thevarsity.ca/2019/10/06/in-the-spotlight-dr-a-w-peet/
[ii] Government of Ontario. (2020, June 12). Workplace violence and workplace harassment. ontario.ca. Retrieved January 18, 2022, from https://www.ontario.ca/document/guide-occupational-health-and-safety-act/part-iii0i-workplace-violence-and-workplace-harassment
[iii] Statistics Canada. (2021). In 2020, 1 in 4 Women and 1 in 6 Men reported having experienced inappropriate sexualized behaviours at work in the previous year. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/en/daily-quotidien/210812/dq210812b-eng.pdf?st=SHXeWOgC
[iv] Willness, C. R., Steel, P., & Lee, K. (2007). A meta-analysis of the antecedents and consequences of workplace sexual harassment. Personnel Psychology, 60(1), 127–162. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1744-6570.2007.00067.
[v] Bucik, A. (2016). Canada: Discrimination and Violence against Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Women and Gender Diverse and Two Spirit People on the Basis of Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Gender Expression. Egale Canada Human Rights Trust in partnership with the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Intersex Association – North America Region (ILGA-NA).
[vi] Aziz & Raveendran, (2019, October 7).
[vii] Bucik (2016).
[viii] WomanACT (2021). Uncomfortable workplaces: WomanACT survey shows fear of backlash, stigma, and inaction. GlobeNewswire. https://www.globenewswire.com/news-release/2021/11/22/2338841/0/en/Uncomfortable-workplaces-WomanACT-survey-shows-fear-of-backlash-stigma-and-inaction.html
[ix] Ending Violence Association of BC. (2019). Gender-Based Violence, Harassment, and Bullying: Workplace Policy Guidelines for Response and Prevention.
The recent death of 22-year-old Gabby Petito in 2021 who was killed by her boyfriend, and the death of 23-year-old Lauren Smith-Fields who was found dead in her apartment following a date with a man she met on a dating app is highlighting the issue of dating violence and young women.
Dating violence is defined as any physical, sexual, and psychological violence in romantic and sexual relationships. Dating violence can look like many things including; hitting, being possessive, hurling insults, intimidating, isolating partners from family and friends, stalking, checking text messages without permission, using social media to hurt, embarrass or monitor them, and pressuring them for sexual contact without consent.
Young people in Canada are at the greatest risk of dating violence, with studies showing that young people between the ages of 15 and 24 make up 43% of all incidents of dating violence.[i] Dating violence starts early and is more prevalent among young women. Dating violence can begin as early as grade school, with 29% of young girls and women in grades 7, 9, and 11, reporting experiencing dating violence, compared to 13% of young boys and men.[ii]
Furthermore, a national study looking at 3,000 Canadian youth found that in the past year 12% were physically hurt on purpose by someone they were dating, 18% had a person they were dating use social media to hurt, embarrass, or monitor them, and 28% reported a dating partner tried to control them or emotionally hurt them.[iii] Among high school students, young women ages 15 -19 experience 10 times more violence in relationships than young men.
The experience of dating violence has lifelong consequences. Dating violence during youth is a strong risk factor for domestic violence in adulthood.[iv] The experience of dating violence among young women is also linked to negative outcomes in other areas such as poor educational outcomes, substance use, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, disruptive behaviours, and suicidal thoughts.[v] Dating violence has also been linked to poorer physical health and chronic health conditions such as increased blood pressure and chronic pain.
Youth are less likely to report dating violence, with only 8% informing adults or authorities after an incident. Teens do not commonly report dating violence because they are afraid or embarrassed to tell their friends and family. In some cases, teens do not think an incident is serious enough to report. In addition, sometimes youth do not report dating violence because they do not label certain behaviours as unhealthy but interpret them as acts of love.[vi]
It is important to teach young people and those around them – teachers, parents and peers – to acknowledge, understand and intervene at the first signs of violence.
Warning signs of dating violence include:
Looking out for warning signs is a good start, but much more is needed. A culture shift is required in making sure that youth dating violence is not minimized or accepted as a common learning experience, but understood as a serious form of violence that is habit-forming, and has lifelong implications and trauma attached to it. Adolescence and young adulthood is an important developmental period and it is important that healthy habits and messaging around dating and relationships are formed to stop the cycle of violence from teen to adulthood.
Interventions can include teaching safe and healthy relationship skills in schools. Bystander education can help teachers and peers learn how to identify and take action to stop and prevent dating violence. There is also a need for improved screening for dating violence in healthcare settings, and educational programs and information for families.
