Study led by Alexa Yakubovich, a professor at Dalhousie University, already focused on VAW in Toronto area that led to recommendations for development of a national action plan.

A study that led to recommendations for the development of a national action plan to address violence against women is expanding to include Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

Last week, the Public Health Agency of Canada published recommendations from a community-based study led by Alexa Yakubovich, a professor at Dalhousie University’s Department of Community Health and Epidemiology. 

The study (reported here) focused on violence against women (VAW) programming during the pandemic in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). 

“This is the first peer-reviewed analysis of the perspectives of VAW (violence against women) leaders, service providers, and survivors on what should be considered in Canada’s national action plan (NAP),” Yakubovich said of the published study. 

“While many recommendations have been proposed for the NAP over the years, this research helps prioritize for policymakers what stakeholders want to see happen in their region (the GTA).”

A smiling young woman with curly dark hair and dark glasses and wearing a white top stands against a wall of greenery.
Dalhousie University professor and researcher Alexa Yakubovich. Photo: Contributed

Yakubovich said the study sheds light on more nuanced recommendations that arose during the pandemic. This includes the benefits more flexible funding conditions had on VAW organizations that were able to use funding as needed for emerging service gaps. 

“The pandemic impacted the burden of IPV (intimate partner violence) against women in many ways. Many VAW survivors were forced to shelter in place with violent partners or family members during the pandemic,” Yakubovich said. 

The study’s survivor participants from the Toronto area shared their experiences of increases in family violence, including sexual, physical, psychological, and financial. 

‘Partners threatening women with infection’

The threat of an infectious disease was also used against many survivors.

“In addition to socioeconomic and pandemic restrictions, COVID-19 as an infectious disease played a role in the coercive and controlling dynamics of abusive relationships, with partners threatening women with infection or using COVID-19 as a further means of social and physical isolation,” Yakubovich said. 

Services that support survivors were also impacted by the pandemic in the face of closures, disruptions, changes in public health protocols, and increased stress experienced by their staff members.

Important to understand regional priorities

The federal government has committed about $600 million over the next five years to advance a national action plan to end gender-based violence. Yakubovich said last week’s publication of the study’s recommendations is important because understanding the priorities of VAW stakeholders is key. 

“In November in Nova Scotia, the government announced a framework for the NAP with the endorsement of provincial and territorial ministers. But this document only includes proposed ‘opportunities for action,’” she said. 

“As a result, what the implementation of the NAP will look like in practice is still unclear. It is now up to provincial and territorial governments to negotiate their commitments, so it is important to understand what the priorities of VAW stakeholders are for their respective regions.”

A major public health issue

Yakubovich hopes her recently published research helps Canadians understand the “critical importance” of violence against women as a major public health issue that requires investment and policy reform.

“Given that four in 10 Canadian women will experience IPV — the most common form of VAW — in their lifetime, it is important for all Canadians to understand what constitutes VAW, to be aware of how VAW may affect their loved ones, and to know what supports are available to help,” she said. 

Recommendations Yakubovich considers immediately actionable include increased funding to VAW services and the coordination between VAW and other supportive sectors like health, justice, and housing.

“Based on our findings, increased funding to VAW services should be used to expand the capacity of organizations — including the ability to provide wraparound supports in house — and resource a centralized referral process available online or over the phone with on-demand interpretation,” she said. 

“Investment into the coordination and collaboration of services should involve training service providers on VAW issues and hiring advocates with VAW expertise to work on relevant services to better support survivors’ needs.”

Participants needed in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick

The Interprovincial Violence Against Women (IPV) Project is a new study expanding on the Toronto research. It involves surveys and interviews with VAW survivors who’ve accessed services since March 2020 — and with staff who support them — across the provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Ontario. 

The study’s goal is to “identify and mobilize knowledge around best practices for preventing and responding to violence against women” across Canada both during and beyond the pandemic. 

The surveys for both survivors and service support staff are now open, and participants receive an honorarium upon completion. If interested, they may also participate in interviews as part of the study. 

“We want to see the implementation of these recommendations (published last week), with definitive commitments from both the federal and provincial governments, in continued consultation with VAW stakeholders, including VAW organizations and survivors,” Yakubovich said. 

“It is also important that collaborative research continues into what the priority recommendations are for other regions in Canada — this is a goal of our ongoing study, the Interprovincial VAW Project, or the IPV Project, for Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Ontario.”

Yvette d’Entremont is a bilingual (English/French) journalist and editor who enjoys covering health, science, research, and education.

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