"Violence against women is a violation of the most basic human rights," Prime Minster Justin Trudeau reflected. I would like to highlight two Canadian women who have faced tremendous tragedy in their lives, yet have pulled them together and are inspiring us all to embrace better ideals in our citizenship.
To everyone around me, it looked like our family had it all. The truth was that I lived in a house that was filthy and piled high with debris and animal waste. I was 11years old when my father began to sexually abuse me. I had become accustomed to keeping so many secrets by then that I just added this one to the list. I hoped the abuse would stop. I was terrified and lonely. I am living proof that it takes a community to lift a person up. The day I left my abusive family home was the day I stepped into uncertainty and poverty.
When women are then forced to face homelessness and poverty after fleeing abuse, desperate behaviours are often the result. Suicide attempts, devaluation of self-worth and comparisons to others cause untold pain and suffering, and serve to continue the cycle of struggle with mental health.
When mothers are abused their children are also significantly impacted. The abuse ripple-effect is far reaching. Children who witness their mother's abuse can experience learning challenges, behavioural and mental health issues and these long-term effects can extend far into adulthood. The Interval House study also showed the majority of Canadians do not believe that a woman should stay in an abusive relationship for the sake of the children. It is a positive shift that so many Canadians support mothers leaving an abusive relationship, rather than insisting on keeping the family unit intact no matter what.
The Internet is without a doubt one of the greatest innovations of our time. It, along with social media, has allowed us to connect with loved ones and like-minded people. However, it has also created a climate where humiliation, trolling, and cyberbullying are as easy as standing on a virtual soap-box and snidely tapping a few keystrokes for the world to see. We each need to play our part in acting with empathy and compassion.
Abuse is always the responsibility of the abuser. Always. If we want to significantly change attitudes and feel optimistic about progress then we need to hear people saying loudly that there is no action or choice by a victim that can ever justify abuse. Not if she cheats on him, if she's a bad cook, if she nags, if she hates his mother, if she is passive, if she has different priorities, if she's stressed out, if she doesn't feel like sex, if she likes to spend, if she's a poor communicator, if she hates mopping the floor or if she forgets his birthday.
Why, in a time when we have more information available to us than ever, when WHO member states have adopted "a historic" resolution to address violence against women and girls, and when consent is being introduced into school curricula in some Canadian provinces, does violence against women still remain largely hidden?
I have spent most of my 20s in emotionally abusive relationships. Until a year ago, I thought I was the worst kind of damaged goods, a girl who could only love men who hurt her. I didn't want to talk about my experiences because I thought that my kind of pain was self-inflicted. If I was stupid enough to stay, I deserved it.
Today is the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, which kicks off 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence. This year has seen an explosion of women speaking out against abuse and public discussion about the crisis of violence against women. But in every other way, nothing much has changed.
After 18 years of social work with survivors of gender violence and offenders, you start to notice a few patterns -- especially with how abusers rationalize how they treat women. They have figured out the rules of the game and take comfort in the ultimate insurance policy: that society protects men who beat and violate women.