Action: Call for a Feminist COVID-19 Policy

Dear Reader,

Below you’ll find open letter prepared by the Feminist Alliance for Rights (FAR) Steering Committee calling on all Member States to adopt a feminist policy to address the COVID-19 outbreak.  Please fill out this form to let us know if you and/or your organization would like to sign the letter, by  Thursday, March 26 at 8pm EDT . The sign-on form is available in this link: tiny.cc/endorsenow

Statement of Feminists and Women’s Rights Organizations from the Global South and marginalized communities in the Global North

We, the undersigned organizations committed to feminist principles and women’s human rights, call on governments to recall and act in accordance with human rights standards in their response to COVID-19 and uphold the principles of equality and non-discrimination, centering the most marginalized people — women, children, elderly, people with disabilities, people with compromised health, rural people, unhoused people, institutionalized people, , refugees, migrants, indigenous peoples, stateless people, and people in war zones. Feminist policy recognizes and prioritizes the needs of the most vulnerable communities. Beyond the response to this pandemic, it is necessary for the development of peaceful, inclusive and prosperous communities within human rights-driven states.

It is critical that governments utilize a human rights and intersectional based approach to ensure that everyone has access to necessary information, support systems and resources during the current crisis. We have recognized nine key areas of focus to be considered in the context of the COVID-19 crisis. They are listed below with brief descriptions of potential challenges and recommendations that consider the lived experiences of people in vulnerable position — especially women and girls that endure a disproportionate impact due to their sex, gender, and sexual orientation — and steer policymakers toward solutions that do not exacerbate their vulnerabilities or magnify existing inequality and ensure their human rights.

These guidelines are not a replacement for the engagement of women and girls and other marginalized communities in decision-making, but a rationale for consultation and diversity in leadership.

Key Focus Areas for a Feminist Policy on COVID-19

Food security. In countries that depend on food imports, there are fears of closing borders and markets and the inability to access food. This concern is exacerbated for people experiencing poverty and in rural communities, especially women, who do not have easy access to city centers and major grocery stores and markets. This leads to people with the means purchasing large quantities of goods which limits availability for those with lower incomes who are not able to do the same and are likely to face shortages when they attempt to replenish their food supplies. In response to this challenge, we call on governments to:

  • Increase — or introduce —  food stamps and subsidies, both in quantity for those already receiving them and in expansion of access to include those who become more vulnerable due to current circumstances
  • Direct businesses to ration nonperishable food supply to control inventory and increase access for those who, due to their income levels, must purchase over a longer period of time
  • Send food supply to rural communities to be stored and distributed as needed to eliminate the delay in accessing supply in city centers and safeguard against shortages due to delays in shipping
  • Send food supply to people unable to leave their homes (e.g. disabled people living alone or in remote areas)

Healthcare. All countries expect a massive strain on their public health systems due to the spread of the virus, and this can lead to decreased maternal health and increased infant mortality rates. There is often lack of access to healthcare services and medical supplies in rural communities. The elderly, people with disabilities, and people with compromised or suppressed immune systems are at high risk, and may not have live-in support systems. The change in routine and spread of the virus can create or exacerbate mental health issues. This crisis has a disproportionate impact on women who form, according to the World Health Organization’s March 2019 Gender equity in the health workforce working paper, 70% of workers in the health and social sector, according to the World Health Organization. It also disproportionately affects those who provide care for others.

 In response to this challenge, we call on governments to:

