Femicide rates on the rise during COVID-19 pandemic, says Guelph, Ont. researcher

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Grace Lore, Parliamentary Secretary for Gender Equity, talks about the role and responsibility of government in addressing gender-based violence. – Nov 25, 2021

A gender-based violence expert at the University of Guelph says femicide has increased in Canada and around the world during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Myrna Dawson points to repeated lockdowns and a lack of access to services and shelter as well as tense home environments for the steady increase in sex- and gender-related killings of women and girls.

“The numbers are showing increases over the three years — pre-COVID, beginning of COVID and as COVID continues — and in that context, it is something that we should be concerned about,” Dawson said.

She said she is not just concerned about the increase in the numbers, but also that the numbers are only capturing women and girls who were killed. “This does not capture the increases in those who have and continue to experience violence throughout the pandemic.”

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Dawson is the University of Guelph’s director of the Centre for the Study of Social and Legal Responses to Violence. She also services as director of the Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability, which is a group focused on understanding the causes and consequences of femicide.

According to the group, 92 women and girls were killed in Canada in the first six months of 2021, up from 78 during the same period in 2020 and 60 in 2019.

“That’s an increase of 32 women and girls killed from 2019 to 2021,” Dawson said. “Canada is not the only country experiencing these continual increases in numbers. It’s a global trend.”

She added that women have been hit harder by the pandemic when it comes to layoffs and reduced access to child care.

Dawson also said that lockdowns and stay-at-home orders have negatively changed the dynamics and stresses at home.

“However, these orders do not suddenly turn previously non-violent men into violent men,” Dawson said.

“Instead, it’s likely exacerbated the violence some women and children have already been living with and limiting their options in terms of dealing with it like they may have done before the pandemic.”

Thursday marks the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and the beginning of the Global 16 Days Campaign, which raises awareness about male violence against women.

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In a statement, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said $600 million has been earmarked to develop a national action plan that would address gender-based violence.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have invested nearly $300 million to support shelters, sexual assault centres, and organizations assisting women and children experiencing violence,” Trudeau said.

“This funding will ensure that these organizations are able to provide the necessary services and support to those who need it most.”

Data is still being collected on femicide rates in the second half of 2021.

But Dawson said the pandemic is just one factor and without real societal changes, femicide rates will remain the same or even increase.

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“While the pandemic has changed the dynamics of violence in some ways, the experiences, consequences and solutions have not changed significantly, so everything that feminists and anti-violence against women organizations have been saying for decades still applies,” she said.

“Gender equality or equity is key. We cannot fully prevent violence without addressing the contributions of misogyny and male entitlement.”

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