violence against women and gender-based violence during the pandemic

This blog has been edited to include the start date of the BWSS 24/7 crisis line.

In support of front-line women and women-serving organizations in B.C.

Violence against women and gender-based violence during the pandemic

by Angela Marie MacDougall

I write today from Battered Women’s Support Services (BWSS), where our volunteer and staff team continue on the front-line supporting survivors of gender-based violence during the pandemic with crisis intervention, counselling, and legal advocacy. Like our counterpoints across B.C., the women who access our services are navigating violence against women and gender-based violence including domestic and sexual violence, poverty, substandard or precarious housing, substance use and ill mental health, sex work and sexual exploitation, as well as, compromised immune systems resulting from these factors.

The COVID-19 pandemic poses specific challenges for women in our communities. Our services and programs are the vital community-based response positioned to make a difference.  I have written to our federal and provincial governments seeking additional funding support to assist women and women-serving organizations in B.C., and specifically in Metro Vancouver where BWSS is based.

The work of our organizations is to alleviate isolation, as well as, providing vital support services that increase women’s safety and keep women alive.  Our support services span crisis domestic and sexual violence intervention, victim services, drop-in services, support groups, meals and food services, shelters for homeless/precariously housed and women’s transitional, second stage, and supportive housing. We are some of the most under-resourced members of our Canadian safety net and yet we stand on the front-line every day in the interest of the members of our communities who experience profound marginalization, gender violence, and systemic discrimination.

Our work involves a number of components, especially to bring women together to help alleviate isolation, be safe, and survive.  Relationships and engagement are vital aspects of safety and security and as such, many women rely on accessing our facilities daily for their basic needs.  COVID-19 is proving to be a disaster for us as we scramble to develop staffing sick and self-isolation policies, staffing coverage plans, assemble required supplies to prevent COVID-19 transmission, service delivery modifications for social distancing while maintaining levels of service to meet the safety needs of women who rely on us daily. As front-line organizations, we too, are first responders: we are keeping women alive, and we cannot cease service delivery.

Self-isolation is becoming mandatory and in general, women in B.C. have the primary responsibility for unpaid housework, emotional labour, and caregiving responsibilities including child and eldercare.  Women will inevitably have to take on these increased unpaid responsibilities.  Like the front-line service providers in women and women’s serving organizations, women are paid less than other sectors, and the women who access our services are more likely to work in the gig economies or part-time employment or other similar job precariousness. Members of our communities have increased vulnerabilities to work interruptions and stoppages due to COVID-19.  And it bears repeating that many people who access our services also experience grinding poverty.

Our counterparts in China reported that as millions of people are spending time indoors, there have been increasing instances of domestic violence citing the COVID-19 pandemic a contributing factor in 90 percent of the cases. We thoughtfully and strongly consider increased rates of violence as we are navigating decisions about service interruptions and closures. A few organizations like BWSS are being forced to close or seriously scale back our services. We must not allow the support systems for women in B.C. to be weakened during this unprecedented time. Edit: On March 20 BWSS scaled up the crisis line to 24/7.

Our services will continue to remain open and we encourage women to make choices that are best for them. If you or you know someone who needs support, please call the Battered Women’s Support Services crisis line at 604-687-1867 or toll-free at 1-855-687-1868. Our phone lines are open 24/7. For more information, visit our website.

Angela Marie MacDougall is an award-winning speaker, educator, and advocate who has worked domestically and globally on issues of gender equity, women’s rights and human rights for 30 years. Based in Vancouver, Canada, Angela is the Executive Director at Battered Women’s Support Services – a leading national advocate ending gender violence.  There she leads a matrix of clinical and community-based services, legal and systemic advocacy, social enterprise and dynamic team that support thousands of survivors of gender violence.  Angela’s impact includes curricula development, training programs combined with empowerment and advocacy-based service delivery models grounded in intersectional feminist and anti-oppression theoretical frameworks.

Angela has brought tangible transformation through extensive grassroots community-based organizing to redress systemic and institutional barriers that undermine the liberation of women and girls.  Her Tedx talk Four Ways Men Relate to Violence against Women is both provocative and instructive. Angela was named a 2014 Remarkable Woman by the City of Vancouver and Vancouver Magazine named her one of Vancouver’s 50 Most Powerful People.