The founding women at BWSS recognized that violence against women and gender-based violence does not only take place between two individuals, in isolation, but in a social context and is rooted in world view which systemically reinforces the power of some people to oppress others.
As an organization, that grounds our work in intersectional and decolonizing feminism we continue to advance critical race feminism in our service provision, training programs and advocacy. Tracing this work back to the 1990’s it is extensive and ongoing.
Responding to racism through working to end gender-based violence is challenging. Canada is a country that has extreme difficulty recognizing how deep, profound racism and racial discrimination is, and how it is compounding the impact of domestic, intimate partner and sexualized violence for victims and survivors who are Black, Indigenous, racialized, immigrant and/or refugee.
Through our frontline work and advocacy on gender-based violence and femicide experienced by Indigenous, Black, racialized, immigrant and/or refugee women, girls both trans and cis, there’s a political and intentional denial of racism by government and related systems. Moreover, police, child welfare, government system players have routinely told us, that if racism exists, (and that’s a big “IF”) it could not be a factor in the cases BWSS has presented.
BWSS sits on the International Decade for the People of African Descent Advisory Committee (IDPAD). When the BC provincial government announced it was developing legislation in race-based data collection we joined a provincial coalition of members of the Black and African diasporic communities. To make visible how racism and specifically anti-Black racism is in effect in BC and what government needs to do to address it, in 2021, we met with provincial Ministers representing housing, public safety, mental health, education, finance, social development, women and gender equity attended and topics for discussion included:
- Recognizing IDPAD and addressing anti-Black racism in legislation
- Addressing anti-Black racism in education
- Addressing anti-Black racism in justice and community safety
- Addressing access to health and mental health services
- Addressing access to adequate housing Wednesday
- Addressing Black ownership and generating Black wealth, employment mobility
- Arts and culture and Black identity
- Migration and Inclusion
- Dialogue with Black Youth
- Dialogue with Black Women
When those meetings concluded the provincial government invited community organizations, including BWSS, to host engagement sessions and provide input on this proposed legislation. Up until January 31, 2022, the public was able to provide feedback on the legislation through a survey.
BWSS was pleased to host several engagement sessions on this issue. Below we share some of the brilliant insights we heard from Black, Indigenous, and racialized women and gender-diverse people, including BWSS volunteers, staff, and our partners.
Along the way, we took the opportunity to announce BWSS Colour of Violence project. The multi-year Colour of Violence in British Columbia initiative responds to an expressed need among Indigenous, Black, and racialized survivors for comprehensive gender and race disaggregated data on government and service provider responses to gender based violence. As part of Colour of Violence, we hosted a public survey focusing on issues of accessibility, safety and the structural barriers of anti-violence services in BC for Black, Indigenous, immigrant/refugee, and women and gender-diverse survivors of colour, and are in the midst of analyzing and researching the data. We also hosted focus groups to assess how gender and race influence the accessibility and adequacy of anti-violence services and responses to gender-based violence, and we organized two public events on ‘Youth Survivors and Dating Survivors’ and ‘Colour of Violence: Gender, Race and Anti-Violence Services.’
So, what is Race-Based Data Collection? That is a good question…
Unlike aggregated data, which groups all information together, disaggregated data provides sub-categories of data – for example by race – to research and reveal inequalities between categories. The information that is collected is anonymized and de-identified, so stripped of personal information like name or date of birth, and then used in statistical analysis to determine if there is a difference or disparity between the sub-categories of data.
Ideally, disaggregated data sheds light on the experience of Indigenous, Black and people of colour to ensure that government or institutional policy, solutions and actions effectively redresses systemic inequities. For example, the Aboriginal Homelessness Steering Committee and the Black Peoples Homelessness Strategy in Vancouver has pushed for better-disaggregated data on Black and Indigenous peoples experiencing homelessness. Similarly, the British Columbia First Nations’ Data Governance Initiative and Hogan’s Alley Society Vaccine intentions among Black communities in British Columbia is an approach led by First Nations governments and the Black community to not only collect the power of data for their communities’ wellbeing, but to fully self-determine and affirm data sovereignty as Indigenous and Black communities.
