Violence against women is a globally pressing issue that has rarely seen a decline in statistics. No matter what culture or region women live in, they face this same fear of abuse and improper treatment — whether it be from loved ones or strangers. Unfortunately, even in seemingly “developed” countries such as Canada, women who face violence often are afraid to escape their abusive situations. Mexican-American actress and human rights advocate Salma Hayek once said that “No woman has to be a victim of physical abuse. Women have to feel like they are not alone.” How can communities work harder to ensure that this becomes a universal reality?
The first step towards eradicating this issue is to understand the kind of situations that cause women to feel as though they are alone.
“Women and children come to emergency shelters seeking safety and to get away from the abuse they have endured or witnessed,” said Marisa Mei, a violence against women professional and Durham Region community member. “These experiences may include, and are not limited to: physical abuse, psychological or emotional abuse, economical or financial abuse, verbal abuse, social abuse, sexual abuse and spiritual abuse.”
“Violence Against Women organizations offer lifesaving services to women and children at their greatest time of need when it becomes no longer safe to remain in their homes or among their abuser,” said Mei.
But what happens when organizations are literally unable to help?
According to an article in Oshawa this Week, four women’s shelters in Durham had to turn away over 1,000 women who were seeking a place to stay in 2017. This was after the shelters were already over capacity, having added extra beds in their spaces. As of the end of last year, there are a collective 90 beds among Durham Region’s four women’s shelters — Y’s WISH Shelter and Denise House in Oshawa, Bethesda House in Bowmanville and Herizon House in Ajax. Whitby’s Muslim Welfare Centre for women and children adds another 45 beds to this amount.
Based off of the clearly increasing need for these shelters, this number is clearly not enough. According to the Durham 2017 PIT Count Report, 47 per cent of the participants in this study measuring the “scope and nature of homelessness in Durham” were women. The study also shows that, although Oshawa is home to two different women’s shelters and a handful of general shelters, 74 per cent of unsheltered homeless participators were found there.
According to Mei, these are common trends when it comes to shelter needs — over occupancy and wait lists are nothing new. The most pressing reason for this is the funding insecurity that most violence against women shelters face.
“[There is] limited funding to maintain and grow shelter space without taking away from funds to directly support women and children in need,” she said.
So where do these women go when there is no space for them in shelters? According to Esther Enyolu, the Executive Director of the Women’s Multicultural Resource and Counselling Centre (WMRCC) Durham, they find themselves entering “a cycle of violence.”
“They stay with their friends, they stay with other family members. But those family members and friends can only accommodate them for a certain period of time,” said Enyolu. “They leave home and then can’t afford something on their own, so they go live with family members, but then stress and pressure come.”
This stress and pressure will often lead to one of two things: either they continue to stay at different friends and family members’ houses, falling into what is known as “hidden homelessness,” or they return to the home of their abuser. It is clear to see that neither of these situations seem progressive towards positive change, but economic situations in Durham Region make it almost impossible to rectify.
According to Enyolu, the housing crisis across Durham Region is a huge factor contributing towards women entering hidden homelessness or a cycle of violence.
“Before, Durham used to be affordable, it used to be a place people moved to,” she said. “But it’s here now, housing crisis is happening here. Women experiencing violence wait for three years or more to get housed.”
Earlier this year, an article in Oshawa This Week detailed an interaction between the City of Oshawa and Cornerstone, the only men’s shelter in Durham Region. Cornerstone brought up the issue of unaffordable housing in the city, after a 20-unit affordable housing building was sold by the city to a private sector purchaser. The article highlighted how the only way for homelessness in the city and the need for shelters to decrease is to have affordable housing so that people can get back up on their feet, on their own.
Although there are a variety of factors that lead to the need for shelters to continuously increase, there are steps that can be taken in order to help alleviate the issue.
According to Mei, the first step for communities to take towards preventing these conflicts is through education.
“Prevention needs to begin early, educating young girls and boys about relationships and gender equality,” said Mei. “Adults alike are encouraged to participate in ongoing and continuous learning.”
Additionally, Mei outlined several other ways for positive changes to be made. These include: combating gender stereotypes, encouraging men and boys to learn more about violence against women and volunteer with organizations, making sure to believe and support survivors, and voting in elections for politicians who support equity.
“Demand secure funding for women’s organizations, and [vote for] those who will strive for fair access to justice for women,” she said. “When funds are cut across Violence Against Women organizations, it only limits them further to meeting the demands and needs of our communities, while the issue of violence against women grows.”
Another Durham Region organization that works to bring the community together to end violence against women is the Violence Prevention Coordinating Council of Durham (VPCC). They have a multitude of campaigns that run across the Region that work to bring awareness and change to the issue of violence and abuse against women. These campaigns include: #LOVESHOULDNTHURT, Men Take a Stand, Durham Men Take Action and more.
According to Enyolu, these campaigns that allow communities to take a stand are what can end violence against women entirely.
“If you know somebody in a situation, reach out to that person and give them the information that is useful so that she can remedy the situation by getting the support she needs,” said Enyolu.
“It takes the entire community to eradicate violence against women and children. They don’t need to suffer in silence.”
Subscribe To Our Newsletter
Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.