Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Unions can help stop violence against women

On December 6, 2015, Canada marked the 26th anniversary of the most egregious case of gun mass murder Canada has ever seen - the 1989 massacre at École Polytechnique in Montreal (the Poleytechnique Massacre).

On that day, a gunman entered the École Polytechnique with the intent to do harm to women simply because they were women. The gunman separated the men from the women and killed 14 women. Fourteen others were injured before the gunman committed suicide. The motivation behind the heinous murders was the gunman’s stated hatred of feminists. Indeed, he is reported to have declared before he opened fire: “I hate feminists.”[1]

The murdered women were either engineering students or workers at the École Poleytechnique. They had bright futures that were put to an end by the hatred of the gunman. His was a crime not only against the women he murdered, it was a crime against equality and all Canadians. As stated by the President of the Quebec Women’s Federation, it was “a political crime, a crime against the advancement of women.”[2] This is clear in the fact that the gunman left behind a list of prominent feminists he intended to kill, among them was Monique Simard, a union leader.

How unions can and are helping prevent violence against women

While there have been advances in preventing violence against women since 1989, there is still a long way to go before Canada, as a nation, can claim to have achieved true gender equality, where no one has to live in fear simply on the basis of their sex.

In September, 2015, for instance, an internal government report by the Status of Women in Canada noted that Canada has not properly addressed the problem of gender-based violence, stating: "Canada has no comprehensive national strategy to address violence against women, lagging behind several comparable countries, including the U.K., Ireland, Australia and New Zealand."[3]

As disappointing as Canada’s lack of effective strategic planning to prevent violence against women is, there is hope of improvement on the horizon. Unions around the world, which have long been at the forefront of campaigns for pay equity and the prevention of workplace violence and harassment, are actively working to prevent violence against women.

Australia is a case in point. Organized labour in Australia, in conjunction with the University of New South Wales, previously conducted a survey on workplace and domestic violence. The result of the Australian survey led to vast improvements for women, “producing laws giving over one million Australian workers domestic and family violence workplace benefits, including dedicated paid leave, protection from adverse action and flexible work arrangements.” Likewise, the Canada Labour Congress (CLC), along with the University of Western Ontario, conducted a similar survey. The survey found that 1 in 3 workers has experienced domestic violence, with 80% of these victims reporting that it negatively affected their work performance. And this violence didn’t just happen at home, 50% of the victims reported that it occurred at or near the workplace.[4]

As a result, organized labour in Canada is uniquely positioned to effect meaningful change, and the CLC and the labour movement generally is primed to lobby the government for changes and legislation that will improve the lives of women workers and all workers. 

Individual unions can also create improvements by: “negotiating workplace solutions like paid leaves, safety planning and women’s advocate programs, by lobbying for improved health and safety legislation, and providing training for stewards and other union representatives.”[5]

In the end, the good news is that not only have matters improved since 1989, matters are primed to improve exponentially in the future.

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