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Breaking the Silence
Final Report of the Engagement Process for the Federal Strategy to Address Gender-based Violence

About this report

The Minister of Status of Women has been mandated to work with experts and advocates to develop and implement a comprehensive Strategy and action plan to address gender-based violence (GBV), aligned with existing provincial and territorial strategies.

As part of this process, Canadians from across the country – including survivors, frontline workers, researchers, and advocates – participated in an engagement process to inform this Strategy. Through roundtables, meetings, online submissions, and surveys, Canadians shared their experiences and insights into GBV and suggested roles for the federal government.

This report highlights themes that emerged through the engagement process. It provides an overview of the key issues, challenges and promising practices that were identified.

Throughout the engagement process, the then Minister of Status of Women, The Honourable Patty Hajdu, supported by officials from Status of Women Canada (SWC), worked to ensure that the diversity of experiences of survivors of GBV in Canada and those who support them were heard, and reflected in the government response. The highlights in this report do not represent a consensus, or an exhaustive account of experiences and knowledge expressed by Canadians. Instead, this document highlights the most commonly mentioned issues and ideas for action. The aim is to contribute to an ongoing conversation with Canadians about GBV.

The report consists of four main sections:

  • The Background explains the federal role in addressing GBV, the federal government’s approach, and what we know about the current status of GBV in Canada.
  • The Engagement Process summarizes the ways in which the Government of Canada engaged Canadians, experts, frontline workers, advocates and survivors in a cross-Canada discussion about GBV.
  • The Summary of Findings discusses the key themes that emerged from all engagement activities.
  • The Conclusion outlines key findings from the engagement process that will inform next steps.

Throughout the engagement process, the Government of Canada has worked to ensure the diversity of experiences of GBV in Canada is reflected in our approach.


The Government of Canada’s long-term vision is to eliminate all forms of GBV in the public and private spheres. According to the United Nations, it is a human right to live a life free from violence and discrimination. Addressing GBV is necessary for achieving gender equality, a priority for the Government of Canada.

Consult our report, Setting the Stage for context on GBV in Canada, including roles of federal and provincial/territorial governments.

The federal government is one actor among many working to end GBV. Provincial, territorial and municipal governments, civil society and grassroots organizations all play important roles in preventing and addressing GBV.

Understanding GBV

GBV is violence perpetrated against someone based on their gender expression, gender identity or perceived gender. GBV is a product of an unequal society; it has its roots in the patriarchal structure of society, and is intensified by other forms of discrimination, including, racism, colonialism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia and poverty. For example, in Canada, colonialism shapes the experiences of violence against Indigenous women and girls.

GBV includes any act of violence or abuse that can result in physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering. Examples of types of violence and abuse include:

  • Physical violence
  • Sexual violence (including child sexual abuse, sexual harassment, sexual exploitation)
  • Emotional and psychological violence (including threats, harassment and intimidation)
  • Online violence
  • Financial abuse
What is Gender-Based Violence (GBV)?

GBV is violence perpetrated against someone based on their gender expression, gender identity or perceived gender.

Violence against women and girls is one form of GBV. GBV also has a disproportionate impact on LGBTQ2 (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex and two-spirit) and gender-non conforming people, Indigenous women and girls, women who are visible minorities, women and girls with disabilities, and seniors.

Violence can have lifelong impacts on a person’s health and well-being. Impacts can include physical and mental health conditions such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, sexually transmitted infections, absence from school or work and social isolation.

GBV also has significant economic costs. The estimated costs of intimate partner violence against Canadian women alone are $4.8 billion dollars per year. The majority of costs are borne by victims, for items such as health care, lost education, physician visits and lost childcare services. In addition to third party costs, including impacts on children and family, and loss of future income, it also has a significant burden on the criminal justice system (e.g. police, court proceedings, incarceration, legal aid, etc.) and civil justice systems (e.g. protection orders, divorce proceedings, child protection, etc.)Footnote 1 .

Calls to Action

Addressing gender-based violence is a priority internationally and nationally. For example, The United Nations UNiTE campaign called upon member states to adopt and implement well-resourced, multi-sectoral national action plans that emphasize prevention. The Strategy to Address Gender-Based Violence responds to international and domestic voices calling for immediate and sustained action to address GBV in Canada.

