Women struggle in information vacuum
TheStar.com – opinion/commentary – Campaign to end violence against women stymied by lack of up-to-date information.
Sep 23 2013. By: Carol Goar
Fearing that violence against women is being systematically erased from public consciousness, female scholars, researchers and activists are scrambling to get the message out that the problem hasn’t been solved; it has just fallen off the political agenda.
To kick off the initiative, the think-tank issued a 30-page report loaded with statistics. The trouble was, most of them were years out of date. There was no indication whether domestic violence had spiked during the recession, as it normally does in tough times. There was no way of telling whether things were improving or getting worse because Statistics Canada no longer collects the numbers to allow such comparisons. There were so many extrapolations and estimates that the CCPA ended up calling the study The Gap in the Gender Gap.
“The difficulty of collecting data about violence against women has been a barrier,” said author Kate McInturff. “However, the data that do exist tell us three things very clearly: this problem is big, it comes at a high cost, and we are making little or no progress in putting a stop to it.”
This month, the Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women, based at the University of Ottawa added its voice — and evidence — to the effort.
Its 16-page fact sheet was more sharply focused than the CCPA study. But most of the findings were drawn from a 1993 federal survey of women’s safety. Statistics Canada says it was a one-time exercise, now considered “inactive.”
The figures the institute highlighted were shocking:
- 51 per cent of Canadian women experience at least one incident of sexual or physical assault in their lives.
- Women are killed by their marital partner three times as often as men.
- Approximately 600 women and children are smuggled into Canada each year for sexual exploitation.
Indeed, they did shock people 20 years ago. But in 2013, they don’t even rate a perfunctory “we’ll look into this” from political leaders.
“Despite decades of research, education, lobbying and activism, violence against women continues to be widely tolerated in Canada,” the authors concluded disconsolately.
Marion Pollack, president of the institute, said the writers would have liked to use the recession to flag the link between hardship and domestic violence. “But we were unable to find any research,” she said. “All we had was anecdotal evidence.”
Neither study received much news coverage. The Star published a brief article on McInturff’s study. The Ottawa research institute’s fact sheet went unnoticed.
It is easy to blame apathetic journalists or newsroom cutbacks or government misogyny or dwindling public interest in feminism. But the simple truth is there wasn’t much “news” in the reports. They didn’t bring to light any new trends (except reduced government spending). They didn’t show how cuts in federal and provincial services have affected women’s safety. And they didn’t provide any insight into what works — and what doesn’t — in preventing violence against women.
This problem is going to worsen as Statistics Canada keeps phasing out surveys and shifting to cheaper ways of collecting data to accommodate budgetary constraints. And it won’t affect just women. Cities, charities, anti-poverty groups and racial minorities all depend on the oxygen of information.
There are other databases on crime. The police collect statistics, but only 8 per cent of women report sexual assaults (30 per cent report spousal violence). The police produces reports on the cost of domestic violence, using medical expenditures, lost productivity, estimates for pain and suffering, but its numbers lack precision.Status of Women Canada publishes figures, but it depends on Statistics Canada to do the legwork.
The Native Women’s Association of Canada keeps a tally of missing and murdered aboriginal women, but its resources are limited. Women’s shelters, sexual assault centres (in hospitals) and food banks all keep records, but no one is collating them.
As information gets sparser, advocacy will become more difficult and less effective. Voices will be silenced. Important issues will vanish from public discourse.
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