The War on Women continues unabated

Lana Payne
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Tucked away in the women studies' section of the local Chapters bookstore, Brian VallÉe's new book, "The War on Women," is nearly silenced by its lack of prominence.
It is tragically symbolic of the thousands of Canadian women who live in secret fear - women who are victims of violence by the men in their lives.
This book deserves a magnificent, in-your-face display. It deserves to be read by every policy- and decision-maker in the country. It needs to be read and acted on by politicians.
This book is about war. Not the war on terror, the Iraq war or the war in Afghanistan, but the war on women which is largely ignored by the media and decision-makers, says VallÉe.
Between 2000 and 2006, VallÉe notes, there were more women murdered by their intimate partners in Canada and the United States than there were soldiers who died in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars - a lot more, almost five times as many in the case of Canada.
VallÉe says he made these comparisons "to draw attention to the ongoing scourge that continues to take the lives and to damage the bodies and minds of thousands upon thousands of women and children living in fear of the domestic terrorists in their own homes."
He calls it nothing short of a slaughter and yet the response from those that could make a difference is not just lacking, but enabling.
This is VallÉe's second book dealing with violence against women. Twenty years ago, he wrote "Life With Billy," the story of Jane Hurshman, who after five years of torture and unthinkable physical and sexual violence at the hands of her partner Billy Stafford, shot him in order to save herself and her children.
"The War on Women" tells the story of Elly Armour, who in 1951, at the age of 19, killed her husband. This was after repeated beatings, including while she was pregnant.
VallÉe says that in 2002 he started collecting newspaper articles of women who had been murdered by their spouses or ex-spouses. Despite a doubling of women's shelters, and despite changing attitudes among some justice officials, the violence was not abating. It was just as bad as it had been a quarter of a century ago.

Sickened by violence
Armour was also sickened by the violence women continue to face. She called him up and asked that he tell her story, 56 years after a jury found she acted in self-defence.
VallÉe says Hurshman and Armour wanted to help other abused women by telling their stories, because they knew that the worst response to this war on women is silence.
In his book, he also interviews women "who work in the trenches," who every day advocate on behalf of abused women, who every day fight systems and institutions and apathetic politicians, who every day fight the silence, who every day do battle with what VallÉe calls the "elephant in the room" - gender inequality.
It is this inequality that allows the violence to continue at such a breathtaking and heartbreaking rate. The truth of it is: violence against women is still acceptable.
Pamela Cross of the Ontario Women's Justice Network wrote in the Toronto Star in September that "it is time that the same media and political attention given to other victims of war be given to women killed by their partners. More than 60 women killed in Canada each year by their partners is not a fluke, is not a series of unconnected events, is not an isolated tragedy. It is a horrific and preventable death toll that should cause outrage in the citizens of this country."
And yet the slaughter continues in the midst of public-policy choices that do little to end the violence. Choices that tell women's organizations to stop their advocacy or close their doors. Choices that over the past 10 years have starved organizations that help victims of violence of the funds they need to adequately operate. Choices that leave women without access to affordable child care or adult training and education. Choices that perpetuate a justice system that does little to support, protect or help the women and children trapped by these domestic terrorists.
We are bombarded with this inequality every day. In the workplace, it can be the glass ceiling or the sexist joke. In the schoolyard, it is the bullying. It is the economic inequality that women live with each and every day, often because we have children. It is the political choices that are made - massive tax cuts instead of child care. It is the value placed on the work that women do. It is the daily messages that reinforce gender inequality.
We are barely breaking the silence.
What we need are more advocates. We need more men like VallÉe, speaking out, taking a stand against the violence. We need men in our workplaces, in our communities and in our legislatures to stand up and say this is not OK. We need men to challenge other men and to challenge themselves. We need governments to put real financial resources into the things that can improve women's equality, and we need them to make the justice system work for women and their children.

Dae of awareness
Today is the International Day Against Violence Against Women. In less than two weeks, we will mark the 18th anniversary of the Montreal massacre. It has been 25 years since Jane Hurshman was found not-guilty of killing Billy Stafford. And still at least one woman a week is murdered by her intimate partner in Canada. Thousands of other women, some 100,000 a year, seek the refuge of a shelter. And then there are those women who suffer in silence, trapped, afraid to leave.
In so many areas, we believe our society has advanced, and yet this war on women carries on, mostly behind closed doors, and mostly with little reaction or action from those who could help end the violence.
Like Pamela Cross, I wonder, where is the outrage? Where is the political will to make a difference? How many more women have to die in this war before the silence is truly broken and there is a concerted and significant effort to stop the violence?

Lana Payne is a former journalist who is active in the labour movement. Her column returns Dec. 9.

Organizations: Chapters, Ontario Women, Toronto Star

Geographic location: Canada, Iraq, Afghanistan United States Montreal

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