The 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence began on November 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and continues until December 10, World Human Rights Day. These 16 days include December 6, the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence against Women, on which we commemorate the 14 women who were killed at l’École Polytechnique de Montréal in a targeted act of gender-based violence.

During these 16 days, individuals, organizations, governments, and community groups are meant to come together to assess what can be done to address the violence experienced by women, girls, and gender-diverse people. While this is an international campaign, it has particular significance in Canada where the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls just concluded that Canada has committed genocide against Indigenous peoples that specifically targets women, girls, and LGBTQIA2S+ people.

 

The Me Too movement was founded to support survivors of sexual assault, particularly women and girls of colour and those experiencing poverty, in accessing resources and support.

 

Two waves, one movement: #MeToo and Me Too

It has now been two years since #MeToo made headlines around the world leading to a watershed moment in the fight against gender-based violence. Here in Canada, the Canadian Press named the #MeToo movement the story of the year.

But while the hashtag shined a bright light on the silencing of survivors and the widespread impunity enjoyed by the powerful and privileged, it was the original Me Too movement, founded in 2006 by an African-American activist and survivor, Tarana Burke that I want to focus on.

The Me Too movement was founded to support survivors of sexual assault, particularly women and girls of colour and those experiencing poverty, in accessing resources and support. It was—and still is—a grassroots movement that sought to create locally driven solutions and supports. It is this community-based, resource-centred approach that we need to harness as we move forward to address gender-based violence.

This year’s 16 days of activism theme is From Awareness to Accountability, with a focus on government action. It is an apt theme. Looking back at the original reason behind the Me Too movement, it is clear that accountability lies in ways the government can act to help provide community-based supports to survivors of sexual assault.

 
Image reads, "16 days of activism against gender based violence. #OurActionsMatter." Next to the writing is the image of a person's face.
Image Credit: Women and Gender Equality Canada
 

Accountability means community-based services and supports

Community-based support services for survivors of sexual assault are life-saving resources. Without these services, survivors may not be able to leave a violent relationship, access counselling, or understand the steps they can take following an assault.

This is particularly true for survivors who experience intersecting forms of marginalization. For racialized, Indigenous,  trans, non-binary, people with disabilities and refugee survivors, as well as those who engage in sex work, accessing health care or the justice system without community-based supports is nearly impossible. This means that their right to equal access to services is undermined.

 

Despite the massive increase in demand, government funding remains at pre-2004 levels and is contract-based rather than covered under core funding, as it was before the cuts were implemented.

 

Yet, in most jurisdictions these services are drastically underfunded.

In 2004, the BC government cut 100% of the provincial core funding for anti-violence centres. For the past decade and a half, many anti-violence organizations have had to end programs; some have shut down entirely. Any current funding is contract-based, one-time funding that barely meets the needs of British Columbians.

The #MeToo movement has made it clear that the need for community-based resources is that much greater. Survivors say that they feel more comfortable coming forward when there are community-based supports. For example, in the year following #MeToo, the Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic saw an 83% increase in the number of requests for sexual assault counselling.

Despite the massive increase in demand, government funding remains at pre-2004 levels and is contract-based rather than covered under core funding, as it was before the cuts were implemented.
 

What we’ve been doing and how you can help

We’ve been advocating for this change alongside the Victoria Sexual Assault Clinic and WAVAW Rape Crisis Centre. Together, we’re asking the provincial government to make dedicated, sustainable funding for community-based emergency sexual assault services a reality for survivors.

 
As one of your acts of solidarity during the 16 days of activism, we ask you to join us in this ask by sending a free and virtual card to Minister Farnworth asking for the BC government to fund these critical life-saving services.  

 
Image that reads, "fund community based sexual assault services" across the top. In the bottom left corner it reads "16 days of action." In the image there are two people visible from their shoulders up with their eyes closed.
Send your postcard and take action! Photo Credit: Demand Action Now
 
 

Elba Bendo is Director of Law Reform at West Coast LEAF.

Questions? Feedback? Email us at blog@westcoastleaf.org