  • Ensure the availability of sex-disaggregated data and gender analysis, including differentiated infection and mortality rates.
  • Increase availability and delivery of healthcare services and responders, medical supplies, and medications 
  • Ensure women’s timely access to necessary sexual and reproductive health services during the crisis, such as emergency contraception and safe abortion 
  • Maintain an adequate stock of menstrual hygiene products at healthcare and community facilities
  • Train medical staff and frontline social workers  to recognize signs of domestic violence and provide appropriate resources and services
  • Develop a database of high-risk people who live alone and establish a system and a network to maintain regular contact with and deliver supplies to them
  • Provide for the continued provision of health care services based on non-biased medical research and tests — unrelated to the virus — for women and girls
  • Implement systems to effectively meet mental health needs including accessible (e.g. sign language, captions) telephone/videocall hotlines, virtual support groups, emergency services, and delivery of medication
  • Support rehabilitation centers to remain open for people with disabilities and chronic illness
  • Direct all healthcare institutions to provide adequate health care services to people regardless of health insurance status, immigration status and affirm the rights of migrant people and stateless people — with regular and irregular migration status — and unhoused people to seek medical attention to be free from discrimination, detention, and deportation
  • Ensure health service providers and all frontline staff receive adequate training and have access to equipment to protect their own health and offer mental health support
  • Assess and meet the specific needs of women health service providers

Education. The closure of schools is necessary for the protection of children, families, and communities and will help to flatten the curve so that the peak infection rate stays manageable. It, however, presents a major disruption in education and the routine to which children are accustomed. In many cases, children who depend on the school lunch program will face food insecurity. They also become more vulnerable to violence in their homes and communities which can go undetected due to no contact. School closures also have a disproportionate burden on women who traditionally undertake a role as caregivers. In response to this challenge, we call on governments to:

  • Direct educational institutions to prepare review and assignment packages for children to keep them academically engaged and prevent setbacks and provide guidance for parents on the use of the material
  • Create educational radio programming appropriate for school-age children
  • Subsidize childcare for families unable to make alternate arrangements for their children
  • Expand free internet access to increase access to online educational platforms and material and enable children to participate in virtual and disability-accessible classroom sessions where available
  • Provide laptops for children who need them in order to participate in on-line education
  • Adopt measures to ensure they continue receiving food by making sure it can be delivered or collected
  • Provide extra financial and mental health support for families caring for children with disabilities

Social inequality. These exist between men and women, citizens and migrants, people with regular and irregular migration status, people with and without disabilities, neurotypical and neuroatypical people, and other perceived dichotomies or non-binary differences as well as racial, ethnic, and religious groups. Existing vulnerabilities are further complicated by loss of income, increased stress, and unequal domestic responsibilities. Women and girls will likely have increased burdens of caregiving which will compete with (and possibly replace) their paid work or education. Vulnerable communities are put at further risk when laws are enacted, or other measures are introduced, that restrict their movement and assembly, particularly when they have less access to information or ability to process it. In response to this challenge, we call on governments to:

  • Encourage the equitable sharing of domestic tasks in explicit terms and through allowances for time off and compensation for all workers
  • Provide increased access to sanitation and emergency shelter spaces for homeless people.
  • Implement protocol and train authorities on recognizing and engaging vulnerable populations, particularly where new laws are being enforced
  • Consult with civil society organizations the process of implementing legislation and policy
  • Ensure equal access to information, public health education and resources in multiple languages, including sign and indigenous peoples languages, accessible formats, and easy-to-read and plain languages 

Water and sanitation. Everyone does not have access to clean running water. In response to this challenge, we call on governments to:

  • Ensure infrastructure is in place for clean, potable water to be piped into homes and delivered to underserved areas
  • Cease all disconnections and waive all reconnection fees to provide everyone with clean, potable water
  • Bring immediate remedy to issues of unclean water
  • Build public handwashing stations in communities

Economic inequality. People are experiencing unemployment, underemployment, and loss of income due to the temporary closure of businesses, reduced hours, and limited sick leave, vacation, personal time off and stigmatization. This negatively impacts their ability to meet financial obligations, generates bigger debts, and makes it difficult for them to acquire necessary supplies. Due to closures and the need for social distancing, there is also lack of care options and ability to pay for care for children, the elderly, and people with disabilities. This produces a labor shift from the paid or gig economy to unpaid economy as family care providers. In response to this challenge, we call on governments to:

