Julie White, Unifor Women’s Director
The United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women has been observed on November 25th each year since 2000. It is an occasion for governments, international organizations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to raise public awareness of violence against women.
“There is one universal truth, applicable to all countries, cultures and communities: violence against women is never acceptable, never excusable, never tolerable." – UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
As it is around the world, violence against women in Canada is a serious, pervasive problem crossing every social boundary and affects communities across the country. According to recent Statistics Canada research, on average, every six days a woman in Canada is killed by her partner. And on any given day, there are more than 3,000 women (along with their 2,500 children) living in emergency shelters, to flee domestic violence. Many more women suffer in silence due to lack of adequate resources to support women shelters - often in rural and remote communities across Canada. Violence remains a significant barrier to women's equality and we know it has devastating consequences in the lives of women, children, families and Canadian society as a whole.
Unifor has made ending gender-based violence a priority, and we will observe November 25th along with the rest of an international community dedicated to making the world a safer place. But Unifor recognizes that raising awareness isn't enough. Along with our combined rich history of trying to address the root causes of gender-based violence, our union has achieved significant victories at the bargaining table that work towards advancing women's equality and human rights (including the right to be free of violence). Some of our collective bargaining achievements include anti-discrimination clauses in our collective agreements, harassment and complaint procedures, right to refuse work based on harassment, harassment prevention training and our ground breaking and world renowned Women’s Advocate program.
First negotiated by the Canadian Auto Workers union in 1993, it didn't take long for the union to begin to understand the value of the Women’s Advocate program. It was through connecting with their workplace Women’s Advocate that women found that they were not alone, that it was their right to be free from violence, and it was where they sought out support and community resources they needed to leave a violent relationship. Their jobs were protected when they needed time off work to find safety. Women who found support through their workplace Women’s Advocate often went on to live a life free from violence rather than becoming another statistic, another number in the long list of women killed in Canada each year.
Today, Unifor has close to 300 Women’s Advocates in every sector of the economy and from coast to coast to coast. Not only has bargaining Women’s Advocate language been a priority, but negotiating an employer paid training fund has as well. The Unifor Women’s Department offers a 40-hour basic training program to all new advocates, as well as a three day annual update training program.
While the actual number of advocates and their training is important, the success of the Women’s Advocate Program will be measured not solely by our gains at the bargaining table, but also, and more significantly, by the hundreds of Unifor women who have been supported, believed, validated and empowered.
On this International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, Unifor reaffirms our commitment to negotiating Women's Advocates in every workplace in every local.
As much as unions do, we cannot negotiate language at the bargaining table to eradicate gender-based violence in society let alone fight for those changes for non-unionized workers in our country. But through our union actions and activities we can and are making a difference through organizing, collective bargaining and lobbying. We are working towards building the conditions for change.