Take Action: Holistic Policies Empower Women Fleeing Violence
For more than 30 years, advocates in Canada have worked to develop services for women fleeing violence. Ann Decter, YWCA Canada’s Director of Advocacy and Public Policy explains how government policies can protect women.
As the nation’s largest single provider of shelter services, YWCA Canada initiated the “Beyond Shelter Walls” project to research policies and programmes that ensure women leaving shelter have safe options rather than facing a choice between poverty and a return to abuse.
Our system of violence against women (VAW) shelters offers safety and support to 100,000 women and children annually. Shelters are the first and most immediate response for women at risk, but they are only temporary. Women need to live safely beyond shelter.
The Beyond Shelter Walls project revealed the paramount need for coordinated policies across sectors at all levels of government and in all jurisdictions. Poverty, housing and homelessness, the legal system, conditions of life in northern Canada, and exclusion and marginalisation are all factors that can impact women as they leave shelter and threaten the success of their transition to community. Policy coordination requires a holistic approach grounded in women’s lived realities.
“We can’t just keep on looking at housing as a separate and discrete issue for women,” said one research participant, “we have to look at things like income support for women. We have to look at issues for women living in marginalised communities. We have to look at policing issues. We have to look at employment, at job re-training, at childcare – the whole picture. We can’t continue approaching post-abuse issues in a piecemeal fashion.”
Coordinated Policies Needed
The research showed the need for comprehensive policies like a national poverty reduction strategy and a national housing strategy that includes emergency, second-stage, and permanent housing. Key legal reforms would ensure that all women have legal representation for proceedings and that violence is always taken into account when determining custody and access.
Women in Canada’s north do not have adequate access to shelter, police protection, and permanent housing. Policies must reduce the isolation and lack of infrastructure in Canada’s north and include self-determined housing strategies for Inuit, First Nations, Métis and urban Aboriginal women.
Shelters must become fully accessible for women with disabilities, and for women who speak different languages. Women arriving in Canada need to know their legal rights and the VAW services available to them.
Detailed policy recommendations include a Women’s Advocate to guide each woman through services and systems, mandatory education on VAW as part of professional training for all professions working with women fleeing violence, and embedding violence awareness and prevention programmes in school curricula across the country.
The changes needed are extensive and will require the sharing of policy and programme successes as well as focused leadership from the national government. With advocates from across the country, YWCA Canada is working to achieve these essential reforms.