The United Nations defines violence against women as:

” Any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.”  United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women (1993)

This violence can include: (adapted from: Spousal Abuse: A fact sheet from the Department of Justice Canada, 2001)

  • Physical Abuse: Slapping, choking, or punching her.  Using hands as weapons.  Threatening her with a knife or gun.  Committing murder.
  • Sexual Abuse:  Using threats, intimidation, or physical force to force her into unwanted sexual acts.
  • Emotional or Verbal Abuse: Making degrading comments about her body or behaviour.  Forcing her to commit degrading acts.  Confining her to the house.  Destroying her possessions.  Threatening to kill her or the children.  Threatening to commit suicide.
  • Financial Abuse: Stealing or controlling her money or valuables (of particular concern to older women).  Forcing her to work.  Denying her the right to work.
  • Spiritual Abuse: Using her religious or spiritual beliefs to manipulate, dominate, and control her.
  • Criminal Harassment/Stalking: Following her or watching her in a persistent, malicious, and unwanted manner.  Invading her privacy in a way that threatens her personal safety.

In our society, gender inequality is visible in many areas, including politics, religion, media, cultural norms, and the workplace.  Both men and women receive many messages – both blatant and covert – that men are more important than women.  In this context, it becomes easier for a man to believe that he has the right to be in charge and to control a woman, even if it takes violence.  This is not only wrong, it’s against the law.

Domestic abuse is often a gradual process, with the frequency of assaults and seriousness of the violence slowly escalating over time.  Since abusers often express deep remorse and promise to change, it can take years for women to admit that the violence will never stop and the relationship is unsalvageable.  In the meantime, the long-term experience of being abused can destroy women’s self-confidence, making it more difficult to believe they deserve better treatment, can find the courage to leave, or can manage on their own.

Women often stay because the abuser has threatened to kill them if they leave, or to kill himself, or to kill the children.

Women believe these threats for good reason – the most dangerous time for an abused woman is when she attempts to leave her abuser.  (Measuring Violence Against Women: Statistical Trends 2006, p. 38).  About 25% of all women who are murdered by their spouse had left the relationship.  (Family Violence in Canada: A Statistical Profile 2010, p. 33).  In one study, half of the murdered women were killed within two months of leaving the relationship (Measuring Violence Against Women: Statistical Trends 2006, p. 38).  Some women stay because the abuser has threatened to harm or kill a household pet.  In one study, over 60% of women living in an emergency shelter had their pet or their children’s pet harmed and/or killed by an abusive partner (Family Violence Assisted Project, Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals).

Women sometimes stay because they are financially dependent on their partner.  Over 1.22 million Canadian women live in poverty, along with their children.  Women who leave a partner to raise children on their own are more than five times likely to be poor than if they had stayed (Canadian women on their own are poorest of the poor, Monica Townson, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternative, Sept. 8, 2009).

Some women stay because they have strong beliefs about keeping family together and she may feel that her children will be better off if she stays.  Sometimes relatives or in-laws blame the woman for the violence and insist she stay.  Women may also stay because they have a belief that her partner will change and that this is only temporary.  Some women do not have confidence in their own decision-making power.  Oftentimes, women will face barriers that further isolate them such as: disability, age, culture, language or living in a remote area.

Can violence against women ever be stopped?

Although some people think violence against women is not very serious or a ‘private’ matter, these attitudes can be changed.  Drinking and driving was once treated almost as a joke, but thanks to strong advocacy campaigns, it is no longer socially acceptable and is subject to serious criminal penalties.  In the same way, public education, violence prevention programs, and a strong criminal justice response can bring about an end to violence against women in Canada.

Violence prevention works.  Research shows that high school violence prevention programs are highly effective.  Students experience long-term benefits such as better dating relationships, the ability to recognize and leave an unhealthy relationship, and increased self-confidence, assertiveness, and leadership (for more information, read Healthy Relationships report available on the website: www.canadianwomen.org).

*Much of this information has been taken from the Canadian Women’s Foundation, FACT SHEET, Ending violence against women.