Senator Salma Ataullahjan
16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence
Honourable senators, today I would like to speak to you about the invisible pandemic of gender-based violence. More specifically, I will highlight the negative impact our ongoing emergency health crisis is having on domestic violence.
November 25, the first day of 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, was also the thirty-fourth birthday of Audrey Hopkinson, a mother of two from Brockville, Ontario. Sadly, for the first time last week, Audrey’s family and friends observed her birthday without her. The beloved nurse who worked at Brockville General Hospital was tragically murdered, along with her unborn child. Audrey’s partner took her life, followed by his own, last April, a few weeks after the pandemic lockdown.
Audrey Hopkinson’s murder is unfortunately not an isolated case. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated cases of gender-based violence in Canadian households by further isolating victims of domestic abuse. Oxfam Canada notes that the crisis and emergency situations worsen women’s vulnerability to violence. Audrey Hopkinson’s story is indeed proof of this.
In Canada, troubling numbers of domestic abuse cases are reported. A Vancouver crisis line reported a 300% rise in calls due to isolation faced during the pandemic. Shelters cannot keep up with the spike in demand due to the division of resources between COVID-19 health concerns and the increasing level of violence against women.
In this province, the Ontario Association of Interval and Transition Houses reported that 20% of their 70 shelters have had an increase in calls over the course of the pandemic. Meanwhile, York Regional Police noticed a 22% increase.
Women are at a much higher risk of experiencing violence due to home isolation. Indeed, lockdowns allow perpetrators to control women’s movements, restrict access to support services and separate them from the safety networks of family and friends. The inescapable nature of such situations has led to the creation of a silent signal for help that has been shared across social media platforms such as TikTok and Instagram. It is clear to me that violence against women during a public health emergency needs to be prioritized.
Honourable senators, let us do our part as parliamentarians by including services that address gender-based violence wherever possible in government policy. Victimized women and girls were living in lockdown long before the pandemic began. During the remainder of the 16 Days of Activism, and every other day after, let us continue to speak out against gender-based violence because lives depend on it. Thank you.
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