Most people agree that violence against women is a problem, but what to do about the problem is less clear.
The Fort St. John Women’s Resource Society’s Peace Project is now undertaking a three-year initiative aimed at reducing violence against women and girls.
The first step to fulfilling the project’s goal is to carry out extensive consultation with members of the public in order to solicit a wide variety of opinions and experiences.
“Everyone can have their own opinions [on violence against women] but when we get those opinions all together and we look at those common threads … that’s going to give us much higher quality information,” said Emily Goodman, executive director of the Fort St. John Women’s Resource Society.
Between Dec. 1 and 8, the society will be holding four focus groups where local residents representing all points of view will be encouraged to discuss the issue of violence against women and girls in a local context.
By engaging local residents in a meaningful conversation about violence against women, the Women’s Resource Society hopes to provoke a change in attitude towards the issue that will in turn lead to behavioral change.
“We know that violence against women is an issue in Fort St. John … Just purely from a numbers standpoint it’s a fairly male dominated society. There’s a gender imbalance and there are certain intergenerational beliefs and attitudes that have an effect on the culture,” said Goodman.
“A strong link exists between attitudes supportive of male control over women, and the actual use of violence against intimate female partners and women generally,” according to a 2002 government study for the Status of Women Canada.
Also starting in December, the resource society will unveil an anonymous online survey open to all Fort St. John residents that will further support their information gathering efforts. The survey will be open to the public until the end of January at which time the process of analyzing the data will begin.
“Once we have all that feedback from the surveys and focus groups we’re trying to get people to sign up for, that information will be processed and then we’ll give it back to the community,” said Goodman. “Here’s what you said and here’s a snapshot of where we’re at as a community with respect to the attitudes and behaviours and culture surrounding violence against women.”
The local RCMP unit applauds the Women’s Resource Society’s efforts to increase the dialogue around the issue of violence against women.
“[We] strongly support any steps that are taken to understand the causes, predictors and severity of family violence,” said Cpl. Jodie Shelkie, media liaison for the Fort St. John RCMP.
In the calendar year ending on Oct. 31, Shelkie said that the local RCMP detachment had documented 155 cases of physical domestic assault in Fort St. John and Taylor.
Shelkie noted that physical assault is just one of several forms of abuse and excludes emotional, verbal or financial abuse.
The local RCMP could not determine the number of those domestic assaults in which the victim of the assault was a woman, but a 2009 study by Statistics Canada says that 83 per cent of police reported domestic assaults in Canada are committed against women.
The 2011 Census says that there are 8,833 houses and apartments in the Fort St. John RCMP’s territory. A simple percentage-of calculation (155 divided by 8,833) shows an assault was reported for 1.8 per cent of local households. However, some households might have reported multiple assaults.
But going by police statistics alone conceals the true extent of the problem. StatsCan reports that 78 per cent of incidents of spousal abuse, both physical and sexual, go unreported.
“But violence against women isn’t just about domestic abuse,” said Goodman. “This is about gendered violence, dating violence, sexual harassment in the workplace. It is all encompassing of all forms of violence against women. Not just what’s happening in your home.”
Beyond physical violence, according to a 2009 StatsCan survey, nearly one in five Canadians reported some form of financial or emotional abuse in their current or past relationship.
Some factors that elevate the threat of violence against women by their spouses are youth and alcohol abuse. Other factors that elevate this risk are pregnancy and trying to leave a violent spouse.
With a median population age of 30.6, Fort St. John is nearly a decade younger than the country as a whole. According to StatsCan, people aged 25 to 34 were three times as likely to report being physically or sexually assaulted by their spouse than people 45 and older.
The area’s large income gap between men and women might also contribute to the perpetuation of various forms of violence against women.
In 2005, the last year in which this data is available, male income earners in Fort St. John earned $46,932 in after tax income, while women who worked earned $19,533. The disparity in these numbers is the result of several factors, namely, the higher wages available to men who work in the oil and gas industry and the detrimental effect on future earnings for women who leave the workforce to have kids.
As noted in a 2010 story in the Globe and Mail, economists Beata Caranci and Pascal Gauthier have found that women who leave work to have kids often experience a three per cent wage penalty per year of absence.
The Peace Project is funded by Status of Women Canada, which is also supporting similar efforts in over 50 communities across Canada.
“For this to be a truly community driven process everyone needs to be involved,” said Goodman.
The Women’s Resource Society is located at 10051 100th Avenue across from the Salvation Army. To learn more about the Peace Project, visit the website at: www.thepeaceprojectfsj.com.