Healing Gaia

November is Woman Abuse Prevention Month in Ontario

The purple scarf is symbolic of the courage it takes for a woman leave her abuser.

By Doreen Nicoll
Published November 02, 2015

Femicide is the intentional killing of women and girls because they are women and girls. This word came into use in the early 1800s. Since the 1970s, femicide has been used to delineate the distinction between homicides and the targeting of women and girls. Yet femicide is a word that most dictionaries don't include.

Femicide differs from murder or homicide. Quite often, femicide takes place in domestic settings and is the consequence of intimate partner or family violence. The perpetrators include family members, friends, acquaintances, johns, colleagues, and strangers. These killings of women and girls are not random acts of violence.

Femicide is rooted in gender inequality, sexism, racism, misogyny, and power imbalances. These same social constructs often impede the identification, reporting and recording of femicides. This is the case when the deaths of Aboriginal women and girls are incorrectly labelled accidental.

In 1995, the Ontario Association of Interval Transition Housing (OAITH) began collecting the names of women, and their children, murdered by their intimate partners, as a way to remember victims, honour their lives, and advocate for meaningful change.

According to Marlene Ham, Provincial Coordinator for OAITH:

Over the last twenty years OAITH has used media reports of intimate partner femicide to create their list because it offers an opportunity to connect the women and children who've been murdered to their communities and the broader public, while simultaneously recognizing their lives were lost as a result of male-perpetrated violence against women.

Providing context to the issue allows community, policy makers, our stakeholders and funders to view these issues through a gender-based lens and builds awareness of the root causes. Following media reports also assists OAITH in determining criminal justice and public policy responses to femicide.

OAITH has also been able to identify the limitations of reports from the media, police, coroner's offices, as well as Statistics Canada. As Ham observes:

Unfortunately, all of these sources collect and report on femicide/domestic violence related data in different ways that ultimately leads to different outcomes. What we've learned from looking at media reports, is how intimate partner violence is captured in the media and who gets missed, and more importantly, how gender-based violence results in much more than intimate partner femicide. Often missing are reports of missing and murdered Aboriginal women, sex workers, trans women, and the broader understanding of gender-based femicide from non-intimate partners.

OAITH's Femicide List differs from the Ontario Domestic Violence Death Review Committee (ODVDRC) report in that the ODVDRC is mandated to review coroner's reports in order to determine a clear set of recommendations to prevent future domestic violence related deaths. Although a number of recommendations have been made over the years, it's unclear how many have been implemented.

While OAITH's Femicide List focuses on remembering women and their children, it also provides an understanding of violence against women; the issues involved; and raises awareness of its prevalence.

Across Canada, domestic violence is the second most common reason for calls to Emergency Police Services. In Ontario alone, an average of 25 women are killed each year by their intimate partners. Across Canada, every six days a woman is killed by a current or former intimate partner.

It's well established that children who witness domestic violence are at higher risk of anxiety, depression and substance use than children who have not witnessed abuse. It's also well documented that the effects of witnessing abuse can impact their relationships, school work and level of risk.

November is Woman Abuse Prevention Month in Ontario. As part of its work to educate and engage the public, OAITH created the Wrapped in Courage campaign. Now in its third year, women shelters across the province invite their communities to show support for women and children fleeing abuse by wearing a purple scarf.

The purple scarf is symbolic of the courage it takes for a woman leave her abuser. It takes the courage of one woman to make this change for herself and her children, but it will take the strength and efforts of an entire community to end violence against women.

This November OAITH will release their Femicide List for 2015. In addition, OIATH will also release their report: 20 Years of Media Reported Femicides in Ontario.

To receive a copy of these documents contact: info@oaith.ca

For those wanting more information, The Learning Network created a very informative newsletter that not only explains Femicide in greater detail but provides a list of actions that need to be implemented to end femicide.

If you are a Canadian woman experiencing abuse, please remember that you are not alone. Help is a click away.

Doreen Nicoll is a feminist and a member of several community organizations working diligently to end poverty, hunger and gendered violence.

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