Youth dating violence is a public health issue, and it is important to have publicly funded support dedicated to effective prevention and response strategies. In Canada, there are limited services that are specialized for young people experiencing violence, in addition to a lack of policies that offer protection and clear actions on where to go and how to receive help.
[i] Statistics Canada. (2008) Police reported dating violence in Canada. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/85-002-x/2010002/article/11242-eng.htm
[ii] Price et al. (2001) Dating violence among New Brunswick Adolescents: A summary of two studies. Fredericton, Canada: Muriel McQueen Fergusson Centre for Family Violence Research, University of New Brunswick.
[iii] Exner-Cortens D, Baker E, Craig W. (2021) The National Prevalence of Adolescent Dating Violence in Canada. J Adolesc Health, 69(3): 495-502.
[iv] Persram et al., (2021 Dec 14) Development and validation of the teen dating aggression measure among Canadian youth. Front Pyschol.
[v] Taquette, S. R., & Monteiro, D. (2019). Causes and consequences of adolescent dating violence: a systematic review. Journal of injury & violence research, 11(2), 137–147.
[vi] Hébert, M., Van Camp, T., Lavoie, F., Blais, M., & Guerrier, M. (2014). Understanding the hesitancy to disclose teen dating violence: Correlates of self-efficacy to deal with teen dating violence. Temida : casopis o viktimizaciji, ljudskim pravima i rodu, 17(4), 43–64.
“I was left with two options that didn’t work for me and I had to choose the lesser evil, instead of having to think about what would really work for me and what would facilitate healing.”
This quote tells a story we’ve heard from survivors again and again: there is something missing from the housing options that we offer women experiencing violence.
In 2021, WomanACT conducted research with 74 survivors of intimate partner violence to better understand their housing experiences and preferences when separating from an abusive relationship. We explored the housing options currently available to survivors, what the ideal housing situation would look like when leaving violence, and what survivors would want in place to feel safe and comfortable in independent housing. Across our research, one message became abundantly clear: it’s time to change our expectations about women leaving home in order to be safe.
We know that housing instability when leaving an abusive relationship is a common experience. Survivors often find themselves moving between precarious housing options that don’t meet their needs. The participants in our research were no different. 80% of the survivors we surveyed relocated from their housing when fleeing violence – most often to shelters or staying with family or friends – and 58% reported a loss of control over their housing options at that time.
That’s where Safe at Home programs come in. As a housing model already used in countries around the world, Safe at Home enables survivors to remain in their home with the perpetrator removed or move directly to independent housing through a range of supports that reduce risk and maintain tenancies. Program components include legal orders, home security measures, and service referrals.
Armed with this program blueprint, we set out to learn more: Would this housing model address the gaps we were hearing from survivors? If so, how could this program be designed to best support their needs?
We asked and survivors delivered. We heard that Safe at Home would allow them to stay in a place already suited to their needs and community connections. That Safe at Home would prevent disruptions to their everyday lives. That with the right supports, it would have been their preferred housing option at time of separating from their abusive partner. Justice, control, security, stability. These were just some of the words used to describe the feelings that Safe at Home could provide.
But the housing model wasn’t without concerns. There was the risk of harm from their partner when living alone, having access to only short-term supports when they had long-term needs, and the limited justice system responses that had failed them before. And the biggest concern of all? Affordability. It was no surprise that safe, stable, independent housing simply had too high a price tag for survivors.
Where some see barriers, our participants saw opportunities. We worked with survivors to envision the design of an ideal Safe at Home program, one that could take their concerns and turn them into solutions. The ideas were endless: easily accessible emergency funds, a case manager to coordinate all their needs, trauma-informed housing providers, new home décor to limit reminders of the abuse, education on the right to housing, the list goes on. This told us that with the right supports in place, Safe at Home could be the answer to survivors’ calls for safe and affordable housing. That’s why 86% of participants who did not have Safe at Home available to them would have wanted it as an option to choose from when leaving violence.
WomanACT is ready to bring these ideas into action. Over the next two years, we’ll be working to assess and strengthen the foundation of public policies, funding streams, and social norms that are needed to make Safe at Home a reality.
It’s time to shift our expectations about survivors leaving home to reach safety. It’s time for bold, rights-based solutions that put survivors first. It’s time for Safe at Home.
The Safe at Home project conducted community-based research into policies, programs and practices that support women to remain in their own home or independent accommodation when leaving a violent relationship. You can read our full set of findings in our research report “A Place of My Own”: Survivors’ Perspectives on the Safe at Home Housing Model
Domestic and dating violence, or intimate partner violence, has a long term impact on women’s economic security. A lack of economic security can prevent a woman from leaving an abusive relationship and make it difficult to establish safety and financial independence. One of the ways that intimate partner violence affects women’s economic security is by impacting their ability to find and maintain employment.
