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The Quest to Eliminate Violence Against Women

On this International Women’s Day, as the ongoing struggle for gender equality and women’s rights is recognized globally, it is important to highlight the pervasive issue of violence against women. As Amnesty International’s website states, “…International Women’s Day is more important than ever before. Last year [2023], there were alarming assaults on the rights of women in Canada and around the world. Legal protections were also dismantled, and women worldwide faced unprecedented risk”.


The International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, marked on 25 November, kicks off 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence. This annual international campaign calls for the prevention and elimination of violence against women worldwide, running until Human Rights Day on 10 December.


The 16 days also encompass Canada’s National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women on 6 December, which honours 14 innocent young women who were murdered in a mass shooting at École Polytechnique in Montreal in 1989—simply for being women. Similarly, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women remembers the three Mirabal sisters who were assassinated in 1960 in the Dominican Republic for opposing the regime of Rafael Trujillo.


In remembering these senseless murders, we must always, and especially on 8 March, remember our commitment to challenging the global norms and structures that perpetuate such violence.

Working to end violence against women is crucial for Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5: Gender Equality. Policy reform, political leadership and adequate investments are needed to overcome the systemic barriers to gender equality that women face all over the world. 

According to the Spotlight Initiative, roughly one in three women worldwide have experienced sexual or physical violence. Major forms of violence against women worldwide include human trafficking, intimate partner violence, sexual violence, child marriage and female genital mutilation. The lack of access to education is also considered a form of violence against women, according to European Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development, Neven Mimica.


Domestic violence today is criminalized in only 60 per cent of countries. In 37 countries worldwide, rapists may be excused from their crime by marrying their victim, and there are no sexual assault charges if the victim is their wife. In addition, 49 countries do not have laws to protect women from domestic violence.


In fact, research shows that most violence against women is perpetrated by either a current or former intimate partner or spouse. Globally, an estimated 736 million women have been subjected to intimate partner violence of a physical or sexual nature, non-partner sexual violence, or both, at least once in their life.


Additionally, gender-based violence is disproportionately high in marginalized communities of racialized women.


In Canada, a 2023 University of Toronto study suggests that Indigenous women are 400 per cent more likely to go missing than other Canadians.


The study, led by sociologist Jerry Flores, estimates that at least 4,000 Indigenous women and 600 Indigenous men and boys went missing between 1956 and 2016. The Canadian government does not have an exact figure for missing Indigenous women and girls, and there are discrepancies in public records on this topic.


The study notes that their deaths are not always properly investigated or recorded by authorities, a point also raised by Amnesty International.


The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) has addressed the discrepancies between its missing persons and homicide records and public research on the matter, stating that it uses a ‘perception-based’ model to identify whether a victim is Indigenous or not, which has significantly derailed the accuracy of collected data.


“In other words, it can correspond to how a police officer defines how an individual looks in terms of complexion and/or ancestry”, the RCMP report states.


“Asking a police officer to judge a person’s race based on his or her perception is difficult and can yield incomplete and inaccurate results. What a person looks like does not always reflect how s/he would self-identify”.


There have been 231 calls for justice aimed at the Canadian government regarding the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada. A national inquiry into their deaths and disappearances is backed by hundreds of documented personal stories and overwhelming research showing that Indigenous women are disproportionately affected by violence.


Data from the Assembly of First Nations states that Indigenous women are four times more likely than non-Indigenous women to experience violence. Additionally, Statistics Canada found that homicide rates for Indigenous women and girls were six times higher than the rates of other Canadian women between 2009 and 2021, even though Indigenous women constituted just two to three per cent of the population during that time.


A 2022 progress report on the National Action Plan about the issue regarding missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada states that Indigenous women and girls are still overrepresented as victims of crime in Canada. Unfortunately, progress has been limited.


More work is needed to reach the goals outlined for SDG 5. Currently, only 15 per cent of the goals for 2030 are considered to be on track. This means it will take 286 years to close gaps in legal protection and remove discriminatory laws. As we strive for progress, we must acknowledge these gaps in current efforts. The pace of change remains slow, but on this International Women’s Day, we draw strength from women’s resilience and solidarity. Working together, we can achieve a future where every woman and girl lives with dignity, safety and equality.

Edited by Angel Xing and Ali Shahrukh Pracha

Image source: Benjamín Argumento (trace of poster by Karl Maria Stadler)


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