Applying a Gender Equity Lens to Gun Violence

YWCA Toronto deputation to the City of Toronto's Board of Health 
November 12, 2019 


Good morning Committee Members:

My name is Jasmine Ramze Rezaee, and I am the Manager of Advocacy at YWCA Toronto, one of the city’s oldest and largest multi-service women’s organizations.

YWCA Toronto offers permanent housing, shelters, employment programs, newcomer supports, and programs for girls and teen mothers. We operate in 11 locations across the city, including in Scarborough and Rexdale. As an organization committed to serving and empowering women – and as an organization committed to social and racial justice – we feel it is important to speak here today in support of the Medical Officer of Health’s recommendations for two main reasons.

The first reason is that we have actually been an active member of Canada’s gun control movement for the past thirty years. As part of the Coalition for Gun Control, we have made the connection between gender-based violence and guns. Guns figure prominently in intimate partner violence and guns are often implicated in femicide and in misogynist killing sprees, such as the one on December 6, 1989 at École Polytechnique in Montreal. The presence of a firearm in a home also increases the likelihood of a woman being killed if there is abuse by 500%.

The second and more pressing reason we are here today is that as a Toronto-based organization, we are very concerned about rising gun violence in our city. The communities we work with have been directly impacted by gun violence. Our staff members have been directly impacted by gun violence. And when we look at who is disproportionately impacted, it is important to highlight both the racial and gendered dimensions of this social problem.

We recently applied a gender equity lens to conduct research into the impacts of gun violence in the communities we serve, the findings of which are captured in our report, The Forgotten Victims of Gun Violence.

What we found is that grief and healing journeys for Black women and girls are complicated due to the intersections of racism, sexism and socio-economic inequities. As if the tragic loss of a son, brother, cousin, father, or friend isn’t devastating enough, women are forced to mourn while also fighting for positive legacies and counteracting racial stigmas associated with gun violence. They are expected to heal from tragedy and deal with trauma while caring for their families, and navigating layers of systemic racism and oppression with few government supports.

What we also found is that the needs of racialized girls and young women have been overlooked in discussions of gun violence and community solutions to such violence. YWCA Toronto operates a Girl’s Centre in Scarborough and the report points out that some of the girls we serve have been impacted by community violence but receive limited supports and have few spaces to access girl-positive, culturally competent care.

This reality adds additional pressures on our frontline staff to address multiple forms of trauma while providing programming, representing a challenge for our organization because a) we do not receive any level of government funding for our girls programs and b) because our staff are not trained mental health workers so they are not fully equipped to provide culturally-sensitive mental health care.

It is clear that serious funding and service gaps exist stemming from the fact that gun violence is not viewed as a women’s issue even though women and girls are clearly impacted.

Gun violence requires all levels of government to apply an intersectional equity lens to funding and policy decisions. It requires the media to critically examine the root causes of violence. And, it requires our society to sensibly balance freedoms with responsibilities. The freedom to own a weapon should never trump the safety of Black and racialized communities in our city.

In short, we strongly support the proposed Recommendations and any amendments you put forward to strengthen these recommendations.

We strongly support a full federal ban on handguns, assault rifles and semi-automatic firearms in our country. We also urge the City not to leave women out of the discussion of gun violence and to substantially increase investment in community solutions to violence.

Thank you.

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