March 7, 2014: Policies Matter Community Forum
March 7th marked the final day of the “End Violence Against Women Week in Toronto” hosted by the Woman Abuse Council of Toronto. After an informative and enjoyable week of training, connecting and panel discussions, members from 30 organizations were brought together in a more intimate setting to discuss and evaluate the Policies Matters Project, which has come a long way since its original beginnings in 2011. Funded by the Status of Women Canada, WomanACT partnered with the Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic and Elizabeth Fry Toronto to carry out a gender-based analysis of the impacts policies and systems have on women’s safety. This was a massive endeavor; yet key leaders of these agencies have worked diligently to research and identify various policy intersections that in many ways create barriers for women fleeing violence. We have now used this information to create a visual display of what these intersections look like as a starting point for change and improvement.
During the forum, contributors such as Amanda Dale, Executive Director of the Barbra Schlifer Clinic, emphasized the importance that has been placed on ensuring that this project is an inclusive undertaking that values the experiences of service providers and women surviving abuse. WomanACT’s Women’s Voices For Action Committee, made up of women who have lived experience, have been encouraged to provide their feedback and describe the difficulties and endless web of services that they had to navigate when fleeing violent situations. In addition, on May 16, 2013, the first Policies Matter Project Community Forum (previously known as the “Blueprint For Action”) was held which brought together more than 50 representatives from diverse organizations that address VAW. During this meeting, attendants identified policy priorities, discussed community initiatives and developed collective action plans for priority areas. Key determinants of safety such as income security, adequate housing, access to legal aid and employment security were debated and we left with an even more in-depth understanding of where needs were not being met and the most crucial areas to focus on in the VAW sector.
With valuable insight, a collection of personal narratives and community feedback, the Policies Matters Project set out to map the overwhelming picture of policy intersections as well as develop a web based tool that consolidated, in one place, information about policies, policy impacts and public policy initiatives being undertaken to improve safety for women who experience violence. During this most recent forum, speakers talked about celebrating the progress that has been made while project leaders have deepened their working relationships. Two collaborative pilot projects have been initiated for example, where agencies are now collaborating to better assist refugee women in detention, and women experiencing mental health and addiction issues. This activity has thus begun a conversion that is bringing the VAW sector service providers together, such as various shelters and clinics, which would otherwise not have the time to connect and reflect on their cumulative impact.
A significant part of the forum was then dedicated to inviting attendees to review and operate the Policies Matterweb tool. We value the group comments and hope to use their evaluations, praises and concerns to inform our next stage of development. We believe that moving into a more visual and technological world is essential for members of the VAW sector and are determined to come together and build a cohesive picture of ourselves as advocates for change. Overall, the feedback was positive as many stakeholders expressed a strong interest inusing the tool to communicate the complex and harmful impact of policy intersections on women to funders and decision makers. The day finished with a solid, rigorous debate in which policy advocacy priorities were deliberated. Affordable childcare, tight Provincial budgets, gun laws and registry, immigration status legislation and the crucial need to stay connected among VAW agencies to most adequately utilize limited resources were all topics under discussion. We massively thank all of those involved in this incredible day and as we move forward sincerely hope to continue to work together on advancing policy initiatives and advocacy strategies.
For a more detailed description of the history and evolution of the Policies Matter Project, please review the Fact Sheet which can be found on this link: http://www.womanactsendviolenceagainstwomenweek.com/policies-matter-forum.html