  • Implement moratoriums on evictions due to rental and mortgage arrears and deferrals of rental and mortgage payments for those affected, directly or indirectly, by the virus and for people belonging to vulnerable groups 
  • Provide Universal Basic Income for those with lost income
  • Provide financial support to unhoused people, refugees, and women’s shelters
  • Provide additional financial aid to elderly people and people with disabilities
  • Expedite the distribution of benefits 
  • Modify sick leave, parental and care leave, and personal time off policies
  • Direct businesses to invite employees to work remotely on the same financial conditions as agreed prior to pandemic 
  • Distribute packages with necessities including soap, disinfectants, and hand sanitizer

Violence against women, domestic violence/Intimate partner violence (DV/IPV). Rates and severity of domestic violence/intimate partner violence against women, including sexual and reproductive violence, will likely surge as tension rises. Mobility restrictions (social distance, self-isolation, extreme lockdown, or quarantine) will also increase survivors’ vulnerability to abuse and need for protection services. (See Economic inequality.) Escape will be more difficult as the abusive partner will be at home all the time. Children face particular protection risks, including increased risks of abuse and/or being separated from their caregivers. Accessibility of protection services will decline if extreme lockdown is imposed as public resources are diverted. Women and girls fleeing violence and persecution will not be able to leave their countries of origin or enter asylum countries because of the closure of borders and travel restrictions. 

 In response to this challenge, we call on governments to:

  • Establish separate units within police departments and telephone hotlines to report domestic violence
  • Increase resourcing for nongovernmental organizations that respond to domestic violence and provide assistance — including shelter, counselling, and legal aid —  to survivors, and promote those that remain open are available
  • Disseminate information about gender-based violence and publicize resources and services available
  • Direct designated public services, including shelters, to remain open and accessible
  • Ensure protection services implement programs that have emergency plans that include protocols to ensure safety for residents and clients
  • Develop protocol for the care of women who may not be admitted due to exposure to the virus which includes safe quarantine and access to testing
  • Make provisions for domestic violence survivors to attend court proceedings via accessible teleconference
  • Direct police departments to respond to all domestic violence reports and connect survivors with appropriate resources
  • Ensure women and girls and other people in vulnerable positions are not rejected at the border, have access to the territory and to asylum legal procedures. If needed, they will be given access to testing

Access to information. There is unequal access to reliable information, especially for those structurally discriminated against and belonging to marginalized communities. People will need to receive regular updates from national health authorities for the duration of this crisis. In response to this challenge, we call on governments to:

  • Launch public campaigns to prevent and contain the spread of the virus
  • Consult and work with civil society in all initiatives to provide information to the public
  • Make information available to the public in plain language and accessible means, modes and formats, including internet, radio and text messages
  • Ensure people with disabilities have access to information through sign language, closed captions, and other appropriate means 
  • Increase subsidies to nongovernmental organizations that will ensure messages translated and delivered through appropriate means to those who speak different languages or have specific needs
  • Build and deploy a task force to share information and resources with vulnerable people with specific focus on unhoused, people with disabilities, migrant, refugees, and neuroatypical people

Abuse of power. People in prisons, administrative migration centers, refugee camps, and people with disabilities in institutions and psychiatric facilities are at higher risk of contagion due to the confinement conditions. They can also become more vulnerable to abuse or neglect as a result of limited external oversight and restriction of visits. It is not uncommon for authorities to become overzealous in their practices related to enforcement of the law and introduction of new laws. During this crisis, vulnerable people, especially dissidents, are at a higher risk of having negative, potentially dangerous interactions with authorities. In response to this challenge, we call on governments to:

  • Adopt human rights-oriented protocols to reduce spreading of the virus in detention and confinement facilities
  • Strengthen external oversight and facilitate safe contact with relatives i.e. free telephone calls
  • Encourage law enforcement officers to focus on increasing safety rather than arrests
  • Train law enforcement officers, care workers, and social workers to recognize vulnerabilities and make necessary adjustments in their approach and engagement
  • Support civil society organizations and country Ombudsmen/Human Rights Defenders in monitoring the developments within those institutions on a regular basis
  • Consult any changes in existing laws with civil rights societies and Ombudsmen/Human Rights Defenders 
  • Commit to discontinuing emergency laws and powers once pandemic subsides and restore the check and balances mechanism

Endorse this statement as an individual or representative of an organization by Thursday, March 26, 2020 at 8pm EDT. The statement and signatures will be sent to Member States.

http://feministallianceforrights.org/blog/2020/03/20/action-call-fo...