In addition to our consultations, within Canada, and following calls from grassroots and national Indigenous organizations, a National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls is currently underway. Implementation of the Strategy to Address Gender-Based Violence will include ongoing monitoring of any recommendations coming out of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

Engagement Process

Throughout the summer and fall of 2016, the then Minister of Status of Women, the Honourable Patty Hajdu, heard from Canadians from across the provinces and territories about GBV. Canadians shared their experiences, and identified key issues, promising practices and gaps in preventing and addressing GBV.

Participation by the numbers:

  • 18 roundtables, including thematic roundtables, regional roundtables, and roundtables with survivors. Approximately 300 individuals from over 175 organizations participated in roundtables.
  • Over 7,500 survey responses
  • 40 email submissions

Canadians with diverse experiences and perspectives were invited to participate in the engagement process through various fora.

Hearing from survivors was an important part of this process. SWC also sought input from frontline workers, researchers, justice workers and advocates. Participants included Indigenous women, LGBTQ2 and gender non-conforming people, young women, women with disabilities, and men and boys working to end GBV. Participants often spoke from multiple experiences: for example, some people who work to address violence are also survivors of GBV themselves.

To inform the Strategy, the Government of Canada:

  • Established an 18-member Ministerial Advisory Council for a two-year term as a forum to advise the Minister, and exchange views, promising practices and research on issues related to GBV;
  • Hosted thematic roundtables on:
    • youth and online GBV
    • justice system approaches
    • violence against Indigenous women and girls
    • promoting social and cultural change
    • supporting the safety and well-being of survivors
    • preventing and addressing child maltreatment, in partnership with the Public Health Agency of Canada;
  • Hosted regional roundtables in Vancouver, Yellowknife, Winnipeg, Thunder Bay, Montreal and Halifax, as well as individual meetings in these cities;
  • Met with survivors of various forms of GBV in small group settings;
  • Conducted an online, voluntary survey designed to identify Canadians’ priorities related to GBV, and to hear about the effectiveness of current initiatives to address GBV;
  • Invited the Canadian public to provide comments via email to a dedicated email address;
  • Hosted an expert panel on primary prevention of GBV; and,
  • Co-hosted roundtable on shelters and transition housing with the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

Summary of Findings

This section is a summary of the insights shared through the roundtables, the survey and email submissions. The text box at the end of this section provides a summary of the expert panel on primary prevention.

The summary begins with key principles that emerged across different conversations. It then outlines reflections on the federal role in addressing and, ultimately, ending GBV.

Key Principles

We heard:

  • A survivor-oriented and holistic approach means supporting survivors through a trauma-informed, feminist lens that honours survivors’ agency, which recognizes that survivors are experts of their own personal experience. This also means building a strategy that is informed by the populations it is addressing. For example, youth should be involved in youth-directed initiatives.
  • Inclusive approaches to addressing GBV should:
    • Be anti-oppressive. This means embracing diversity, recognizing inequality and attending to the needs of diverse regions and groups. For example, it is important to provide culturally-appropriate services and materials and using plain language and to build resources in French, Indigenous languages, and other commonly used languages.
    • Address violence against Indigenous populations. The Strategy should be culturally-appropriate and community-driven, recognizing the unique needs of different Inuit, Métis and First Nations communities.
    • Attend to the unique needs of underserved groups such as children and youth, LGBTQ2 and gender-non conforming people, minority women or newcomers to Canada, women with disabilities, and women living in rural and remote areas.
    • Support and respect the needs of survivors and their children, and aim to keep survivors and children together. Participants noted that this is particularly important in relation to Indigenous women.
  • To be effective, the Strategy should link to broader social issues by:
    • Combatting the root causes and underlying factors related to violence, including systemic gender inequality, sexism, the hyper-sexualization of girls and young women, rape culture, colonialism and racism.
    • Addressing intersecting forms of oppression with an understanding that violence is experienced in a continuum, across the lifespan, and in different situations and settings. For example, some participants challenged the separation between online and “real-life” violence.
    • Other social issues, such as poverty, childcare, pay equity, homelessness and affordable housing, contribute to gender inequality and serve as barriers to well-being and freedom from violence. Some participants discussed how institutions can contribute to violence, or be violent themselves. For example, some survivors felt re-victimized through the justice system.
Reflections on the Federal Role in Addressing GBV

When asked to reflect on what works and propose what might be done to fill existing gaps, participants in the engagement process identified promising practices and challenges regarding the following key areas for action:

