december 6: day of remembrance and action on violence against women

In Canada, December 6 is a National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence against Women.

On this day in 1989, 14 women were murdered at l'École Polytechnique de Montréal. They were killed because they were women.

On December 10, 2007, Aqsa Parvez was murdered. Aqsa was a teenager who lived in Mississauga, where I live. At the age of 16, she was strangled to death by her father. Because Aqsa's parents were originally from Pakistan, and because her father's justification for killing her may have involved her choice not to wear a hijab, many Canadians used the incident as an excuse to rail against multiculturalism and immigration.

They missed the point. Aqsa Parvez was a victim of femicide. Her ethnic background and her parents' status as immigrants are irrelevant. Femicide happens in families of every background and description. It cuts across all lines of race, class, education and ethnicity. Here are some thoughts on Aqsa Parvez, and how we think about what happened to her, from Rabble.
The memory of Aqsa Parvez and the future of feminism

by Sarah Ghabrial

On December 10 of last year, a young Toronto woman was murdered in her home by her father.

The force of this tragedy was deepened by details of the violence of her early death and by the dozens of photos that flooded print media, television, blogs and facebook groups of her beaming adolescent face. It soon emerged that the murder victim, Aqsa Parvez, born in Canada of Pakistani parents, had suffered abuse by her father for years, and that when he realized his inability to control her movement and choices, he decided instead to end her life.

It is for reasons just like these that over 200 Canadian women lose their lives every year to domestic violence (and this figure pertains only to solved cases of spousal homicide). Aqsa's story is a profoundly Canadian one, disturbingly ordinary. One might expect that, like countless similar cases, Aqsa's murder would be casually buried beneath other stories deemed more 'news-worthy.' Instead, her case crowned headlines for weeks, and fed an endless loop of debate and controversy over the state of 'multiculturalism' in Canada.

Genuine compassion or inquisitiveness regarding Aqsa's story dissipated all too quickly in the ensuing frenzy over the Canadian 'minority question.' The day after Aqsa's story broke, CityNews brandished a headline describing the "tradition and terror" behind the tragedy. A National Post columnist seeking to explain "the meaning of Aqsa Parvez" was quick to describe her death as an "honour killing" and elaborated on the "loathsome and barbaric" nature of the culture from which, according to this versions of the narrative, she was desperate to escape.

There is no doubt that Aqsa was desperate to escape - from her abusive home and tyrannical father. But as a young woman of colour, living at dangerous intersections of race and gender, belonging and exclusion, her options for escape were sadly limited. Women like Aqsa matter little in the grand scheme of things - until their deaths provide convenient grounds on which to mount xenophobic vitriol against Canada's dark Others.

Helen Yohannes, an esteemed Eritrean spoken word artist and Coordinator for the Respect in Action Youth Program at METRAC, described her concern over this widespread backlash, and the failure to instead step back and examine "domestic and gender-based violence, and the responsibility of schools, governments and communities to combat violence against young women of colour." Such questions, she remarks, were never even raised.

Gender-based violence, says Yohannes, "is the outcome of patriarchy, racism, sexism, Islamophobia, poverty and homophobia. Unless all of these issues are properly acknowledged, the cycle of violence against women and children will continue."

This week marks December 6, the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. The issue became highlighted nearly 20 years ago, when a deranged anti-feminist walked into the École Polytechnique in Montreal and selected and then shot down 14 young women. In memory of these young women, December 6 and the days preceding it remain a time to reflect on gender-based violence in Canada and to consider ways to prevent it.

Violence against women is a problem so immense that it is almost lost (and too often forgotten) for its pervasiveness. No wonder, since solutions are still so narrowly devised. In the wake of the Montreal Massacre, any progress made in confronting gender-based violence is still blunted by failures to recognize the different kinds of systemic oppression, especially racism and poverty, that force and keep women in situations of increased exposure to violence.

In Canada, there exists a strange paradox: a tendency to view women of colour and 'immigrant' women - especially Muslim women - as particularly weak and vulnerable, due to the supposedly more intrinsic patriarchy of 'their' cultures; and a concurrent, stubborn unwillingness in our legal, emergency response and, most importantly, education systems to put forward solutions that reach out to women in these positions, rather than further marginalize them. [Read more here.]

Here's something I wrote last summer, after I was accused of "demonizing men" by writing about violence against women.
In Canada:

  • In 88% of all violent incidents, males are identified as the suspects; half of all incidents involve a male perpetrator and a female victim.

  • Women are almost 8 times more likely to be victimized by a spouse than are men.

  • 30% of women currently or previously married have experienced at least one incident of physical or sexual violence at the hands of a marital partner.

  • 21% of women abused by a marital partner were assaulted during pregnancy; 40% of these women stated that the abuse began during their pregnancy.

  • In the US:

  • Estimates range from 960,000 incidents of violence against a current or former spouse, boyfriend, or girlfriend per year to three million women who are physically abused by their husband or boyfriend per year.

