Pandemic pressures spur demand for women’s shelters
For nearly a year since the onset of COVID-19, Ottawa has been boosting funding to organizations dealing with gender-based violence – a phenomenon which has risen drastically during the pandemic, as have the pressures placed on individuals and families.
A statement on the federal Ministry for Women and Gender Equality website says, “The COVID-19 pandemic has created unprecedented challenges for those experiencing gender-based violence and the organizations that provide supports and services to them.”
Demand is up, says Monsef
In May 2020, the ministry announced $50 million in emergency funding for organizations providing support and services to those experiencing gender-based violence. In October, they announced an additional $50 million. Then in December, they announced further details on the distribution of additional funding from October.
The measures and investments, according to the government, are supporting shelters and transition housing that provide a safe space for women and their families experiencing violence, while ensuring that anyone facing gender-based violence also has a safe place to turn.
‘The rates of violence against women and girls and children are up and this is not acceptable,’ says Monsef
During an exclusive interview this week with Newsfirst Multimedia, Women and Gender Equality Minister Maryam Monsef said the ministry has been in daily contact lately with organizations in Quebec and the rest of the country that are providing support to those who are fleeing abuse and violence.
“We heard in Quebec, as has been the case across the country, that the demand for services has gone up, and that the pandemic has added greater pressures to families, to individuals,” said Monsef.
‘This violence is preventable’
“The rates of violence against women and girls and children are up and this is not acceptable – this violence is preventable. But our government has been there since the beginning of COVID to provide immediate support to front-line organizations across the country.”
According to Monsef, the Ministry for Women and Gender Equality has provided funding to more than 1,500 organizations over the past year, allowing the groups to stay open, to pay staff and to provide counselling and support services to families undergoing traumatic strife during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Given the uncertain prospects of a foreseeable end to the pandemic or its wide-ranging and long-term impacts, Monsef did not rule out the possibility that the Trudeau government might continue its support past the current commitments.
“Well, you’ve heard the Prime Minister say – and I hope Canadians and particularly those vulnerable women and gender non-binary folks who are in abusive homes and abusive relationships hear this too – that we will be there for you – for whatever it takes for as long as it takes,” she said.
Monsef said that even before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in Canada early last year, the Liberal government had already begun increasing funding to groups providing services to those enduring gender-based violence.
“We were able to invest $100 million in emergency COVID funds for frontline organizations to support the most vulnerable in their hour of need,” she said. “And we will continue to be there not just for emergency support, but to help recover from the pandemic once we are able to move to the other side of it.”
Monsef said officials at the ministry are working proactively and taking their lead from the more than 1,500 organizations across Canada that are receiving assistance during the pandemic.
“They are the experts, they are creative, they are there to care for the most vulnerable, and we care about them. Every step of the way we’ve been working with them for the emergency response, but also to build better systems to put an end to violence against women and girls once and for all.”
Internet access accelerated
On a separate but related COVID-19 issue, involving Monsef in her capacity as Minister for Rural Economic Development, she said some of the hardships created by the pandemic motivated the government to accelerate deployment of high-speed internet service to 98 per cent of Canada’s rural and remote areas by 2026 (rather than 95 per cent by 2030, as previously planned).
“Life without internet access was hard before this pandemic and it is hard to endure during a pandemic,” she said. “Before COVID, we were able to provide support and funding so that close to 1,000 communities across the country were closer to getting high-speed internet. And by the end of 2020, tens of thousands of households who didn’t have that access before we formed the government had high-speed internet access.” Last November, according to Monsef, the government decided to accelerate the plan to connect all of the country to high-speed internet. She said the decision was directly related to the situation created by the pandemic. “Having that connectivity is essential right now,” she said. “It’s about health and safety, it enables online learning and telework, and also it makes sure that Canada is competitive.”