by Lee Lakeman
originally written for NAWL
No woman has ever been saved from violence by a budget cut. We need no public education on this. The public knows and is in agreement with feminists that one thing we have done well in Canada is to invent and develop anti-rape centres, transition houses and women centres. There are too few, they are under funded and they are ignored by the federal government. These are not victim services or victims rights centers which the police promote. Our centres link sexist violence to the fight for womens’ rights.
These feminist institutions have been and are central in changing the climate about sexist violence in the neighbourhoods of the nation. Some lives are saved by women having escape routes for themselves and their children. Sometimes those are the lives of men who would otherwise be killed by women defending themselves. Our centres pressure local police, crown attorneys, hospitals, and media to address the problem of violence against women in a manner consistent with women’s equality. “Lock up your daughters” will not be accepted anymore.
The community is aware that women gather and strategize in these centres, the public thinks of them as respite centres or escape routes or recovery places more than as bases from which women can lead the struggles to end the conditions that foster violence against women and as monitoring bases from which women can speak as to the usefulness or not of proposed government reforms. These centres do and must form an infrastructure of gathering places, libraries, advocasy desks and lobbying centrals for campaigns for or against specific changes. They are an incremental step toward equal participation for women in Canadian public life.
The organized womens’ movement has demanded an injection of 50 million dollars to be paid directly from the federal government to the operating budgets of these centres. That would help protect them from the vagaries of which provincial government decides to ignore the needs of women or which ones meddle in the life of the centres and try to manipulate the rightful aspirations of women. That money could assure assistance to women even though they are living in regions or communities suffering economic depression or political repression. It would realize some of the promise of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to protect women from the sexist application of law and social policy. This is not only the business of the provincial social service delivery systems but also the duty of the federal government to establish and protect the human rights and equality of its citizens.
Since the events of March 2000, there has been a call from women to double this figure to $100 million to assure adequate service and organising centres throughout the country and to assure the national network between those centres. Perhaps most important is that the federal government accept its responsiblity, inject an initial figure and establish its long term committment to funding the anti-violence centres and to consultation with them on social policy affecting that violence.
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