Ralph Klein has gone and it is time to retire Ralph's World. Thanks to all of you who have supported this venture by contributing material and through your comments. It has been fun.

Should we get another blog underway? Let me know your thoughts by e-mailing me at johnnyslow@gmail.com.

John Slow
January 1, 2007

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Martha's Monthly for March 2005 

International Women’s Day

Where is the word “Women” in Alberta’s Policies??

Martha has been following the UN conference on the Advancement of Women called Beijing +10 that started Feb 28 and continues until March 11. This UN conference is reviewing the progress of the Beijing conference of 1995 and the promises made for women’s equality. It got Martha thinking about how her own province has been doing on equality for women and particularly on the issue of violence against women. Well, Martha found out more than she bargained for when she went looking for some simple answers to how much her government spends on women’s shelters. The Auditor General noted that in 2003-2004 the Ministry of Children’s Services spent $17 Million on “Prevention of Family Violence.” Martha assumed that this is where funding for shelters falls, but this was not made clear. (Auditor General report (see page 88)) Interestingly, that amount of money is quite similar to the amount pledged by Alberta Lottery fund for “Racing Industry Renewal Initiative.” This effort to “re-brand” horse racing got $17,900,000 in the 2001-2002 fiscal year. (see page 91 of the Gaming Annual Report)

There seems to be a little “re-branding” going on in the Government of Alberta as well. Our government has re-branded women’s issues and violence against women into concern for children. We have no Ministry for the Status of Women, as there is in most provinces. If you dig, you can find “women’s issues” under Alberta Community Development but don’t get too excited, “women’s issues” stop at the Person’s Day Scholarships. Martha went digging deeper and found the Finding Solutions Together report from the Alberta Roundtable on Family Violence and Bullying (held in May 2004). The word “Women” is all but eradicated from the entire Family Violence report. In fact, the word “women” appears only four times in that 28-page report. Here are all four (with my emphasis added):

A Canadian Institute for Health Information Report released in September 2003, showed that Alberta has a higher proportion of cases involving domestic violence against women than any other province (based on 1999 statistics) (p.5)

Family violence is not unique to a specific gender or sexual orientation, although by numbers alone, more of the victims of extreme violence and physical harm are women and children. (P.6)

While many people might think primarily of women and children as the victims of family violence, in fact, family violence affects everyone regardless of gender, sexual orientation, culture, abilities and disabilities, income and age. (p. 8)

The lack of financial support can be one of the key reasons why women stay in or return to abusive situations. (p. 20)

These four references to “women” are overshadowed by the numerous references to families and children, youth, and elderly people who are abused. While Martha is concerned about each of these groups she finds it strange that the issue of their gender has been obscured. For, as we know, it is girl children, female youth, and female elderly who are largely the victims of domestic assault. Why is gender obscured as a basis for analysis in the Government of Alberta document?

Is Domestic violence really a women’s issue?

Here is what the Federal-Provincial-Territorial Ministers Responsible for the Status of Women said in their 2002 Report entitled “Assessing Violence Against Women: A Statistical Profile” (Available, ironically, on the Alberta Community Development Website)

“Why Focus on Violence Against Women? Violence against anyone is unacceptable. Violence experienced by women, however, particularly intimate partner violence and sexual assault, represents a unique aspect of the wider social problem of violence, and requires specific attention and solutions. Individual experiences of violence against women must be assessed against the backdrop of historical, social, political, cultural and economic inequality of women.”

And violence against women is not just different against the backdrop of historical, social, political, cultural, and economic inequality. It is also quantitatively different. Statistics Canada reported in 2002 that

Female victims are more likely than their male counterparts to suffer some kind of physical injury as a result of spousal violence. Of all the victims of spousal violence in the five years prior to the 1999 General Social Survey, female victims aged 15 years and over were three times more likely than male victims to report experiencing a physical injury (40% versus 13%), five times more likely to require medical attention as a result of a violent incident (15% versus 3%) and to have been hospitalized as a result of the violence (11% versus 2%)....In many cases of spousal violence reported in the five years prior to the 1999 General Social Survey, the violence or the threat of violence was so severe that almost four female victims in ten (38%) feared for their lives, while the rate for male victims was less than one in ten (7%).