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Mexico sees almost 1,000 women murdered in three months as domestic abuse concerns rise amid coronavirus

‘Many more women could die because of violence than Covid in this period,’ says lawyer

by Maya Oppenheim, Women's Correspondent, The Independent, April 29, 2020

Almost one thousand women were murdered in Mexico in the first three months of the year, new figures show.

The news comes as campaigners warn the country is witnessing a rise in domestic abuse in the wake of the coronavirus emergency.

Government figures show the number of women killed was 8 per cent higher than in the same time period last year.

At least 720 women were murdered in the first quarter of the year and 244 women were victims of femicide, the government said.

Femicides, defined as the gender-motivated killing of women, are prevalent in Mexico and the femicide rate has more than doubled in the past five years.

Campaigners are fearful that troubling rates of violence could increase during the coronavirus lockdown, which has seen measures extended until at least the end of May.

Patricia Olamendi, a lawyer who represents victims of violence and has written protocols on femicide investigations, said: “It’s terrible. I think many more women could die because of violence than Covid in this period.

“There is a complete and absolute abandonment. What is happening in the country is inhumane.”

Ms Olamendi said the Mexican government has yet to release a plan to tackle the spike in domestic abuse amid the Covid-19 emergency.

Martha Tagle, from the opposition Citizens’ Movement party, said: “The deadliest pandemic for women in our country, more than the coronavirus, is feminicidal violence.

“Today, violence is the greatest threat to all the rights for women that we have had recognised with great effort.”

Calls and messages sent to the National Network of Shelters – a network of almost 70 refuges for women who have suffered violence – rose more than 80 per cent between mid-March and the mid-April when compared to the previous month.

Domestic abuse killings appear to double during UK’s lockdown

Jacqui Hunt, director of Equality Now, a non-government organisation (NGO) that aims to promote the rights of women and girls around the world, told The Independent: “Mexico already suffers from high rates of domestic violence and femicide, with the majority of murder cases going unsolved and prosecution rates remaining dismally low. Now the Covid-19 pandemic is placing women and girls at heightened risk in a country already blighted by a plague of gender-based violence.

“The appalling increase in the number of women murdered in Mexico since the start of 2020 should be seized upon as a watershed moment in which the government finally steps up to address the root causes of harm against women.

“In its responses to Covid-19, the Mexican government must address the particular vulnerabilities of women and girls. Efforts to eradicate sexual and gender-based violence should be ramped up with strict enforcement and this should be accompanied by information campaigns that educate audiences and make clear that crimes will be investigated and offenders punished.”

Ms Hunt called for police authorities to work closely alongside organisations which help women and girls – as well as urging the government to roll out additional state funding to make sure those locked up with their abusers can access safe housing and other specialist support.

Violence against women and girls is a major problem in Mexico – with official data reporting an average of 10 women were killed a day in Mexico in 2018.

Some 44 per cent of women have suffered violence from a partner and 66 per cent of women have experienced some form of violence during their life, according to the Mexican Institute of Statistics and Geography.

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/mexico-coronaviru...

Nova Scotia mass shooting lays bare media's white male bias

The mainstream media's need to paint white men who do horrific things as nice people who suddenly snapped remains a glaring problem in coverage of violent crime in Canada
by Pamela Palmater, Now Toronto, April 21, 2020

We have a real bias problem in mainstream media when it comes to white men who commit horrible crimes. It’s called “Exceptional White Male Syndrome.”

We have known about this problem for decades and while there has been some improvement over time, one glaring reality remains: a need for the mainstream media to paint white men who do horrific things as nice people who suddenly snapped.

