Women taking action on violence against women
By ANGELA MARIE MACDOUGALL
About 8,000 women live, work or navigate through the Downtown Eastside, about 40 percent of the population.
Physical and sexual violence against women are reported at double that of other regions of Vancouver.
When co-ed services in the neighbourhood centre the experiences of men in their service delivery model, it can create significant and serious problems for women.
The neighbourhood has seemed, in a way, tolerant of the levels of violence against women. Many were slow to react when, in January 2011, it was revealed that several women had reported sexual violence at First United Church Shelter.
A coalition of women and women’s organizations came together to initiate several strategies aimed at women’s safety.
Throughout 2011 the “Safe Shelter, Safe Housing, Safe Services” campaign was led by Power of Women, Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre, WISH and Battered Women’s Support Services. The campaign was comprehensive. Thousands signed a petition calling for a women’s only shelter. We marched and rallied at BC Housing offices and at premier Christy Clark’s office. We held meetings with several City of Vancouver staff and Mayor Gregor Robertson, and presented twice at Vancouver city council. We also met with Rich Coleman, BC minister responsible for housing and brought our concerns to the United Church of Canada.
On the National Day of Action on Violence Against Indigenous Women in October 2011 women from the neighbourhood organized again with a march that stopped in front of First United Church Shelter. There were some tense moments as the church leadership was identified and called out for their specific inaction addressing the violence against women in their facility.
Some effective changes were made as a result of the work done by the coalition of women and women’s organizations. Changes include increases in women only shelter beds and hours of operation, and changes at First United Church Shelter including resignation of church leadership. The new leadership has committed to prioritizing women’s safety and has taken measurable action toward that end.
In February, the BC Ministry of Justice announced funding specifically to address violence against women and sexual exploitation in the Downtown Eastside. We will know the results of that funding call in April 2012.
Violence against women continues at high levels. On Monday February 27 Vancouver police department and Burnaby RCMP announced the results of an investigation of an alleged “serial” rapist who has been preying on women who do sex work in the Downtown Eastside and on Kingsway.
Living with violence and abuse is a significant factor inhibiting women’s full participation in the community and society. From my vantage point there is no more pressing social concern. Women all around the world are leading resistance movements that seek justice for all. We see that everyday in the Downtown Eastside, women warriors putting it on the line to end violence against women.
Angela Marie MacDougall has been working to end violence against girls and women for the past 23 years as a front-line worker, activist, and trainer. She is executive director at Battered Women’s Support Services.