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The Case for a National Action Plan on Violence Against Women in Canada


I Introduction
II A National Action Plan
III Conclusion
IV Resources

-submitted by Pam Kapoor

I Introduction

In a report released 8 October 2013 – The Case for a National Action Plan on Violence Against Women in Canada – the Canadian Network of Women’s Shelters & Transition Houses (the Network) outlines gaps between policies and legislation in Canada related to violence against women (VAW).

The Network is a young coalition of 12 provincial and territorial shelter networks representing over 350 shelters across Canada. It works as a unified voice to collaborate, educate, and innovate for systemic change that ends violence against women, making Canada a model for safety in the world. All of the Network’s members supported the new report.

II A National Action Plan

A National Action Plan (NAP) is what the Network considers the next critical step in addressing the ongoing problem of VAW, citing it is needed urgently in order to ensure:

consistency across and within jurisdictions in policies and legislation that address VAW
shared understanding of the root causes of VAW
consistent approaches to prevention of and responses to VAW
collective pursuit of the most appropriate solutions
coordinated, clear, and effective services and systems for survivors of VAW that respect and respond to diversity

Funded by the Canadian Women’s Foundation (CWF), this research was led by Dr. Holly Johnson, a leading authority on systemic responses to VAW. Follow-up on the report is part of the Network’s “Mapping VAW Policy and Opportunities Project” (MVP).

In 2010, there were 593 shelters for women survivors of abuse and their children operating in Canada with a total of 11,461 beds. That’s the kind of undiminishing reality that prompted the Network to look at a legislative strategy that would supplement existing efforts to improve VAW support and services.
According to the report, current responses to VAW in Canada are largely fragmented, often inaccessible, and can work to impede rather than improve women’s safety.

In addition to comprehensively reviewing policies, legislation, and provincial/territorial action plans relevant to VAW, the report looks at protection and support for survivors, response of legal systems and the law, housing, social justice, research/measurements, and VAW prevention.

Input was sought from frontline personnel whose experience of various VAW policy/legislation on behalf of particular constituencies lends valuable insight to the study. Perspectives consulted include rural/remote, women with disabilities, urban Aboriginal women, Aboriginal women on-reserve, immigrant/linguistic minority women, law enforcement, The North, and Ontario (because of its domestic violence and sexual violence action plans, among other recent government initiatives).

Researchers found the federal government does not identify women – as a singular demographic – as an at-risk population in terms of intimate partner violence or sexual violence which impedes progress on VAW and its root causes.

“The Canadian federal government is taking an increasingly gender-neutral approach to women’s safety and by doing so, fails to consider violence in the context of gender inequality compounded by other social inequalities,” says the report’s lead researcher, Professor Holly Johnson. “The result is a perilous absence of robust policies needed to effectively address root causes of VAW.”

The report arrived at the following key conclusions:

The federal government does not identify women (as a singular demographic) as an at-risk population in terms of intimate partner violence or sexual violence; women and girls are identified as most at risk of trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation
Focus at the federal level is on gender-neutral victims of crime and family violence
VAW is not defined comprehensively across federal and provincial/territorial policy
Most provinces/territories recognize gendered violence within an historical context of gender inequality complicated by other social inequalities
There are few evaluations of what works to prevent VAW, change attitudes and behaviour, and respond effectively
Legal systems across Canada are costly, inaccessible, fragmented, and must be improved in order to better address VAW and benefit survivors
Canada's affordable housing deficit is felt most acutely by women leaving violent partners or emergency shelters and especially by women who are poor, Aboriginal, living with a disability, or living in rural/remote areas
At the federal level, several mainstay initiatives offering support to survivors of VAW within the context of general victims' services maintain gender neutrality; none regards VAW through a lens of human rights or women's equality
Victims' services programs within provincial/territorial Departments of Justice are gender neutral and framed within a "victims of crime" rather than a "violence against women" perspective
Women's safety is compromised by government under-funding of social services, social housing, and supports for women affected by violence; the VAW sector requires an investment of training and resources to better respond to diverse groups of women and those with complex needs
A change in orientation is needed for service provision to Aboriginal women: the short-term crisis intervention model that dominates Western therapeutic approaches should be replaced with a long-term holistic approach in Aboriginal shelters
There is an over-reliance on the criminal justice system to respond to domestic violence and insufficient attention to the reforms needed to ensure a more just response to survivors of sexual violence who face systemic discrimination
Strict interpretation of pro-charging policies has resulted in dual charging, where both women and men are charged
A holistic continuum of care involving outreach services and safe affordable housing is needed for women leaving shelters
Mental health, family law, and child protection services often fail to protect women and children in Canada

III Conclusion

Practitioners and experts recognize that services alone will not bring an end to VAW. In addition to shelters across the country that support the need for a National Action Plan, such notable organizations as YWCA Canada, Oxfam Canada, Native Women’s Association of Canada, Ontario Association of Interval & Transition Houses, and the Canadian Labour Congresshave come out publicly in favour of such a move, as well as several elected officials.

The Network has begun collaborating with a range of partners to develop a viable template for a National Action Plan on VAW in Canada and to advocate for its implementation per guidelines of two United Nations documents: the Handbook for Legislation on Violence Against Women (2010) and the Handbook for National Action Plans on Violence Against Women (2012).

The Network will want said National Action Plan to include new commitments – including financial – as well as clear targets and effective mechanisms for monitoring, evaluation and data collection.

“Such an important, progressive Plan on VAW in Canada is long overdue,” says Lise Martin, the Network’s Executive Director. “It will be crucial that the insight and knowledge of shelters and shelter workers are at the heart of such a Plan.”

The full report can be downloaded at

Anyone interested in knowing more or getting involved is invited to contact the Network’s executive director, Lise Martin, at or 613-680-5119.

IV Resources

Canadian Network of Women’s Shelters & Transition Houses' website includes news, resources and project information at

The Case for a National Action Plan on Violence Against Women in Canada report can be downloaded at

Ontario Association of Interval & Transition Houses is online at

Domestic Violence Action Plan for Ontario can be downloaded from

Ontario’s Sexual Violence Action Plan is online at