Survivors may be prevented from working by an abuser. It is also common for an abuser to make it difficult for a survivor to get to work and maintain their employment.[i] These controlling behaviours are often referred to as employment sabotage. Employment sabotage can look like hiding a survivor’s car keys or starting an argument before work.[ii] It also looks like an abuser refusing to care for children while the survivor is at work and restricting access to alternative childcare.[iii] Employment sabotage shows up in the workplace, too. Survivors may receive excessive phone calls and text messages to the workplace or may experience stalking in and around the workplace.[iv] The sabotage tactics might start to involve co-coworkers. Lies told to co-workers by an abusive partner, such as claiming that the survivor stole from the company, can be used to damage the survivor’s employment or career progression.[v]
While there is a very little research into the impact of trauma on employment, there is some evidence to show that trauma from violence impacts the survivors’ ability to gain and sustain employment.[vi] The effects of trauma, like anxiety and depression, can impact a survivor’s performance and advancement at work.[vii] Knowing the long term effects of trauma, it could potentially impact a survivor’s job stability or career progression for many years.
The constant disruption, stress and harassments felt by a survivor can lead to a survivor missing work as well as reduced productivity when they are there. Because of this, intimate partner violence can be associated with career gaps, underemployment, and a loss of earnings.[viii] It can also lead to job loss. In some some cases, survivors may quit their employment because of feelings of shame associated with being a victim of violence or embarrassment over the abuser’s stalking or harassment in and around the workplace.[ix] In other causes, survivors may lose their jobs because of the number of missed days or the poor productivity and performance.[x]
However, the relationship between intimate partner violence and employment is complicated. For some survivors, violence spills over into the workplace. For other survivors, the workplace can be a place of safety or escape. Furthermore, employment is an important source of financial independence for survivors. This is why it is frequently targeted by abusers. These challenges can be further compounded by the structural barriers to employment that survivors face. For example, racialized women with experiences of violence face additional systemic barriers to equal pay and decent work.
With the increased risk of intimate partner violence and the fundamental shift to how we work amid the pandemic, it is vital that we we understand the changing realities faced by survivors.
The Intersections between employment and safety among racialized women project is undertaking research to understand racialized women’s experiences in employment and how these are impacted by experiences of intimate partner violence. The project will be undertaking primary research with survivors well as work with employment agencies and employers to improve policies and practice.
[i] Showalter, K. (2016). Women’s employment and domestic violence: A review of the literature. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 31(01), 37-47.
[ii] Swanberg, J. E., Logan, T., and Macke, C. (2005). Intimate partner violence, employment and the workplace: consequences and future directions. Trauma, violence and abuse, 6(4), 286-312.
[iii] Hess, C; Del Rosario, A. (2018). Dreams Deferred: A Survey on the Impact of Intimate Partner Violence on Survivors’ Education, Careers, and Economic Security. Institute for Women’s Policy Research.
[iv] Logan, T.K., Shannon, L., Cole, J., and Swanberg, J. (2007) Partner stalking and implications for women’s employment. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 22(3),268-91.
[v] Moe, A.M and Bell, M.P. (2004). Abject Economics: The effects of battering and violence on women’s work and employability. Violence against Women, 10(01), 29- 55.
[vi] Riger, S. and Staggs, S. (2004). Impact of Intimate Partner Violence on Women’s Labor Force Participation, Final Report. National Institute of Justice, United States. Available at: https://nij.ojp.gov/library/publications/impact-intimate-partner-violence-womens-labor-force-participation-final-report
[vii] Showalter, 2016.
[viii] Tolman, R. M., & Raphael, J. (2000). A review of research on welfare and domestic violence. Journal of Social Issues, 56(4), 655-682.
[ix] Swanberg, Logan and Macke, 2005.
[x] Showalter, 2016.
Economic abuse is a common form of intimate partner violence. Studies have shown that anywhere from 94%[i] to 99%[ii] of women in abusive relationships have experienced some form of economic abuse. Economic abuse includes behaviours that control a person’s ability to gain or use economic resources. Some of the more common forms of economic abuse as a form of intimate partner violence include a partner restricting access to income, demanding to know how money was spent and withholding financial information. Another common tactic includes coerced debt in which a partner builds up debt in their partner’s name. Economic abuse often happens alongside other forms of abuse.
