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Mexico-Canada Dialogues for a World in Transformation: Chapter 2

The Institute for Canadian Citizenship and Embassy of Canada in Mexico partnered on the second of a three part Mexico-Canada Dialogue series, discussing the way women* are valued, specifically as it relates to labour and domestic violence during the COVID-19 crisis. The dialogue centered around three key topics: what do we mean by “women’s work,” both paid and unpaid, gender violence as a global issue, and policy lessons for alleviating inequities and violence against women. Women have been especially impacted by the pandemic, both in terms of domestic violence and the level of risk that they face for work that is often least valued: healthcare, education, childcare, eldercare, household management, and a variety of other service industry roles.

*Anyone who identifies as a woman or non-binary femme.

 Featuring
– Introductions: Ambassador Graeme C. Clark
– Moderator: Juana Inés Dehesa-Christlieb
– Speakers: Karen Padilla (Mexico), Catherine Hernandez (Canada), Ana Pecova (Mexico)
– Interpretation: Teresa Flores

Key Takeaways

While the COVID-19 virus can spread no matter what your race, gender, or class, we’ve seen that the impacts are unequal. Women are a diverse group. When gender intersects with other factors, such as race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and ability — the economic, social, psychological, and health impacts of this crisis vary accordingly. This, added onto existing systemic discrimination towards women in the workplace and in the home, compounds these impacts.  

The responsibility of essential care work should not solely be on women, and the work of women should not be deemed unskilled work, or paid as such. The COVID-19 crisis has shown us how fundamental care work is to the health and functioning of our society. Essential work, including child care, elder care, and education, is skilled work, and it needs to be financially compensated accordingly. 

Data doesn’t always allow us to see the full scope or extent of domestic violence. However, even the data we do have available is cause for concern. Data on domestic violence doesn’t allow us to see the full scope of the problem due to barriers to reporting, a lack of transparency, and countless instances going undocumented before a final report. According to a Statistics Canada survey, 1 in 10 Canadian women reported domestic abuse as one of their top three concerns during the pandemic. This doesn’t affect all women equally, as has been made starkly clear in repeated reports and calls to action about missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada. In Mexico, there has been a 60 per cent increase in calls to women’s shelters in April 2020. This year, there have been about 10 femicides a day in Mexico, however it’s unclear if the numbers have increased since COVID-19. Domestic violence is the crime with the second highest number of formal complaints in Mexico — and that’s for a crime that is difficult to report in the first place. 

More public education and awareness is needed on support systems, shelters, and justice and legal processes available for survivors of domestic violence. Processes for navigating support systems for domestic abuse can be quite opaque and inaccessible. More needs to be done to raise awareness about accessible shelters, gender inclusive safe spaces, family planning clinics, and the importance of both emotional and physical support. What systems are there for those who don’t speak the language that a support hotline is offered in, or for those who don’t have access to a phone? 

Public policy changes can only go so far on issues in the home. If we want to do away with violence against women, we must address what is behind it. What happens in the life of a woman before the point of a domestic abuse report or femicide? As domestic violence occurs in the private realm, preventive and responsive actions are a collective community task. Drawing borders within our own households around toxic masculinity, valuing and protecting femininity, valuing care work, distributing labour equally, and defining clear lines around behaviour that is unacceptable are important places to start. Toxic masculinity and machismo need to be broken down and discussed to unlearn dangerous patterns of behaviour and reinforcement. 

Policies addressing domestic abuse must be more inclusive of gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation and how these intersections impact both experiences of domestic violence as well as experiences with community support systems. These systems must be accessible not just to those who fit a clearly defined category of “women experiencing harm from men,” and be sure not to exclude or discriminate against those experiencing mental illness, alcohol abuse, or trauma. 

While prevention measures should be strived for, the reality is that funding of responsive or mitigating measures is needed in the meantime. Programs that help women pay rent and give them access to a safe home allows them to get out of a dangerous situation. It should be remembered, that oftentimes the main concern is to get out of a violent situation, rather than to punish the aggressor. 

Rather than simply considering new policies, address the existing policies that continue to promote inequality. We must understand how gender equity is missing is every policy area in order to change things. Instead of thinking about issues in isolation, consider how justice, housing, and decriminalization policies intersect to negatively impact women.

We must rethink the institutions and structures of justice entirely, invest in community-level support, and learn from informal systems with expertise navigating safety and support, separate from the police. We can’t continue to place our bets on the traditional justice systems — police and courts — to deal with gender violence when they have often been shown to exacerbate issues. There is lots to learn from informal systems that effectively navigate safety and support outside of traditional justice institutions. For instance, sex workers are skilled at supporting their community in these areas. We must value and respect these systems and the people working within them in order to learn from them.