After decades of talk, national action plan to protect women finally in the works

Groups working to end gender-based violence say a recent agreement among status of women ministers from across Canada to develop a national action plan to end gender-based violence is an important step forward. 

The agreement, reached on Jan. 22, with a framework due at the end of March, aims to include new programs and laws to protect women wherever they live in Canada.

“It’s definitely a tight timeline, but people have been consulted extensively,” said Lise Martin, executive director of Women’s Shelters Canada, one of the organizations helping develop part of the framework. “We need to get rolling with it.”

It’s just a question of doing it. The levels of services and protection available to women should not depend on their postal codes.– Lise Martin, Women’s Shelters Canada

When it comes to protecting women from violence, there’s currently a variety of rules and laws in different parts of the country.

That can come with pitfalls: For instance, protection orders too often fail to follow women from province to province, said Martin. 

“We often talk about these systems [changing] as if it’s something so complicated, and at a number of levels it isn’t. It’s just a question of doing it. The levels of services and protection available to women should not depend on their postal codes,” she said. 

Lise Martin, executive director of Women’s Shelters Canada, says her group is now helping develop a framework for a national action plan to protect women from violence. (Mathieu Theriault/CBC)

Long time coming

According to Women and Gender Equality Minister Maryam Monsef, a national action plan has been a long time coming. 

“After 38 years of this table coming together, we have reached agreement with every jurisdiction to move forward together on a plan to better support survivors and their families, and to work to prevent gender-based violence from happening in the first place,” said Monsef.  

Both politicians and advocates say the forced isolation due to COVID-19 has brought a new urgency to their work.

“Because of COVID, we had to find new ways to fund front-line organizations providing support, and we decided to work with our partners in provinces and territories. So we picked up the phones and called them and said, ‘You know what? Let’s start collaborating on emergency COVID supports for survivors and victims,'” said Monsef.

Maryam Monsef is the federal minister for women and gender equality. (CBC)

Some clear areas of consensus have already emerged, including the need for this to be a 10-year plan, said Monsef, who noted the problem of gender-based violence has existed for centuries, and undoing its “deep-rooted causes” will take time.

“The core of this plan has to be Black, Indigenous, racialized folks, those with disabilities and exceptionalities, LGBTQ2 folks, those living in rural communities,” said Monsef.

Ottawa Morning5:56Government prepares to build national plan to end gender-based violence

The decision is being applauded by groups working to end gender-based violence. More on the vision and impact of this strategy from one of the organizations helping develop the framework. 5:56

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