Today CUPE Ontario marks December 6, the National Day of Remembrance and Action to End Violence against Women. We recall that terrible evening in 1989, when 14 women were murdered at École Polytechnique de Montréal; they were targets of misogyny, hatred, and violence. In their memory, we reaffirm our commitment to ending gender-based violence wherever it is found.

We also recognize that gendered violence is not experienced in the same ways across all communities; a disproportionate amount of workplace and systemic violence is suffered by Indigenous, Black and racialized, trans, and immigrant women. Women from these communities need and deserve additional support, resources and supports to deal with gendered violence.

Since the pandemic began, we have seen disturbing statistics about the rise of domestic and sexual violence. Enhanced government funding was made available to increase shelter spaces for women and children fleeing abuse during that time. However, the federal government removed that funding – a devastating outcome for women at risk or suffering from violence. We commit to fighting alongside the dedicated workers and advocates who campaign for enhanced services to tackle violence against women.

In the wake of these federal funding cuts, it was heartening to see, early in Oliva Chow’s mayoralty, Toronto city council adopt a motion declaring gender-based and intimate partner violence an epidemic, and it called on other levels of government to do the same. However, Ford’s Conservatives have consistently undermined opportunities to take action on violence against women. The Ontario NDP has introduced legislation similar to the motion passed in Toronto, only to have it fail for lack of support from the government. The Conservatives compounded this dismal record when it doomed the Liberal private member’s Bill 5, which would have removed municipal councillors for sexual misconduct and which was supported by Ontario NDP and Green parties. We will continue to fight for legislation that deals with violence against women urgently and proactively and prioritizes women’s safety and security.

We will also continue to demand justice for victims of gendered violence. In our union, we are addressing the fact that sexual violence and harassment is a problem faced by many CUPE members and have established Safer Union Spaces to guide us in dealing with issues of sexual and gender-based violence, harassment and other forms of discrimination. These ills break the solidarity of our union and we must rid our movement of this poison if we are to achieve all we can for our members.

Domestic and sexual violence are workplace as well as health and safety issues; locals are called on to bargain appropriate and effective collective agreement language that will hold employers accountable and establish policies, processes and supports for all members affect by violence against women. Union resources to help locals and members include CUPE Ontario’s We Believe You and CUPE’s bargaining guide Domestic violence and the workplace.

To ensure that we heal collectively from the effects of deep-rooted violence against women, we can also look to real and powerful examples from indigenous communities. We can and must model all remedies that bring us together, allow us to heal and grow as a movement.

The steps we take towards eradicating all forms of gender-based violence will reinforce the foundations of our union’s solidarity, and there can be no better tribute to the women we have lost to violence, here and around the world.