Respondents to the online survey recommended these types of GBV as priority forms of violence that need to be addressed:

  • Intimate partner violence
  • Child sexual abuse
  • Sexual violence
  • Online violence
  1. Preventing GBV: Building the Foundation for Social Change
    • Participants suggested taking a life-course approach to GBV. This means preventing and intervening with populations across the lifespan — from early childhood, to addressing the unique vulnerabilities of youth, to supporting adults and seniors. Participants identified children as a priority.
    • Participants outlined a number of promising practices aimed at preventing GBV across the lifespan, including:
      • Engaging men and boys in preventing and ending GBV. This includes teaching healthy masculinity, engaging men and boys in prevention strategies, programs that help men and boys develop their Métis, First Nations and Inuit identities, and rehabilitation strategies for men who have used violence;
      • Taking an Indigenous approach to preventing GBV, with a focus on honouring the family;
      • Promoting healthy relationships, including supporting students in high school and university/college in learning about consent;
      • Offering women tools to help identify violence and escape violent situations (for example, embedding safety information in newcomer settlement programs; legal education; or financial literacy); and
      • Delivering innovative public education campaigns such as social media campaigns against online violence.
    • Participants recognized that, while there is good work being done to prevent GBV, challenges remain.
      • There are difficulties sharing knowledge and resources, which means that prevention activities are uneven across jurisdictions, and researchers and frontline workers must continuously “reinvent the wheel”.
      • While recognizing the distinction between federal and provincial/territorial funding mandates, participants emphasized the importance of sustained funding for community-based programs, noting that short-term funding creates challenges.
  2. Supporting the Safety and Well-Being of Survivors and Families
    • Participants recognized strong, independent, feminist women’s organizations as important for supporting and advocating for survivors of GBV.
    • Participants identified promising practices related to service-provision for rural, remote and vulnerable populations. These include:
      • Mobile programs that provide supports in remote northern communities;
      • Providing services run by and for language minority communities and culturally appropriate services run by and for Indigenous communities; and
      • Art-based programs for youth, particularly LGBTQ2 and gender non-conforming youth.
    • Participants also identified equitable and accessible services for vulnerable populations as a challenge. This includes:
      • Shelter accessibility for women with disabilities and shelter accessibility and safety for LGBTQ2 and gender non-conforming people; and
      • Culturally appropriate shelters for on-reserve and off-reserve Indigenous populations.
    • Participants identified the following as challenging areas for organizations involved in frontline service provision:
      • Coordination between various health and social services;
      • Training for frontline professionals and others working in the area of GBV in anti-oppressive, trauma-informed practices and in working with members of vulnerable populations; and
      • Funding for advocacy, support for survivors, and shelters, both on-reserve and off-reserve.
  3. Moving Forward: Promoting Responsive Legal and Justice Systems
    • Participants recognized the importance of a justice system that is safe, inclusive and anti-oppressive, addressing fears related to reporting violence to police.
    • Participants identified the following as challenges:
      • Supports for women in all aspects of the justice system, from advocates for survivors to supports for incarcerated women and for women reintegrating following incarceration.
    • Participants identified the following promising practices to address barriers and alleviate the perceived lack of safety related to reporting violence:

      Survivors stressed the importance of being treated with respect and dignity by law enforcement and justice officials, and receiving the resources and support they need to understand their rights.

      • Promoting community-based supports for survivors and their families going through the through the justice system;
      • Provide healing centres, restorative justice practices, and culturally-responsive counselling and rehabilitation programs; and
      • Provide trauma-informed training for justice system personnel.
    • Potential areas of legislative intervention into GBV were identified, including online GBV, human trafficking, as well as immigration law that addresses newcomer women’s unique vulnerabilities to intimate partner violence.
      • Taking into account the cycle of violence and the need to focus on children, participants also suggested amending legislation related to intimate partner violence, custody of children, and corporal punishment.
  4. Reflecting on Federal Activities

    Participants underscored the importance of the following key elements of a Strategy:

