See letter of recognition from the
Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes, and consequences
United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner
Femicide observatory launches today, recognized by UN
December 6, 2017 - The Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability (CFOJA) was officially launched today in recognition of Canada’s National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. The plans for the Observatory were unveiled November 25 which was the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and the beginning of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence.
The Observatory will establish a national and visible focus on femicide in Canada with the goal of enhancing femicide prevention initiatives moving forward, says Dr. Myrna Dawson, who is leading the initiative. She is the Director of the Centre for the Study of Social and Legal Responses to Violence, University of Guelph.
While not a common term in the public domain, femicide is recognized internationally by the United Nations as the most extreme form of violence and discrimination against women and girls.
“The Observatory aligns with and builds on recommendations made in the first Canadian study on femicide conducted over 20 years ago,” says Maria Crawford, lead researcher on this early study. At that time, the Women We Honour Action Committee, a grassroots initiative, drew national and international attention to the preponderance of killings of women by male partners – referred to as intimate femicide – in Ontario.
“I am honoured to be involved in a project that is so critical to our ever-evolving learning and efforts to bring this knowledge forward to inform current efforts and to increase public awareness,” Crawford said, who will serve as member of an expert advisory panel.
While definitions vary, Dawson says, the Observatory defines femicide as the killing of women and girls primarily by, but not exclusively, men. “This enhances our ability to make provincial/territorial comparisons and allows for the possibility that femicide may involve female perpetrators in various social and cultural contexts.”
The Observatory website went live today to commemorate December 6, 1989, the day 14 women were killed – representing a clear example of the need for the term femicide, Dawson says. “Gender-neutral terms such as homicide or murder systematically ignore that violence against women is usually targeted violence at women because they are women, most often in the context of intimacy or through other forms of sexual violence.”
According to official statistics, on average, one woman or girl is killed every second day in Canada. Since 1961, when official figures began to document homicide, more than 10,000 women and girls have been killed, primarily by men, Dawson says. “That’s a lot of unrealized potential from women and girls whose lives were cut short and many of these deaths could have been prevented.”
While femicides will be tracked and monitored as they occur in Canada, Dawson says, “It is also equally about tracking our responses to femicide when they occur – how do we talk about these killings and those involved, how are they covered in the news and who gets to construct these events; how do courts respond or judges talk about femicide when offenders are being sentenced.”
The media and the courts are key sites for examining the most common attitudes and beliefs held by the public, Dawson says. “Negative stereotypes help to perpetuate and maintain practices that are harmful to women and girls, often leading to their experiences of violence and death. We need to shed light on these stereotypes and their negative consequences for women and girls if we are to improve our prevention efforts by changing attitudes.”
While a key focus will be women killed by male partners, Dawson says that priority attention will be given to more marginalized groups of women who are often more vulnerable to femicide, including indigenous women and girls who have historically and still today face significantly greater risk of femicide.
Variations across the country or what Dawson refers to as the ‘geography of justice’ will also be examined because “access to justice shouldn’t depend on where you live or where you die; that should not matter, but it is recognized internationally that it does matter.”
The initiative was launched in response to the call for action from the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences asking for countries to establish a femicide watch or observatory to collect, analyze and review data on femicide and to report annually on November 25. The call reflects increasing attention to femicide, its impacts on women’s equality and human rights, and its differential impacts for specific groups of women.
Congratulating the CSSLRV on the Observatory launch, UN Special Rapporteur Dubravka Šimonovic says, “I am confident that the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences will find in the Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability a crucial ally in ending femicide and gender-based violence against women and increasing awareness on the urgent need to prevent this pandemic at the international, regional and national level.”
As recommended in the UN call, an expert panel has been established who will direct the activities of the observatory, help to mobilize regional and local networks, assist in identifying and disseminating information, and to prioritize future research.
“One of the most exciting elements of this initiative is the wealth of knowledge and expertise that is represented on this panel,” Dawson says. Members come from across the country, represent various populations and sectors, and are both established and emerging experts in this field.
It’s about sustaining our prevention focus over the long term, Dawson says. With the current and ongoing development of networks and collaborations, it is the hope that a more comprehensive picture of femicide and our responses in Canada will soon emerge, Dawson says. “We envision a Canadian society where all women are valued, respected and live free from violence, especially violence that contributes to their early deaths.”
Visit www.femicideincanada.ca for expert panel member bios and more information on the CFOJA.
Media contacts: Follow on Twitter @CAN_Femicide
Dr. Myrna Dawson, Project Lead
Professor & Canada Research Chair in Public Policy in Criminal Justice
Director, CSSLRV [www.violenceresearch.ca]
University of Guelph, 519-824-4120, x53523