Women’s issues neglected in provincial election

In Canada, 51 per cent of women report having experienced at least one incident of physical or sexual violence after the age of sixteen, according to Statistics Canada. One in four women will have been victim of sexual assault and of those, half of them will be under the age of 16. In Ontario, there were 61 sexual assault offences reported to the police for every 100,000 people in 2007, with the population at that time being just shy of 13 million. With that in mind, it is estimated that a maximum of 10 per cent of sexual assault cases are reported to the police. You do the math.

On Oct. 6, Ontarians will elect representatives for the Ontario legislature. Each political party has come out with their respective platforms, carefully laying out their positions on issues such as the economy, health care, education and the environment. What you won’t find in any of the platforms, however, is any plan to address violence against women.

During the McGuinty government’s previous two terms in office, two major plans were put in place addressing violence against women: the 2004 Domestic Violence Action Plan for Ontario (DVAP) and the 2011 Ontario Sexual Violence Action Plan (SVAP). While I applaud the effort of all of those involved in creation and implementation of these plans, there are a number of issues that still need to be addressed.

The first example of these issues is the provincial “Strategic Framework to End Violence against Aboriginal Women” for 2007-2010. Initially developed by the Ontario Native Women’s Association (ONWA) and the Ontario Federation of Indian Friendship Centres (OFIFC), this framework has been largely neglected. The final “report card,” available on the Ontario Association of Interval and Transition Houses website, gave the project an overall failing grade, due to the limited number of even minor developments. As it stands, it is estimated that between 75 and 90 per cent of Aboriginal women are battered in some northern Ontario communities and Aboriginal women are eight times more likely to be killed by their partners than non-Aboriginal women, showing that there is a pressing need for action in these areas.

As well, while the DVAP review states that “every woman has the right to access programs and services in the VAW [violence against women] system,” undocumented women currently residing in Canada are currently unable to report rape, since the submission of such a report signals their illegal presence in the country and can get them deported. These are just a couple of examples of the many issues that still need to be addressed by provincial government.

The main advocate in the fight to end violence against women is the “Step it Up!” campaign. Started in June 2006 by over 36 different Ontario groups, including women’s centers, rape crisis centers, shelters, community groups, women’s advocacy networks and second stage housing programs, “Step it Up!” published its own “platform” in 2007, which has been updated for the current election. The platform includes a list of items which they felt should be incorporated into the political parties’ platforms in order to end violence against women, including everything from the creation of a Sexual Violence Action Plan and mandatory anti-racism and anti-oppression training for the public sector, to increases in social assistance rates, childcare and crisis shelter funding.

“Step it Up!” met with representatives of each of the main parties and presented them their platform. Thus far, the campaign has received responses from only two parties: the Liberal party and the New Democratic party. It is not only disconcerting that all political parties didn’t respond but also troubling that the ones that did failed to provide any substantive policies to address the issue.

Violence against women is an issue that calls for immediate attention from our province’s government, especially given our current financial situation. Crisis calls in Canada have increased almost 15 per cent and shelters are overflowing with women and children leaving abusive situations, with the shelters having to turn away 44 per cent more individuals in 2010 than 2007 due to lack of space. This confirms past research which has found a rise in occurrences of violence against women during tough economic times. As such, we must call on the provincial government to take the necessary steps immediately to protect all women, especially those who already find themselves at risk. Step it up, Ontario.

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