  • Nearly one-third of American women (31 percent) report being physically or sexually abused by a husband or boyfriend at some point in their lives, according to a 1998 Commonwealth Fund survey.

  • Nearly 25 percent of American women report being raped and/or physically assaulted by a current or former spouse, cohabiting partner, or date at some time in their lifetime, according to the National Violence Against Women Survey, conducted from November 1995 to May 1996.

  • Thirty percent of Americans say they know a woman who has been physically abused by her husband or boyfriend in the past year.

  • Intimate partner violence is primarily a crime against women. In 2001, women accounted for 85 percent of the victims of intimate partner violence (588,490 total) and men accounted for approximately 15 percent of the victims (103,220 total).

  • While women are less likely than men to be victims of violent crimes overall, women are five to eight times more likely than men to be victimized by an intimate partner.

  • As many as 324,000 women each year experience intimate partner violence during their pregnancy.

  • Male violence against women does much more damage than female violence against men; women are much more likely to be injured than men.

  • On average, more than three women are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends in this country every day. In 2000, 1,247 women were killed by an intimate partner. The same year, 440 men were killed by an intimate partner.

  • Women are much more likely than men to be killed by an intimate partner. In 2000, intimate partner homicides accounted for 33.5 percent of the murders of women and less than four percent of the murders of men.

  • Pregnant and recently pregnant women are more likely to be victims of homicide than to die of any other cause, and evidence exists that a significant proportion of all female homicide victims are killed by their intimate partners.

  • Research suggests that injury related deaths, including homicide and suicide, account for approximately one-third of all maternal mortality cases, while medical reasons make up the rest. But, homicide is the leading cause of death overall for pregnant women, followed by cancer, acute and chronic respiratory conditions, motor vehicle collisions and drug overdose, peripartum and postpartum cardiomyopthy, and suicide.

    Some thoughts.

    Violence in relationships is always wrong. Relationship violence occurs in gay male relationships, lesbian relationships, and heterosexual relationships, with both men and women as perpetrator and victim. In every case, it is equally wrong. However, the most common power dynamic of relationship violence by far is the male perpetrator/female victim. That is by percentage, not raw numbers.

    This is not because men are evil.

    This is because the world we live in defines masculinity in myriad unhealthy and dangerous ways.

    It's because we live in an extremely violent world, in which most people do not learn healthy methods, and are not given appropriate tools, to deal with frustration, anger, and hurt, and instead learn to cope with pain by lashing out violently.

    It's because too many relationships are grossly unequal in power.

    It's because women often feel powerless in relationships with men.

    It's because too many boys see their fathers hit their mothers, and too many girls see their mothers get hit.

    It's because so many people's feelings of self-worth are egg-shell thin, causing a need to dominate others, or causing them to accept violence as a part of life, or to believe they deserve it.

    It's because girls and women learn to direct anger against themselves - leading to depression, low self-esteem, alcoholism, eating disorders, suicide - while boys and men learn to direct anger against others.

    It's because most men are bigger and stronger than their female partners.

    It's because of many things. It's not because men are evil.

    Most rapists are men, but not all men are rapists. Every man is a potential rapist - and every man is a potential force against rape. Every human is a potential murderer - and each of us is a potential force for life and hope.

    Through the women's movement - through feminism - we have come a long, long way from the days when violence at home was a shameful secret. After decades of activism and advocacy, we now see relationship and domestic violence acknowledged and faced openly. This alone is a sea change.

    But how can women stop violence against women when they do not cause it? Men are an obvious, essential and necessary part of the solution.

    Men are standing up against violence in their own lives. And men are reaching out to help others do the same.

    Here, too, change has been enormous. When I was a child, this would have been impossible. Who could ever have imagined a famous person in a professional sport choosing domestic violence as his cause and foundation? Saying, openly, in public, I saw this in my own home, and I want to help stop it.

    Men who think talking about domestic violence in real terms "demonizes" men are missing an opportunity to become part of the solution - to remake the world - to become more fully human.

    But no matter. We will march on without you.

  • The Canadian Labour Congress has some ideas of what we can do to heal and to move forward, and how social policy can be part of the solution.


    Cornelia said...

    It's not that every man is a potential offender but every sexist man. Of course the latter can and do profit from being physically stronger but it's also due to patriarchy, gender role stereotyping and gender specific socialization. And unfortunately, so many women are still bullied and intimidated by gender specific socialization and a lot of sexist people to put up with abusive relationships, domestic violence etc. - That makes it way harder for them to get out and seek support and redress and often causes them to stay very long!

    Cornelia said...

    Of course it's also due to not enough enlightenment and information about their rights. It's often still quite hard to find out about what can be done in the first place, unfortunately! More enlightenment and information on legal possibilities, support possibilities, women's human rights awareness and also offender strategies would be extremely beneficial and important!!!