International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women

Artwork for the UN Women interactive website, Violence Against Women: Facts Everyone Should Know. Image: UN Women

November 25, annually, is observed as the InternationalDay for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. This date is specifically chosen to honour the Mirabel sisters who were murdered by order of the ruler of their country, the Dominican Republic, in 1960.

Violence Against Women is a form of gender-based violence. Gender-Based Violence includes any act of violence or abuse perpetuated against someone based on their gender identity, gender expression, or perceived gender that can result in physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering. Violence comes in many forms and does not discriminate based on age, class or geography. Particularly vulnerable are younger women, the elderly, lesbian and transgender individuals, indigenous people, and the disabled.

We commemorate the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women amid staggering statistics. Globally, 1 in 3 women and girls experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime, most frequently by an intimate partner. One out of every two women killed worldwide will be killed by an intimate partner or relative. More than 200 million women and girls alive today have been subjected to genital mutilation. Presently, forty-nine countries still have no law against domestic violence.

In Canada, the figures are no different, with one in three women in Canada experiencing sexual assault at some point in their lives, and sexual assault remaining one of the top five most common violent offences committed against women in Canada. Despite our privilege as physicians, we do not escape the experiences of gender inequality, family and intimate partner violence, and even human right violations. Women physicians are not immune to violence against women, personally nor professionally.

A stark reminder of physicians not being immune to violence against women came in 2016 at the news of Dr. Elana Fric’s horrific murder, allegedly at the hand of her spouse. Dr. Fric is not alone. Many Canadian women have lost their lives due to violence against women, including the 14 women gunned down at La Polytechnique in Montreal on December 6, 1989 and the host of women whose stories are finally being heard through the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

In Canada, we are fortunate to have a number of committed organizations and partners who are working diligently to eradicate violence in all of its forms in communities large and small. Our goal is not to replicate or duplicate their efforts, but rather contribute with the unique voice of female physicians and contribute to collective action to end violence against women. To date, at the Federation, we have focused on issues related to violence against women and gender-based violence, broadly, in relation to women, peace and security. Additionally, we have worked on responding to ongoing issues in medical practice as they affect women’s health.

In the upcoming year we will be focusing on preventing the cycle of abuse and the effects of abuse throughout the life course caused by trauma. We know that adverse childhood experiences (ACE) increases an individual’s risk of a myriad of illness such as alcohol and drug addiction, depression, and other mental and physical illnesses.

Additionally, we will be working toward developing tools for physicians to help screen for, and respond to, signs of violence. We will also commit to engaging with partners including those in academia, practice and advocacy to explore areas where women physicians can make a difference, both personally and professionally.

While our work has merely begun, the task is herculean and without end. It is our goal that by focusing on the cycle of violence and addressing what may be done to help families, notably children and young adults, we may be able to make a small change, even one patient at a time. This work, though, requires collaboration, engagement, and mobilization of the knowledge and wisdom of many partners. The FMWC always welcomes the involvement of members in any advocacy work, and we look forward to hearing from you if you want to contribute to the work to come. Equally, the Federation is always open to new partnerships that help advance women’s health. For anyone interested in being involved, please reach out.

Looking forward to working together to eliminate violence against women in all its forms,

Dr. Kathee Andrews, MD, MCFP, NCMP
Federation of Medical Women of Canada