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Becoming a political football

Elections seem to have become about trivializing issues rather than addressing the complicated and interrelated crises of our time. Even so, I was shocked and outraged when violence against women hit the federal campaign.

On August 31, 2015, the NDP promised “funding aimed at ending violence against women.” The actual commitment is “to spend $40 million over four years on building or renovating women’s shelters, which the NDP estimates could create or renovate 2,100 spaces in shelters, and nearly 350 beds in transitional housing.”

As with most promises, this commitment is infinitely less than it seems and will do nothing to combat violence against women, a societal issue that cannot be helped by throwing tiny bits of money at the problem. Ten million a year spread across Canada means an inconsequential amount for each province, an infinitesimal amount for any given community.

In 2014, CWAV Society made a presentation to the provincial government’s Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services during its annual budget consultation process. Consultation is too grand a word to describe having 10 minutes to present a case for funding to a committee of “I’m bored and wish I didn’t have to listen to you” stone-faced and mute Liberal and “I feel your pain” impotent but question asking NDP MLAs.

We estimated CWAV Society would need $300,000 in the additional money each year to do a barely adequate job. If we restricted our ask to what we might need for our transition house, which represents about half our budget, that would still amount to $150,000 annually. If each of the 100 transition societies in BC face a similar deficiency, BC alone would need $15 to $30 million more in annual funding for societies supporting women facing violence just to do the basics.

Now despite all of the good work we do, we can’t end violence against women. Shelters and transition houses don’t end violence against women. We just provide short-term protection from an abuser and support for longer-term healing from trauma.

Reducing violence against women in Canada would require a completely different approach and massive cultural and societal shifts in priorities and policies. The multidimensional solutions that are needed include addressing issues of housing --- shelters and transition houses are not housing --- as well as problems of income, education, safety, justice, policing, parenting and all manner of other community-based factors.

It is insulting enough that the NDP suggests the proposed program would end or even reduce violence. But when they went on to say the Liberal's support violence against women because they wouldn’t subscribe to the NDP “plan,” they poisoned the already diseased and dysfunctional Canadian political landscape.

Just when we need the so-called “progressive” political parties to entertain the possibility of working together so that we get the change in government we deserve, parties want to score political points on the backs of abused women. It’s pretty disheartening. 

All political parties should remember these two proverbs when trying to use vulnerable people as a political football around serious and tragic issues. 

"A little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing" and "Actions speak louder than words." 

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