On December 6, 1989, 14 women were murdered at l’École Polytechnique de Montréal. It was a horrific act of misogyny that rocked our nation and led to the Parliament of Canada designating December 6 as The National Day of Remembrance and Violence Against Women (also known as White Ribbon Day).

Every year on December 6, the HRPA mourns the victims while also reflecting on the women, girls and gender-diverse individuals who have or continue to experience gender-based violence.

Key Facts on Gender-Based Violence:

  • Approximately every six days, a woman is killed by her intimate partner.
  • Gender-based violence worsened in the COVID-19 pandemic. In a survey by Ending Violence Association of Canada almost half of those surveyed said that they noticed changes in the frequency and severity of violence, with 82% saying violence increased and became more prevalent during the pandemic.
  • While anyone can experience gender-based violence, women, girls and gender-diverse individuals are put at a higher risk. Some are even at a greater risk due to other forms of oppression they face. This includes Indigenous women and girls, racialized women, women with disabilities, lesbian, gay and bisexual people, trans and non-binary people, women who live in rural or remote areas, and women who are homeless or underhoused.

National Day of Violence Against Women coincides with the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence. The campaign starts on November 25 (International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women) and runs until December 10 (Human Rights Day). The dates were selected to connect gender-based violence with human rights and to emphasize that gender-based violence is a violation of human rights.

Ultimately, the 16 Days of Activism is an opportunity to call for an end to violence against women, girls and gender-diverse individuals in and around our communities.

Workplaces and Gender-Based Violence:

Gender-based violence in the workplace, including sexual harassment, assault, verbal abuse and stalking, remains a major issue in Canada. In fact, according to a recent Angus Reid survey about sexual violence in the workplace, almost 90% of women use strategies at work to avoid sexual harassment, including avoiding specific people or altering the way they dress.

When we look at domestic violence specifically, more than half (54%) of survivors reported that one type of abusive act happened at or near their place of work. And nearly 40% of women who experienced domestic violence said that it affected their job performance due to sleep deprivation, distraction, depression and anxiety. While 8.5% said that they lost their jobs because of it.

For workplaces, gender-based violence and harassment have serious impacts, including jeopardizing workplace safety, increasing absenteeism and employee turnover and hurting workplace culture. There are also financial repercussions for employers. Every year, Canadian employers lose an estimated $77.9 million due to intimate partner violence.  

What HR Professionals and Employers Can Do:

Harassment and sexual violence in the workplace are generally underreported due to fear of retaliation, disbelief or blame. For example, when it comes to gender-based violence in Canada, survivors report to police in only 30% of domestic violence situations. Within the workplace, 73% of women who experienced sexual assault did not report incidents of abuse to their employer.

Even so, Ontario employers have an ethical and legal (under the Occupational Health and Safety Act) responsibility to respond to gender-based violence and harassment in the workplace. Moreover, addressing gender-based violence and harassment, even when it occurs outside of the workplace, can improve employee well-being, productivity and reduce employee turnover.

One important way that employers can address sexual and gender-based harassment is by having anti-sexual harassment policies and procedures in place. These policies can include:

  • A plan for training people about your anti-sexual harassment policies.
  • Concrete examples of what sexual harassment and violence looks like.
  • Assurance of no reprisals for reporting incidents of harassment
  • Confidential processes that outline how employees can report abuse
  • Detailed protocols that explain how sexual harassment incidents will be handled and investigated
  • Details about the physical workplace design and workplace safety plans. (i.e. Security measures that will be put in place to prevent harassment such as installing surveillance cameras in public spaces of the workplace.)
  • Survivor-centered support services for survivors of abuse
  • Assurances that dealing with sexual assault incidents will be handled in a culturally safe way and be appropriate for different cultures. (i.e. A culturally safe approach understands that intergenerational trauma can affect how an Indigenous survivor experiences an incident of abuse.) 

This is by no means an exhaustive list. For more resources on responding to gender-based violence in the workplace, check out these links (also references for this blog):