Economic abuse can be difficult to identify or may be overlooked. This is because it may be assumed customary or normal for men to bring in more income or manage the household finances. This can be complicated by the taboo around discussing money with those outside of the household. Economic abuse can have serious consequences. A lack of access to money makes it difficult for a woman to flee violence. A lack of income and savings alongside debt and poor credit can make it difficult for women to establish safety and independence because they cannot secure housing or meet their other daily needs.
With more than 99% of Canadians having a bank account[iii], financial services, such as banks, are in a good position to identify, prevent and respond to the economic abuse. Financial services can support in a variety of capacities. Financial services can help identify and intervene to support survivors as well as help survivors re-build their economic security. They can also help survivors and promote women’s economic security by developing products that may prevent abusive behaviours among families and are designed specifically for survivors.
Some jurisdictions have recognized the value of financial services in playing a role in the prevention and response to economic abuse. The Members of UK Finance and Building Societies Association and the Australian Banking Association have developed industry guidelines for financial services. These guidelines recommend that banks and other financial services train employees on identifying financial abuse and create policies to help employees identify and respond to customers experiencing financial abuse.
With such a large audience, financial services could also help raise awareness of financial abuse among the public as well as start to challenge and shift the gender norms related to money that perpetuate women’s financial dependence and economic insecurity.
Addressing gender-based violence requires a coordinated and holistic approach from multiple services, including the private sector. While historically, a multi-agency response to intimate partner violence has included justice partners and agencies providing support to victims, the prevalence of economic abuse as well as the importance of financial well-being as a key safety factor, makes a case that financial services should also be a part of this response.
Interested in learning more about the role of financial services in the prevention and response to economic abuse? You can read our brief here.
[i] Adams, A.E., Sullivan, C.M., & Greeson, M.R. (2008). Development of the Scale of Economic Abuse. Violence Against Women 14(5), 563 – 588.
[ii] Postmus, J.L., Plummer, S.B., McMahon, S., Murshid, N.S., & Kim, M.S. (2012) Understanding Economic Abuse in the Lives of Survivors. Journal of Interpersonal Violence 27(3), 411 – 430.
[iii] Canadian Bankers Association (2021) Focus: Banks and Consumers. https://cba.ca/banks-and-consumers
The COVID19 pandemic may be novel, but the connection between violence and women’s economic security is not. As governments start to develop economic recovery plans, it is critical that women’s safety is priority.
Women’s economic security and safety are connected. Without economic resources, women are unable to flee violent situations and face a greater risk of exploitation and victimization. Violence also has long term impacts on women’s economic well-being. Women with a history of domestic violence change jobs more often and are more likely to be in casual and part-time jobs than women without experiences of violence.
Survivors also experience financial hardship after fleeing violence such as debt, poor credit scores, and ongoing legal costs. These financial pressures make it difficult for survivors to rebuild their financial stability.
With a reported increase in gender-based violence during the COVID-19 pandemic and the significant economic toll on women – like disproportionate jobs losses and an increase in care responsibilities – rebuilding the economy cannot be at the cost of women’s safety.
Domestic violence in the workplace
Domestic violence often spills over into or near the workplace and can impact an employees’ concentration, attendance and performance at work. With an estimated one in three workers reported to have ever experienced domestic violence in Canada,[i] it is essential that employers understand their legislative requirements as well as how they can recognize domestic violence among employees and provide the necessary support.
Sexual violence and harassment in the workplace
While violence is present in all workplaces, women are more likely to experience sexual harassment. Some women are disproportionately affected because of their employment status, the nature of their work or their working conditions. Sexual violence and harassment is particularly common in male-dominated workplaces. As governments start to look at removing barriers for women to fields in which they are underrepresented, it is critical that these fields of work are safe.
Survivors re-entering the workforce
Survivors face barriers to maintaining employment or entering the workforce because of the health impacts of abuse as well as control tactics of abusers. Some survivors face barriers due to having large gaps in their careers because of their abusive relationship. With a focus on achieving the shortest route to work, as typically found in employment and income support programs, survivors are often forced to accept precarious work. There is an opportunity to ensure women’s full access to decent work but this cannot be done without investments into childcare, housing and workforce development initiatives.
This is an opportunity to design things differently – to listen to survivors to understand the economic and safety barriers that they face and to co-create solutions.
This is an opportunity to rebuild things differently – to establish services, policies and social conditions that promote women’s economic security, independence and safety.
[i] Wathen, C.N., MacGregor, J.C.D., and MacQuarrie, B.J. (2014) Can Work be Safe, When Home Isn’t? Initial Findings of a Pan-Canadian Survey on Domestic Violence and the Workplace.