As recently as 40 years ago, violence against women* was an unmentionable subject in Canada.
From 1967 to 1970, members of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women in Canada travelled around the country, charged with “inquir[ing] into . . . the status of women in Canada . . . to ensure for women equal opportunities with men in all aspects of Canadian society.” They held hearings, hired researchers, and heard from thousands of Canadian women. Their report, published 40 years ago, included 167 excellent recommendations, covering a vast range of areas where action should be taken to improve the status of women. Not one mentioned violence against women as an issue affecting women’s equality in Canada.
By 1982, our official knowledge of the issue of “battered wives” had advanced to the point that NDP MP Margaret Mitchell called on the federal government to take action on violence against women. In her book No Laughing Matter (Granville Island Publishing, 2007), she described her experience in the House of Commons:
On May 12th I rose in the House to raise the urgent need for government action on a serious and widespread issue. “The parliamentary report on battered wives states that one in ten Canadian husbands beat their wives regularly,” I began. Before I could continue, an uproar of male shouts and laughter erupted, making it impossible for me to be heard. A nearby Tory joked, “I don’t beat my wife. Do you, George?” When the Speaker finally got order, I rose again in fury. “Madam Speaker, I do not think this is a laughing matter. What action will the Minister responsible for the Status of Women undertake immediately at the federal level to protect battered women?”
Today, though we have a greater understanding of the seriousness and extent of violence against women, women are no less vulnerable. Each day seems to bring new accounts of horrifying abuse of women and girls – in war zones, in repressive political and religious regimes, in our institutions, and in our homes. Woman abuse occurs in every country and every culture. It arises from and perpetuates the social, economic, and political inequality of women.
The motivation for abuse is power and control. The abuse can be physical, emotional, psychological, sexual, economic, and spiritual. Abusers use fear, humiliation, and intimidation. ETFO is a union committed to social justice, with a particular commitment to activism to improve the status of women. Eliminating violence against women has always been one strong focus of ETFO’s advocacy work. ETFO honours and supports the work of the many underfunded community agencies, shelters, and second-stage housing providers that assist women and children whose lives are affected by violence.
BREAKING THE SILENCE