Ending The Silence: Reimagining Cross-sectoral Responsive Support for Gender-Based Violence Survivors

The third and final event in the Ending the Silence webinar series, held on March 4, 2021, was jointly hosted by NSA and OCASI, and it focused on reimagining cross-sectoral responsive support for gender-based violence (GBV) survivors.

People don’t trust the system as it systematically fails them

The discussion primarily centred around reflections on existing structural gaps and needs in the GBV sector, panelists diving deep in to take stock of factors that had so easily exposed the fragilities in the GBV ecosystem during this time of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

All the speakers had an in-depth understanding of the sector, including from a historical perspective. Further, having been committed activists for long years, many being survivors too;, they had been working tirelessly to create gains to eliminate gender-based violence, and to facilitate real change in the lives of GBV survivors, especially racialized women impacted by various forms of gendered violence. Second, all panelists agreed that only incremental changes have happened in the last thirty years, much progress being surface level and mere tokenism. Deep systemic root causes had led to this exacerbated GBV situation during the time of COVID-19.

One of the main reasons highlighted as being responsible for this current situation was the absence of core funding for agencies working in the GBV sector; at the root of this gap being the lack of focus and political will to address this status quo scenario. When funding is disbursed project-wise, there is obviously little room to build momentum for sustained work, and the ability to continuously build upon the work already done and consolidate gains achieved so far is diminished. Such a funding model also creates a competitive environment where agencies find it hard to work as partners and collaborators, unable to trust each other as allies working towards the shared goal of supporting survivors. This is a missed opportunity for a collective community approach.

Since there isn’t a core stability through funding for case management – even for organizations that have for long years demonstrated their experience, expertise and commitment to the sector – the prevention side of the GBV spectrum suffers. This is reflected in programming coming from a reactive place, in response to acute and inflammatory situations; and an inability to focus on education, and building long-term community relationships and resources that may provide sustainable support to women impacted by GBV, using a long-term approach. 

Another important theme that came up repeatedly in the discussion,, was the lack of institutional understanding (and application) of an intersectional approach to address GBV.  On the ground, while carrying out work in the GBV sector, this translates as lack of alignment and coordination between practices and processes within different sectors; and this also leads to prejudicial treatment of survivors. Blessings spoke about the need for a collaborative survivor-centric approach (not system-centred) to prevent secondary victimization of survivors so they don’t end up being compelled to narrate their traumatic story again and again, when they go to the shelter, and to the police, and then to the hospital, and on and on.

Jasmine pointed to systemic shortcomings, emphasizing the lack of prioritization of GBV by policy makers. By employing a race and gender neutral approach to GBV while formulating public policy, and by not listening to advocacy bodies that have been working with women and girls, and with survivors, they have ignored the fact that GBV intersects with other intractable structural issues like poverty, income inequality, inadequate housing, residency status in Canada, to name a few central determinants of marginalization, she highlighted.

Jessica, speaking in the context of a project on interventions in intimate partner violence (IPV), highlighted the lack of robust standards of practice across the board among organizations working in the GBV sector. These negative histories of relationships, and power dynamics, have led to an absence of mutual trust on the part of organizations, and reluctance to work together.

Arezoo spoke of the experiential perspective in GBV, highlighting that many women working in the sector come with lived experience of gendered violence, and of experience of work in the community-based sector. They carry within them a nuanced understanding of the problems and the solutions. From such an organic position, they see clearly that social determinants of health are important considerations, as is the need for holistic responses and strategic foresight for creating good solutions.

`How many more such consultations do we need’ was the tired refrain that set the tone for the panel. The discussion pointed to the flawed and complex model of change that is constructed so, in a way by-design. It does not contain accountability mechanisms that can ensure compliance, and it waits for the slow trickle-down effect that often does not meet survivors’ nuanced needs. Such a model is also lacking in cultural sensitivity and fails to support women who just want the abuse to stop. They don’t want to be forced to call the police in an emergency situation, and they don’t want to leave their kids and their homes; they fear they may be putting themselves into further danger by their actions. 

Panelists were emphatic about the need for a comprehensive integrated approach that is sensitive to the lived experiences of racialized communities, that is respectful and consistent with regard to the terminology being used-for instance, the issue of languaging- to describe survivors. The ability of language (`survivor’ versus `victim’) to alienate and criminalise women impacted by GBV  was mentioned, as was the need for consistency in its use across sectors.

All in all, an important conversation to close the GBV series, with a clarion call for action that is survivor-centric, multifaceted and inter-sectoral, contextualized in an integrated framework, with understanding of intersectionality and accountability baked into it. Panelists insisted that robust processes and practices must be part of policy making if the objective is to create actionable solutions that can seriously address a complex multilayered issue like gender based violence.

Authors: Alka Kumar is the manager of research and policy at the Newcomer Students’ Association.

A recording of the webinar can be watched below.

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