Collectively, we can make change: our responsibilities on the path from violence to empowerment

By Sarah Bonner-Proulx 

It’s been over thirty years since the murder of fourteen young women at Ecole Polytechnique Montréal – an act of violent misogyny that continues to be felt and mourned across the country. Tomorrow is the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women, we come together to honour the victims of what is referred to as the ‘Montreal Massacre’ and other femicide victims. But as distant as 1989 may seem, the stark reality is that acts of violence against women, girls, 2spirit and 2SLGBTTQ+ folks, is far from being history. 

In this year alone, we have seen numerous blatant examples of gender-based violence perpetuated both locally and globally. From the US Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v Wade – the longstanding legal precedent affirming the constitutional right to abortion – to the upholding of regressive legislation that continues to criminalize Sex Work in Canada, leading to higher levels of violence faced by sex workers. Similarly, we have witnessed Hockey Canada’s mishandling of sexual assault investigations and the undercurrent of entitlement and misogyny that continues to plague organized sport. 

Often overlooked are the more subtle forms of violence that frequently happen and yet have devasting consequences. The reality is that gender-based violence extends far beyond physical and emotional abuse – it is also born from policy decisions that negatively and disproportionately impact women, girls, and non-binary people. Throughout Covid-19 we saw these existing inequalities highlighted and exacerbated across the globe, from job loss to decreased access to reproductive and maternal health care, to increased sexual exploitation and domestic violence. 

Gender-based violence also takes the form of economic cuts such as underfunding childcare, slashing healthcare funding and raising taxes on essential goods. Even prior to Covid-19, women tended to earn less, have fewer savings, and have less access to social protections. Women are also more likely to be burdened with unpaid care and domestic work, and are, therefore, often ousted from the labour force, despite making up the majority of single-parent households. 

These austere economic policy decisions that governments peddle continue to widen the inequality gap by limiting access to services, support and opportunities woman rely on, leaving many women and non-binary people trapped at the bottom of the economy. Regardless of the form that violence takes, one thing remains evident — a major societal shift in how we view and address gender-based violence is still desperately needed. 

The good news? Collectively, we can make a change. 

Despite the setbacks we’ve seen this year, much work continues to be done by tireless advocates, organizations, and change-makers, proof that progress can be made when we work together to achieve it. It is why this year IIWR-MB implemented a Gender-Based Analysis Plus project which focuses on researching, educating, and advocating for advancements of gender budgeting tools at the policy level that will help to address these gaps. It is also why each year on November 25th IIWR-MB takes part in the United Nations’ 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence. Progress begins with awareness, education, and honest conversations; it is only through our collective action that we can create a world where all women can lead a life free from oppression and violence – a life where the freedom of choice is not just a luxury, but an inalienable right.

Photo of Sarah-Bonner-Proulx
Image of Sarah Bonner-Proulx

Sarah Bonner-Proulx is the Vice-President of Youth and Local Initiatives for the Institute for International Women’s Rights – Manitoba and a current law student.