But most importantly the same Statistics Canada report stated:

Of the almost 34,000 victims of spousal violence reported in 2000, women accounted for the majority of victims (85%), a total of 28,633 victims.

Though men are sometimes victims of domestic assaults, 80% of the charges against women are later dropped. Some jurisdictions have identified the phenomena of “dual charging” (when both partners are charged with assault) and have begun to look into better training of police officers to be able to distinguish “assault” injuries from “self-defense” injuries. In her paper on this subject, Dr. Edna Erez,states:

When women reciprocate with violence, they commonly act in self-defense, after all previous attempts to stop the battering have failed…preliminary results suggest that the overwhelming majority of female offenders in domestic violence cases acted in self-defense, or retaliated against previous assault or abuse.

So what happens when a government stops recognizing women as victims of domestic assault and just sees “Children and Families” as the victims? When we overlook the gender of more than 85% of the victims of assault then we overlook many important needs. In Alberta it has meant that our government has offered woefully poor resources to women’s shelters, transition homes for women, and financial resources available to women leaving abusive relationships. Though the government has stated that it will provide “provincial leadership” (Finding Solutions Together report) this pledge has not translated into financial commitment. And frankly, financial commitment is what is needed here. When interviewed for this backgrounder, Kristine Cassie, CEO of YWCA in Lethbridge said: “This government owes safety and dignity to these women and to the staff of shelters.” I asked her what was the chief impediment to ensuring women’s safety and dignity. Guess what it is? Full funding.

The Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters Position Papers state clearly what the problem is:

Funding uncertainties and limitations are the most prevalent issue facing women’s shelters in the Province of Alberta

On salaries the ACWS is also clear:

ACWS believes that all workers in this sector deserve to receive market value for their work and not be forced to subsidize essential services by working for low wages.

Interestingly, MLA salaries are indexed, every April 1st, to the Average Weekly Earnings, according to Statistics Canada. Don’t shelter workers deserve the same? Martha thinks so.

As for transitional housing, the ACWS states that:

Alberta falls short in its provision of safe, affordable housing for women leaving abusive relationships… Alberta has a shortfall of 600 to 1000 (transitional) beds.

We know what we need and now we need to do it. The Government of Alberta needs to commit to financial leadership in the funding of shelters, transitional housing, and financial supports for women leaving abusive relationships. We owe it to the women who are victims of spousal assault and we owe it to the women who work in the shelters and subsidize the government by working for low wages with unsafe staffing ratios.

On International Women’s Day, please help by copying the following letter to Premier Klein, your MLA, and the Opposition. Please remember to put your name and address on the bottom. And send this message to anyone in Alberta who believes that we owe women safety and dignity.

Copy the following to Premier Klein at premier@gov.ab.ca, Liberal opposition leader Kevin Taft at Edmonton.riverview@assembly.ab.ca, Liberal House leader Laurie Blakeman at Edmonton.centre@gov.ab.ca, New Democrat leader Brian Mason at Alison.Crawford@assembly.ab.ca, to Paul Hinman of the Alberta Alliance at cardston.taberwarner@assembly.ab.ca and back to us at marthasmonthly@yahoo.ca. Many Marthas have had good responses when they also sent the email to their own MLA. Find your MLA and contact info here.

Premier Klein

Alberta Legislature

March 8, 2005

Dear Premier Klein:

As today is International Women’s Day, we wish to draw your attention to the women in Alberta who live in abusive relationships. As you are aware, a Canadian Institute for Health Information Report released in September 2003 showed that Alberta has a higher proportion of cases involving domestic violence against women than any other province (based on 1999 statistics). This concerns the Marthas of this province very much. We believe that we owe abused women safety and dignity. We believe it is the responsibility of our government to provide this safety and dignity by immediately committing to the following:

- Full, predictable, and certain funding for women’s shelters.

- Shelter staff must be paid at fair market value and have their wages indexed in the same way that MLA salaries are indexed.

- Transitional housing needs to have a major financial commitment in order to provide nearly one thousand additional transitional housing beds in this province.

- The reinstatement of the Women’s Secretariat in order to draw attention to women’s issues.

Please provide the provincial leadership you promised in the Finding Solutions Together report of the Alberta Roundtable on Family Violence and Bullying. Please show your commitment to the Marthas of the province on International Women’s Day by making immediate commitments to the women of Alberta.

We would be most interested in your written responses to our concerns


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