    • Leadership and Coordination
      • The federal government has a role in championing anti- GBV work, and in promoting best practices. The federal government also has a role in coordinating government and non-government GBV initiatives across Canada.
    • Research and Data Collection
      • Data collection and analysis is critical to understanding and ending GBV. See the box, “Suggested research priorities,” for expert recommendations for research on prevention.
      • Participants discussed the importance of quantitative and qualitative research that analyzes the unique experiences of Canadians who have experienced GBV, particularly within vulnerable populations.
      • National baseline data is necessary for monitoring and evaluation activities to measure the effectiveness of prevention and intervention initiatives.
      • It was recommended that the federal government act as a research “hub” to coordinate and disseminate research activities.
      • Research could be improved through better connections between researchers and service providers. This includes:
        • Exploring the what, who and how of interventions to support evidence-based programs and policy (i.e., What works? For whom? Under what circumstances?).
        • Developing evidence-based solutions that are measurable and replicable. The importance of developing outcomes from the ground up was also recognized. For example, an Indigenous monitoring and evaluation framework was identified as a best practice.

      Suggested research priorities:

      • The nature of GBV for specific populations, including LGBTQ2 and gender non-conforming people, young women, marginalized groups such as Indigenous women, women who are visible minorities, and women with disabilities, homeless women, and people living in rural/remote areas;
      • Utilization of community-based anti-violence services;
      • Holistic research linking GBV with social and health issues;
      • Community-driven approaches to research on violence against Indigenous women and girls;
      • Research on First Nations, Métis, and Inuit women in urban and rural areas;
      • Research on safe technology to address online violence; and
      • Research on the culture of violence.
    • Accountability
      • Discussions included the importance of open and clear communication between the Government of Canada, stakeholders addressing GBV and Canadians. This means developing common measures of success and regular reporting on how we are doing.

These insights and knowledge inform and support the development of the Strategy to Address Gender-based Violence.

Scientific Panel on the State of Knowledge on the Primary Prevention of Violence against Women and Girls

On September 20 and 21, 2016, Status of Women Canada hosted a Scientific Panel in Gatineau, Quebec. The Panel brought together thirteen Canadian experts on primary prevention of violence against women and girls (VAWG) in Canada.

Primary prevention is generally understood to be actions that seek to prevent the occurrence of a condition or situation. This can be done by modifying factors that cause or contribute to a condition and/or by increasing survivors’ capacities to address certain conditions or behaviours.

The Panel addressed what we know and don’t know about primary prevention, including key risk, vulnerability and protective factors associated with intimate partner, dating, and sexual violence; interventions designed to prevent gender-based violence; and research needs.

Highlights include:

  • There is generally a good understanding of the risk factors that can increase a person’s vulnerability to GBV. Risk factors include: sexist attitudes, gender inequality, poverty (or economic inequalities), child maltreatment and early exposure to violence, and women and girls’ experiences in institutional settings. Members of certain vulnerable populations including persons with non-conforming gender identities, Indigenous women, women who are visible minorities and women with disabilities also face a higher risk of experiencing gender-based violence.
  • On the other hand, less is known about protective factors. Protective factors can reduce the vulnerability to GBV. This is especially true for interventions with minority populations.
  • Furthermore, there is little knowledge of what works to prevent various types of GBV with different populations and in different contexts.
  • Overall, a program of research to develop knowledge of best practices should:
    • Evaluate behavioural change and community capacity
    • Be tested in various implementation sites (e.g. schools, workplace, etc.)
    • Address different forms of violence (e.g. sexual harassment, intimate partner violence, etc.)
    • Focus on different groups at different intervention points (e.g., children exposed to violence, vulnerable populations, men and boys, fatherhood, etc.)
    • Use diverse delivery strategies (e.g., social marketing, hotlines, etc.)
    • Use diverse research methods
    • Explore implementation barriers/challenges
    • Rest on strong partnerships with the communities
    • Be long-term, and
    • Include a strong accountability mechanism.
  • Priorities for research and data collection include: increasing knowledge of the protective and risk factors, especially among marginalized groups; developing and implementing tools to monitor social media; developing knowledge of effective preventative practices; reviewing policies that impact gender equality from the perspective of GBV; and developing and conducting dedicated research surveys to measure the extent and variety of GBV experienced by Canadians.

Overall, panel participants agreed that there are many knowledge gaps with regards to primary prevention and key interventions that require more research. This panel’s discussions identified several avenues to ensure that primary intervention programs are developed, implemented, and evaluated effectively.


The Government has heard and learned from a diverse group of Canadians who have experienced GBV and who are working to prevent and address it. This engagement launched a national conversation about key issues, what works and what doesn’t and what’s needed to address and, ultimately, end GBV in Canada. This is an ongoing conversation which will inform federal actions in the future.

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