“Our strategy should be not only to confront empire, but to lay siege to it. To deprive it of oxygen. To shame it. To mock it. With our art, our music, our literature, our stubbornness, our joy, our brilliance, our sheer relentlessness – and our ability to tell our own stories. Stories that are different from the ones we’re being brainwashed to believe” – Arundhati Roy
Let me start by saying that gender is a social construct – one that imposes violence in the form of idealized norms of what it means to be “a man” or “a woman”. Gender-based violence (GBV) affects self-identified women to different degrees, based on various aspects of identity and social location – determined by, for example, socio-economic status, age, race, ethnicity, ability and sexual orientation. GBV also disproportionately affects those who are gender different or nonconforming in their gender presentation. So, if I’m to locate myself as a cis-white heterosexual woman (which I am), it’s probably safe to assume that my experiences of violence will differ from the experiences of an individual who hails from a more marginalized background. This is an important concept to keep in mind as we delve into the abyss.
What is Gender-Based Violence (GBV)
Simply put, GBV can be thought of as a form of violence used to reinforce normative gender roles within the context of a specific society. Patriarchy is the root cause of GBV, and is intensified by other forms of discrimination, including racism, colonialism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia and poverty. To break it down a little bit further: we are living in a power system organized around male authority and male privilege which constitutes a form of structural violence wherein there are systematic ways in which women (as well as trans and gender variant individuals) are treated as inferior to men. On an interpersonal level, this violence can take many forms – physical, emotional, sexual, financial, etc. – and involves the use and abuse of power and control over another person as a direct result of their gender identity, gender expression or perceived gender.
Depending on identity and social location, some people are more vulnerable to experiencing violence as a result of their gender than others. Why? Well… Much qualitative evidence and analysis indicates that violence is linked to inequalities and power imbalances in society. Basically, what this means is that if you’re a cis-white heterosexual woman with a good job and a university education, your level of risk for GBV will be exponentially lower than say a transgender ESL migrant living below the poverty line. This is not to say that privileged individuals don’t experience violence, because they do. But if we zoom out to look at the trends, privilege does impact the prevalence of violence, and those from marginalized communities are more at risk.
A word about statistics
Mark Twain once said that there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics. I’m not sure I agree with this sentiment completely, but I do think it’s important to remember that statistics in the case of GBV fail to capture the pervasiveness of violence against women, trans and gender non-conforming folx adequately. One of the central issues affecting the measurement of violence in Canada is under-reporting due to (1) the perception that the incident wasn’t serious enough to report, (2) a lack of clarity about what constitutes violence and (3) fear, shame and embarrassment of being judged, blamed or not believed. Given this information, it’s safe to assume that the prevalence of violence is actually much higher than what is being divulged.
Prevalence of Gender-Based Violence in Canada
According to the World Health Organization, roughly 1 out of 3 women (or 36%) in Canada will experience physical and/or sexual violence by a partner or sexual violence by a non-partner. If we want to take a closer look at intersections of oppression:
- Indigenous women are three times more likely to report experiencing violent victimization than non-Indigenous women.
- Women with disabilities are two times more likely to experience severe physical violence and three times more likely to experience sexual assault than women without disabilities.
- Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and queer people are at a higher risk for violent hate crimes as a direct result of their sexual orientation.
- Transgender people are almost twice as likely to self-report ever experiencing intimate partner violence, compared to the average rate experienced by cis-women.
- Women living in the territories are victimized at a rate 8 times higher than those living in the provinces.
- Sex workers in Canada are at an increased risk for violence as a result of restrictions imposed by Bill C-36 (Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act).
Ending Gender-Based Violence
One of the best ways to help end GBV is to get involved in organizations that are working to dismantle patriarchal systems through advocacy and support. Interested in promoting consent? Volunteer or take a workshop with the Anti-Violence Project. Want to create safe spaces for survivors of abuse? Lend a hand to Victoria Women’s Transition House or The Cridge. If that all sounds like too much, then find your own way to make a meaningful contribution. Support feminism. Attend events. Donate your lightly used clothing to PEERS. Help out with a project at Third Space. Join the Men’s Circle. Create space for marginalized people to share their stories. Listen.
National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women
As we decorate signboards with powerful slogans like “End the Silence” and “Stop Violence Against Women” in preparation for the Walk to End Gender-Based Violence (Friday, Dec. 1 at 11:30 a.m., starting from the Student Union Building), we should keep in mind all of the intersections of oppression that shape lived experience. We should take time to commemorate the 14 young women whose lives ended at Ecole Polytechnique on December 6, 1989. We should hold silence for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls across Canada. We should think about how Canada’s judicial system often increases vulnerability for marginalized populations, including sex workers. We should closely examine the pervasive and intricate ways patriarchy harms all people, regardless of gender identity, sex, or sexual orientation. And, perhaps most importantly, we should amass the strength to turn inwards, towards our own capacity for violence, and examine the ways that we are all complicit in doing harm.