Sex and Gender-based Analysis of this topic
The United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women defines violence against women as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual, or mental harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion, or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life”. The pattern of abuse is an enduring, traumatic, and complex experience that isolates and controls women, whether or not it includes physical or sexual violence. Physical violence, including threats of violence, hitting with fists or weapons, with or without physical injury, is the most commonly understood form of abuse. All forms of physical violence are crimes under the Criminal Code.
Violence against women in relationships has been found to be the single most common cause of injury to women. Abuse by a current or former intimate partner is the most common cause of injury to women and accounted for 39% of female homicides in Canada in 2006. Physical violence can result in bruises, lacerations, abrasions, burns, sprains, fractured bones, broken teeth, choking, head injuries, and internal abdominal injuries. Other health issues stemming from abuse are chronic gastro-intestinal problems, bladder infections, migraines, and problems sleeping. Chronic pain at the site of previous injuries is common for women who have experienced abuse. Long-term or permanent disability, such as hearing loss, visual impairment, disfigurement, brain damage, or paralysis can result from injury.
The physical and emotional harms associated with abuse may result in health impacts or exacerbate pre-existing health problems. Patterns of mental and physical intimidation and abuse have significant and lasting impacts on women’s health, with disability and death on the extreme end of the continuum of physical impacts. Abuse affects all aspects of a woman’s health, including physical injuries and disability, mental health, use of substances, sexual and reproductive health, and general health conditions. Because of the difficulty of controlling their own lives, women living with abusive partners often do not or cannot seek health care. Women may have to deal with unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases, and recurring and/or untreated problems because of difficulty of following certain types of treatments. Some of the mental health issues related to abuse are post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, chronic stress related issues, suicide attempts (self-harm), and suicide. The health impacts of abuse may continue long after a woman has left the abuser.
Many forms of inequality intersect with gender to shape the experiences of women in abusive relationships. Women with physical disabilities may face greater risk of being abused because of the dependence on their partners and increased isolation. The rate of sexual abuse for girls with disabilities is quadruple that of the national average. Young women are at a higher risk of violence and of being killed. Women of all socio-economic status are at risk of experiencing abuse in their relationships, but poverty can increase difficulties escaping the abuse.
First Nations and Inuit women experience violence at rates higher than the Canadian average. Relationship abuse may be exacerbated for these women by economic factors, a history of colonization, and a cultural legacy of mistreatment and abuses that arose in past decades through educational practices. Immigrant and refugee women may face greater barriers to escaping abuse due to isolation on the basis of language or culture, and to their dependent status on their partners as a result of immigration legislation and their marginalized place in the workforce. Women who live in rural communities also face similar effects due to isolation and increased community pressure to not speak out about abuse. Many women who work in the sex trade have experienced abuse or violence, with most being victimized more than once. The marginalization and stigma associated with the survival sex trade and the normalizing of violence towards this population of women contributes to the barriers women face when trying to access health care and support.
Some of the factors to consider when looking at data on violence against women are that women often underreport experiences of abuse, they do not necessarily identify with the questions asked of them, and/or may not want to disclose abuse due to embarrassment or fear of reprisal from the abuser or child protection. Other factors to consider are the definition of violence in some surveys is limited to the criminal code definitions of abuse and that many surveys require self reporting and disclosure by women.