The BC Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres has collaborated with BWSS Indigenous Women’s Program in a by and for Indigenous women lead research project to learn how Indigenous women’s experience of Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) during the COVID-19 pandemic and how easy or difficult it is for them to access culturally safe services and resources. A “by and for” approach to disaggregated data collection affirms the centring of communities who are routinely researched.
Many have also warned about how race-based data collection can perpetuate racial harm especially if the process is invasive or weaponized to entrench negative racial stereotypes. For example, in response to Indigenous nations’ calls for data about COVID in their communities, the First Nations Health Authority began releasing specific data about hotspots and clusters. In one widely-reported instance, the Cowichan Tribes faced a wave of anti-Indigenous discrimination after a COVID cluster was announced in their community. First Nations band members were explicitly denied or threatened with denial of access to services, stores, medical appointments, and employment in the local town of Duncan. “Our members have a right to services, have a right to shop, have a right to employment,” said Stephanie Atleo.
Similarly, Data for Black Lives notes: “Tools like statistical modeling, data visualization, and crowd-sourcing, in the right hands, are powerful instruments for fighting bias, building progressive movements, and promoting civic engagement. But history tells a different story, one in which data is too often wielded as an instrument of oppression, reinforcing inequality and perpetuating injustice. Redlining was a data-driven enterprise that resulted in the systematic exclusion of Black communities from key financial services. More recent trends like predictive policing, risk-based sentencing, and predatory lending are troubling variations on the same theme.”
Keeping in mind both the potential benefits and harms of race-based data collection, the BC Human Rights Commissioner has made a number of recommendations in Disaggregated Demographic Data Collection in British Columbia: The Grandmother Perspective for using disaggregated data to leverage systemic change while minimizing risks to racialized communities.
As the report states, “This approach centres the importance of a strong relationship between government or other researchers and the affected community. It envisions a shift from data as a tool of control to a tool of care. It is grounded in the concept of data sovereignty, where communities lead decision-making as much as possible and all processes centre community needs, experience and knowledge throughout the stages of data collection, storage, use (including analysis and interpretation) and distribution.”
What We Heard about Proposed Provincial Race-Based Data Collection
Across all the sessions that BWSS hosted about the proposed race-based data collection, there were a lot of concerns about whether race-based data would meaningfully advance racial equality. Here is a snapshot of some of what we heard from Black, Indigenous, and racialized women, femmes, and gender diverse people who participated in the engagement sessions:
“As long as the knowledge system which creates public policy doesn’t change, this data will just entrench whiteness and eurocentrism. Unless this belief is dismantled, the data collection will not help.”
“No matter what principles we may want in there or that the government puts in there, there is still the overarching principle of white supremacy and that negates whatever protective mechanisms are implemented.”
“Is race-based legislation helpful when the institutions are systemically racist, like police?”
“What are the ramifications of releasing this data without anti-racist education if it continues pathologizing racialized communities?”
“I don’t understand why the collection of this data is necessary. Our communities are already over-researched, and have and continue to speak out around experiences with MCFD, the criminal legal system, systemic poverty etc. All these statistics on the overrepresentation of certain racial groups already exists in so many reports.”
“I have zero belief that the provincial government will do anything to help. We are halfway into the International Decade for People of African Descent, and we have lip service but no action yet.”
“I want the government to provide the services I need without intruding on my life.”
“To be heard, why do I have to share everything about myself? These things are already available to privileged people in the system.”
“I find the provision and collection of race-based data collection to be Othering.”
We also heard concerns about the process and method of race-based data collection, including:
- How does the government and this proposed legislation understand and define race? Race is constructed and is experienced differently across various locations, and race can be inclusive of but is much more than one’s cultural, linguistic, ethnic, or national identity.
