On December 6, CUPE Ontario observes the National Day of Remembrance and Action to End Violence against Women. The unspeakable tragedy that sparked this day was the murder in 1989 of 14 women, targeted because of their gender at l’École Polytechnique de Montréal. But when we look around us today, it’s plain to see we haven’t travelled far enough from the misogyny and hatred that is at the root of that terrible event.

December 6 is a sad and sober reminder that women continue to live these conditions every day. Levels of violence and harassment facing women are increasing every year and have been made worse by the pandemic. Women who work in the public sector and deliver public services are especially vulnerable to workplace harassment and violence. We also recognize the disproportionate impacts of workplace and systemic violence on Indigenous, Black, racialized and trans women.

Gender-based violence has many insidious forms, including the kind that allows governments to cut vital services for women fleeing violence. CUPE frontline workers who support survivors of domestic abuse have too many stories of cuts to women’s shelters and other vital supports and programs. Their work and their fightback against cuts is part of the fight to end violence against women.

The work to end violence against women is happening inside our union as well, and more and more locals are using their bargaining power to further that work. CUPE guides such as Stop Workplace Sexual Violence and Domestic Violence and the Workplace, as well as CUPE’s Violence Prevention Kit, both educate and help us take action.

In our own structures, CUPE Ontario’s Women’s Committee has produced a guide, We Believe You: Sexual Violence and Harassment in Union Spaces, which provides information, resources and advice. Members of CUPE National’s Safe Union Spaces Working Group are making CUPE a safer and more welcoming place for women.

These initiatives, along with the reflections that December 6 brings, help us understand the gender-based violence that is in our midst and to take the steps to eradicate it wherever we can.  December 6 is an important reminder for us to recommit our union to working in coalition with all those fighting violence against women, in all its forms, wherever it is found.