Gender-based violence is one of the most pressing subjects of our time. The recent rise of the #MeToo movement, the findings of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG), and the ongoing impacts of COVID-19 have put a huge media spotlight on gender-based violence and helped launch a broader discussion about the pervasive systemic issues at its root. More and more Canadians are paying attention.
Ramona Alaggia, MSW, PhD, RSW is a leading researcher on gender and violence. A professor at the University of Toronto Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work, Ramona’s work has led to the development of innovative approaches to prevention, intervention and treatment concerning gender and violence. Currently, she is running a large-scale study on the impact of the #MeToo movement on sexual violence disclosures in Canada.
The College was pleased to have Ramona as the keynote speaker for its 2020 Annual Meeting on September 3, 2020. During her presentation, Ramona explored a number of issues, including how we define gender, the differences between gender equality and equity, and how these are connected to gender-based violence. She also looked at ways that social workers and social service workers can identify and work to redress gender-based violence.
Prior to the Annual Meeting, the College interviewed Ramona to gather her thoughts on the subject of gender equality and how gender-based violence impacts gender equity.
Q: What led to your interest in the field of gender and violence?
Once you know something you can’t unknow it. In over 15 years of working in children’s mental health and group homes, I started to see the real crux of the problem. We were assessing these children and youth with behavioural disorders, mood disorders, and personality disorders when many of their issues were rooted in developmental trauma. They often had histories of sexual abuse, physical abuse and exposure to domestic violence. I also wondered why there were so many more girls and women in treatment. I couldn’t ignore what I was seeing in services and my own practice, and the very serious consequences of gender oppression.
Q: What do you consider to be the major challenges and obstacles when it comes to addressing gender-based violence?
We still have male-centred laws, policies and legislation that haven’t caught up with the latest research. The #MeToo movement, which I am currently studying in my research, might represent a collective movement to redress sexual violence against women in the workplace and in all other aspects of their lives.
What I’m finding out is that more and more survivors are choosing to disclose sexual violence in non-conventional ways, online and through social media, as conventional channels are not seen to be safe avenues. We have all witnessed how survivors are treated in the courts. They experience character assassination in a court system that does not recognize the power differentials and trauma dynamics, and instead paints survivors as complicit and consenting. The courts are not doing justice for sexual violence survivors and it’s not surprising that survivors are opting out of these processes.
Key facts about gender, violence and inequality in Canada
- Approximately 4.7 million women reported that they had been a victim of sexual assault at least once since the age of 15 (2018)
- Indigenous women accounted for 21% of female homicide victims and 10% of missing women (2014, 2015)
- Women are twice as likely as men to work part time (26% vs. 13%); nearly half (45%) of women working part time cited childcare as the main reason compared to nearly 1 in 10 male part-timers in the same age group (2017)
- Female business executives earn 68 cents for every dollar their male counterparts make (2019)
- Racialized women earn 87% of non-racialized women’s and 59% of non-racialized men’s earnings
Q: Why did you want to become a social worker?
That answer has changed over time. I’ve always had a desire to help people and work as an ally. I started this work with marginalized children and families in priority areas throughout my high school and university years – in parks and recreation and in community centres for youth programming. I found my work with these communities extremely rewarding.
Having adopted a trauma-informed lens, I also now realize that my family-of-origin issues really impacted my decision to become a helper. Research shows that social workers and social service workers have higher rates of trauma histories that include violence and abuse that may be interpersonal or cultural. In my case, my parents’ migration journey was traumatizing; intergenerational trauma has affected my life, along with the familial mental health consequences that come with untreated trauma.
Q: What can social workers and social service workers do to better support individuals affected by gender-based violence?
We need to adopt strategies that go beyond helping one person at a time. Working with clients directly – one-on-one engagement – is a vital aspect of the profession, but our collective efforts are just as necessary to change the laws and policies that inadvertently discriminate against, re-victimize and re-traumatize survivors.
The College would like to thank Dr. Ramona Alaggia for granting us this interview and for speaking at our 2020 Annual Meeting.