More Women and Girls Were Killed During the Pandemic—Mostly by Men

The rate of femicide in Canada appears to have risen over the last year and a half, two reports say.
July 22, 2021, 2:57pm
Demonstrators wearing protective face masks hold placards during an anti-domestic violence protest on July 24, 2020 in Warsaw, Polan
Demonstrators wearing protective face masks hold placards during an anti-domestic violence protest on July 24, 2020 in Warsaw, Poland. (Photo by Aleksander Kalka/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

The number of Canadian women and girls who lost their lives to misogynic violence went up during the pandemic, a new report says.  

This alarming femicide rate—that is, the killing of women and girls because they are women and girls—is outlined in a new mid-year report from the Canadian Femicide Observatory For Justice and Accountability (CFOJA). The preliminary findings show 92 women and girls were killed, mostly by men, in the first half of 2021.

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Between January and June of 2020, 78 women and girls died due to femicide in Canada, while 60 were killed during the same period in 2019, according to the CFOJA. 

“There are often random fluctuations in homicide and so we'd need more than three years to determine if this is an actual increase, but it is concerning,” Myrna Dawson, director of the CFOJA, told VICE World News. “We've seen growing evidence of a broader culture that appears to be more, rather than less, tolerant of misogyny, which we know fuels violence against women.”

Indigenous women and girls are especially overrepresented in CFOJA’s mid-year report, with this group representing 12 percent of femicide victims, despite making up just 5 per cent of the overall population. 

Dawson says this is a result of Canada’s failure to introduce societal-level solutions to combat the legacy of ongoing colonization of Indigenous peoples and the continued discrimination they experience on an individual and institutional level.

And in general, when sex and gender intersect with other marginalized identities such as race, ethnicity, culture and ability, she said this can compound the levels of violence faced by some groups of women in particular.

“Misogyny is built on things like colonialism, sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia and these ideas of traditional gender roles and even just stereotypes of how we’re supposed to act,” gender justice advocate and educator Farrah Khan said.

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The chilling mid-year figures may also be due to public health restrictions associated with COVID-19, she says. While advocates warned early on that women and girls would face heightened risks of violence amid lockdowns, especially those living in already abusive households, she says their insights went largely ignored by provincial governments.

Isolation from the outside world, job loss (which has disproportionately impacted women), school closures, food insecurity, increased racism, family loss, addiction, and strained mental health have all contributed to an increase in domestic violence during COVID, and Khan says we’re now witnessing the deadly consequences of governments’ failures to take preventative measures.

The issue is particularly pervasive in Ontario, Canada’s largest province, which has seen 35 deaths by femicide since December 2020, according to a report released this week by The Ontario Association of Interval and Transition Houses. The report documents a year-over-year increase in confirmed femicides in Ontario from December to June, rising by 84.2 percent from the 19 deaths recorded during the same period in 2020.

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What’s perhaps most disheartening about these rising numbers, Khan says, is that research shows violence against women, specifically femicide, is predictable and preventable. 

We know the key indicators to watch for—stalking, verbal abuse, history of violence or sexual assault, mental illness, addiction, harm to pets, threats to other family members—and yet society rarely takes them seriously before it’s too late.

If we truly want to protect women and girls from gender-based violence and femicide, Khan says provincial governments should be investing real money in programs led by violence-against-women organizations—the majority of which are currently stretched thin.

She says domestic violence leave, which already exists in Ontario, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba, must be introduced in all provinces to give people time to attend to medical needs, to access victim services, to seek counselling, or to move.

Canada must also raise the federal minimum wage, Khan says, to give women the ability to leave abusive situations without fearing for how they’ll provide for their children. 

“We set women up to be unsafe when we don’t provide a social safety net for them, including a real minimum wage,” she said. “If we don’t set up a social safety net, don’t blame individual women when they are in these violent situations. There’s blood on our hands and there’s blood on the government’s hands when they don’t do anything to keep people safe.”

Follow Mira Miller on Twitter.