- How accurate will the data be? Who is collecting, analyzing, and interpreting the data and what is their background and training? Will the conclusions drawn from the data be grounded in critical race theory and in a commitment to divest from whiteness?
- Can data capture everything? Data collection can miss the important socio-political context within which the data exists. There will inevitably be some stories and experiences that the data will not be able to appropriately convey or tell, especially if we replicate the colonial methodology of ticking category-based boxes and filling out forms.
- Will the data also capture geographic-specific race-based data collection? Many research methodologies are focused on urban areas and urban solutions, to the particular detriment of Indigenous and rural communities in the interior and north.
- How safe is this process of data collection for women and survivors who are extremely vulnerable, and already deal with so much abuse including from government systems?
- Who is comfortable providing race-based data and will the process of collecting race-based data truly reflect everyone? There is already high anxiety and mistrust for many people in accessing government websites and government systems. As one participant put it: “The people who need to benefit the most from race-based data collection are the ones who are the most vulnerable and least likely to provide their information. The people who are more likely to provide their information are least likely to be the ones who are the most traumatized and have less barriers, especially around class.” Another participant noted: “People need to be met where people are at, so data needs to also be collected where people are at, for example the agencies that unhoused people access.”
- What safeguards and protocols will be in place to ensure that race-based data collection is done in a way that is truly consensual, voluntary, culturally appropriate, provides information accessibly and through multiple mediums and in multiple languages, so that individuals and communities’ own and control our own data?
Importantly, we also heard that any proposed race-based data collection should ensure an intersectional approach, considering how race is experienced differently if you are a woman, queer, trans, poor, criminalized (especially those in prisons), neurodivergent, have disabilities, don’t have full immigration status, or are from caste-oppressed or minority communities within racialized communities.
As we heard, “the most privileged like middle class men within racialized communities should not be the ones to benefit from eligibility to funding opportunities; this data needs to capture intersectionality otherwise it will perpetuate inequities.”
Finally, we heard that if race-based data is being collected, it should result in meaningful and positive ACTION in tackling systemic racism by creating new meaningful funding opportunities, and new systems rooted in anti-racist and decolonial practice.
As one person explained “I have experienced both the positive and negative outcomes of race-based data collection. The industry I work in is white and male dominated, and in the data that was available I started to see that women of colour were not being hired. Through the data, we were able to change hiring practices and ensure women of colour were being hired. Not performative action, but systemic change that included new programs and funding opportunities to support this change.”
We heard that if race-based data is being collected it should lead to meaningful changes in some of the following areas of government programs and services:
- Data should be used to ensure there is equality and action for racialized and immigrant women and mothers, for example, in the courts during divorce or disputes over custody.
- Data should be collected and analyzed to make the strong case for the inclusion of critical race theory in all K-12 school curriculum.
- Race-based data collection should result in more funding for community groups to provide culturally appropriate and multilingual information such as on physical and mental health, food security, and maternal/ reproductive health initiatives.
- Race based data collection should consider the relationship between race and economic security and should support meaningful action on economic justice. We heard: “Racialized people are most represented in low wage work, so when we say the minimum wage needs to be higher, that will mostly benefit racialized communities.”
- Data should improve the lives of people who are facing the most inequities especially in the criminal legal system and by police and in prisons. “There are horrible outcomes for people who are in the criminal legal system cycle. This is an area of a lot of inequities, and this is an area where the government is perpetuating racism. We need programs to serve people who are the most hard-hit and are at the lowest rung,” as one person said.
We were thrilled to host such generative and brilliant engagement sessions through BWSS, and we are deeply grateful for those who offered their time and insights. We invite you to join the conversation!
To keep in touch with BWSS’s work on Colour of Violence and our upcoming report on Gender, Race and Anti-Violence Services, follow us on social media and subscribe to our email list.