Halifax Regional Meeting
(July 28, 2016)

On July 28, 2016, the Honourable Patty Hajdu, Minister of Status of Women, hosted a regional roundtable in Halifax, Nova Scotia.  This roundtable is part of a broader engagement process to engage stakeholders across the country to inform the development of a federal strategy on gender-based violence. See http://www.swc-cfc.gc.ca/violence/strategy-strategie/index-en.html for more information about the engagement process.

This roundtable brought over twenty stakeholders from the four Atlantic provinces together to discuss issues related to gender-based violence that are regionally specific. Participants included representatives from non-governmental organizations, professional associations, provincial advisory councils and universities who work in the areas of: supporting LGBTQQI2S individuals, Indigenous women, Black Nova Scotians, francophone women, and newcomer, migrant and immigrant women; sexual assault; prevention work in schools; and working with men and boys.

The Honourable Joanne Bernard, Nova Scotia Minister responsible for the Advisory Council on the Status of Women Act and officials from the provincial governments of New Brunswick, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island were also in attendance.

Highlights

The roundtable discussion is summarized here. This summary should not be interpreted as a comprehensive account of the discussion, nor is it meant to suggest that there was consensus among the participants on the points outlined below.

Some of the regional considerations participants outlined include the:

  • increase in highly complex cases that service providers are addressing, including a rising number of women seeking help with a combination of mental health, addictions and violence needs.
  • limited availability of services in rural and remote areas including access to transportation and childcare.
  • limited availability of translation services for both francophones and immigrants.
  • limited availability of services specific to Acadian culture in French.
  • an increase in gender violence among the elderly, which is likely to increase as the population of Atlantic Canada continues to age. This trauma can interact with other specific issues including dementia.
  • importance of considering the intersection of gender and disability given that Nova Scotia has the highest rate of disability.

Participants shared insights about the needs and experiences of specific populations at risk of gender-based violence, including:

  • The need for safe spaces for Aboriginal women that recognize the impact of colonization.  Strategic partnership between Aboriginal focused and mainstream services are needed to create culturally appropriate services both on and off reserve; this includes educating professionals about the rights of Aboriginal women both on and off-reserve. Aboriginal women need to be at minimum consulted when decisions are made on-reserve for services available to women and children.
  • Black Nova Scotians need culturally relevant services that recognize that the way gender violence is experienced is impacted by racism and a lack of trust of authorities.
  • Transwomen experience extremely high rates of violence but are reluctant to engage police for fear of further humiliation.
  • Intimate partner violence in same sex relationships is still hidden; there is a need for promoting positive relationship models that same sex couples can relate to.
  • The experience of immigrants can be influenced by the immigration system.  Policies such as conditional permanent residence and travel loans increase the vulnerability of immigrant women experiencing violence.
  • Youth are experiencing an increase in dating violence and are often the targets of violence online.

Gaps identified included the need to:

  • Provide front line legal support to women who access the justice system.
  • Collect better and more comprehensive data including exploring differences in the experience of gender violence among specific populations.
  • Address the challenges posed by new technology; this is not just an issue for youth as older women are also experiencing increased vulnerability through online dating and other technologies.
  • Recognize that gender violence can reach the threshold of non-state torture and these victims have different needs.
  • Use a trauma informed approach to services both for survivors as well as perpetrators.
  • A need to standardize responses and training including health care, police and judicial officials.
  • Balance specialized services with more holistic services that address all of the forms of violence and all of the needs survivors face.
  • More education for women on the law and services available to them.

Building on what works, participants suggested:

  • One of the most important actions is creating an environment where collaborative approaches can be used, not just among service providers but across the full spectrum of organizations in a community that have a role to play in addressing gender violence.
  • An increased role for the federal government in supporting research and evidence based evaluation of approaches.
  • Addressing violence through the life cycle, from early childhood through to the elderly.
  • Building on technology as a positive tool, supporting youth to engage in a way that empowers them and give them the tools to work towards social change.
  • Using holistic models that bring together all partners so survivors do not have to bounce between organizations for different needs, but rather they can go to one location to access many services or have one focal point to help them navigate all of their needs.
  • Expansion of the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner model.
  • Recognizing school as a place for prevention by creating cultural change. Teaching children their rights, healthy approaches to relationships and empowering them to teach others are all best practices.
  • Ensure that communities and men are engaged in prevention efforts including offering training for bystanders.
  • Continuing to support work with perpetrators to help them take responsibility for what they have done to victims.

Overall, participants highlighted that the federal strategy should recognize:

  • federal leadership on an issue of shared responsibility with provinces.
  • housing and poverty stop many women from addressing violent situations.
  • the needs of specific vulnerable groups.
  • that effective solutions need to be victim centred rather than focusing on the offenders.
  • that the justice system is only one component of a successful intervention model as solutions are much broader than criminal convictions.
  • the importance of partnerships and collaboration in bringing about change.
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