This journal article is appearing in a series commissioned by Community Foundations of Canada to accompany the national Vital Signs gender equality reports. The series is being released throughout Fall 2020, and can be accessed here.

Content Warning: This blog post will have references to discrimination and gender-based violence such as but not limited to technology-facilitated violence, domestic violence, hate crimes, racism, and sexual violence.

When the World Health Organization called COVID-19 a pandemic on March 11th, advocates knew immediately what this would mean for Gender-Based Violence in Canada.

As previous pandemics have revealed, and even during the initial waves of COVID-19, countries like China, France, Italy, Singapore, and Spain saw rates of domestic violence soar. Many survivors were stuck with their abusers, who used this time of confinement to further exert harm. When COVID-19 cases started increasing in Canada and lockdown measures were put in place, we saw the same trend with a 20% to 30% rise in domestic violence.

Our Canadian federation of YWCAs collectively work in over 300 communities across the country. They have been part of the frontline response to address the rising rate of gender-based violence.

From coast to coast to coast, we’ve heard stories of abusers controlling access to essential supplies, monitoring internet access and cellphone use, keeping children despite custody arrangements and even threatening to evict women and children from their homes. During the pandemic, many of our shelters experienced an increased number of phone calls and demand from survivors escaping dangerous domestic violence situations.

Confronting the Generations-Old ‘Shadow Pandemic’

The United Nations has characterized the increase of gender-based violence during COVID-19 as the ‘shadow pandemic’ given how it has intensified and transformed during the crisis. As more of us spend time online, we’ve seen the surge in technology-facilitated violence, especially against trans and cis women and gender-diverse people. There’s been an escalating danger for sex workers and reports of exploitation of domestic and care workers with precarious immigration status. We’ve also heard that some landlords are taking advantage of tenants’ financial hardship by pressuring them to have sex in exchange for rent reductions

The sad reality is that gender-based violence on this land is nothing new. It is the ongoing manifestation of colonization and misogyny.  Many of the situations described above were happening well before COVID-19 and will likely continue long after a vaccine is developed.

When we talk about gender-based violence, we must acknowledge and take action against the violence and harm Indigenous women, girls, and Two-Spirit people have experienced on this land for time immemorial. 

Using an intersectional lens, we must acknowledge that the experiences of gender-based violence are distinct and more pronounced for women, Two-Spirit and gender-diverse people experiencing compounding forms of marginalization such as Black, Indigenous and racialized persons, newcomers, immigrants, refugees and migrants, and people with disabilities.

Why We Must Address Gender-Based Violence for Economic Recovery

In conversations about economic recovery in Canada, we have heard limited conversations about addressing gender-based violence. The fact of the matter is that gender-based violence is an infringement on our human rights. This, in itself, should be the most urgent cause for concern.

In addition, we also see evidence indicating that gender-based violence costs our Canadian economy vital funding that can be used to invest in communities directly. A 2012 federal study found that domestic and sexual violence costs the Canadian GDP $8.4 billion annually. 

Ultimately, we cannot hope to have an economic recovery in a climate of hate, fear and violence. That’s why in our Feminist Economic Recovery Plan, we call for the establishment of a National Action Plan for Gender-Based Violence and the implementation of the Calls to Justice in the Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and 2SLGTBQQIA people.

How can Community Foundations Take Action?

We are at a pivotal moment in the trajectory of the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the legacies of this time must be putting the measures in place to address gender-based violence in all its forms. But that can’t happen without sustained investments.

Later this month, we mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women on November 25th, which also launches the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence. This year’s theme of ‘Orange the World: Fund, Respond, Prevent, Collect’ provides us with the calls to action we need to address gender-based violence in all its forms.

Community-based organizations that have the trust and expertise to support survivors of gender-based violence need to be supported. Vital services that promote mental health and healing are on hold and wait lists are growing. But due to COVID-19, they are at risk of shuttering.

That’s why urgent multi-year core funding is required to not only weather this storm but also to build back better than before.

So I call on all of you to think about your role and how you will support community-based organizations doing the hard work on the ground. Communities urgently need us to do our part. From civil society to community foundations to the private sector to governments, we all have a role to play in creating a violence-free future. We can no longer wait – action is long past due.

Maya Roy, BSW, MSc, is the CEO of YWCA Canada, the nation’s largest and oldest gender equity organization. Maya currently serves on Minister Maryam Monsef’s Advisory Council on Gender-Based Violence.  Maya has been named Canada’s Top 40 Under 40, a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader, and was a member of the 2018 G7 Gender Equality Advisory Council.