The reporting around this week’s mass shooting in Nova Scotia – the largest in the country’s history – was no different, with the Globe and Mail, Canada’s national newspaper, offering in a headline that the “Nova Scotia mass shooter was a denturist with a passion for policing.” You would never know that the gunman brutally killed 17 innocent people, including an RCMP officer, and left a number of homes on fire in his wake.

Not only is this headline tone-deaf to the trauma experienced by the families of the victims, but it’s irresponsible journalism.

We should be focused on what happened and how to prevent these kinds of mass killings in the future, not writing a heartfelt biography of the killer. Whether or not he was a nice man is irrelevant.

The Globe and Mail is not the only outlet guilty of this. In fact, we are so used to this kind of treatment from mainstream media, that we knew it was only a matter of time before we would start to read that the shooter must have been troubled or pushed to his limits by outside forces.

This gives the public a false sense of security that this must just be an exceptional situation or an anomaly. When in fact, the majority of mass shootings in Canada and the United States are carried out by white men.

We have a real crisis of violence in Canada.

According to statistics, firearm-related violent crimes have increased by 42 per cent since 2013 and 60 per cent of homicides involve firearms. Toronto just experienced its worst year yet with 771 shooting incidents in 2019.

We also know that most of the victims of violent crime are women and they’re mostly killed by men and about half are killed by their spouse or intimate partner. In fact, a woman is killed every 2.5 days in Canada.

At the same time as white men receive sympathetic treatment, the media has an obvious counter-bias for Black and Indigenous peoples – even when they are the victims. Racialized people are often described by their perceived faults – as a runaway, homeless or suffering from addictions.

Take, for example, the violent death of young Indigenous girl Tina Fontaine in 2014. The Globe's reporting back then focused on the fact that Fontaine had drugs and alcohol in her system – instead of the fact that she was brutally killed and her body thrown in the river.

These kinds of headlines not only perpetuate stereotypes but also invite readers to, at least subconsciously, blame the victim.

The research also tells us that gun violence is linked to hate crimes against women. And that the rise of right-wing, white nationalist groups with access to handguns and military-style assault rifles presents a clear threat to Canadians.

It’ll be weeks or months before the public knows all the facts surrounding what happened in Nova Scotia. Until then, mainstream media should take a closer look at how they present white male perpetrators of crime. Let’s put the focus back on the victims who had their lives taken away so soon. They deserve better.

Pamela Palmater is a Mi’kmaw citizen member of Eel River Bar First Nation and the Chair in Indigenous Governance at Ryerson University. 

https://nowtoronto.com/news/nova-scotia-mass-shooting-media-rcmp/?f...

The secret weapon in the fight against coronavirus: women
by Arwa Mahdawi, 11 Apr 2020, The Guardian

Being a woman doesn’t make you better at handling a global pandemic – but women generally have to be better in order to become leaders

Female leaders are doing exceptional work

What do Germany, Taiwan and New Zealand have in common?

Well, they’ve all got female leaders and they’re all doing an exceptional job in their response to the coronavirus crisis.

Tsai Ing-Wen, a former law professor, became the first female president of Taiwan in 2016 – the same year America got its first reality TV president. Tsai has spearheaded a swift and successful defence to the pandemic; despite Taiwan’s proximity to mainland China it has largely contained the virus and has just under 400 confirmed cases. It is so well prepared that it is donating 10m masks to the US and 11 European countries.

New Zealand, led by Jacinda Ardern, is also a world leader in combating the virus. The country has had only one Covid-19 death so far. That’s partly due to geography and size: with under 5 million people, New Zealand’s entire population is much smaller than New York’s. Being an island state also gives it a distinct advantage. However, leadership is also a factor. New Zealand has implemented widespread testing and Ardern has responded to the crisis with clarity and compassion.

Germany has been hit hard by coronavirus, but it has an exceptionally low mortality rate of around 1.6%. (Italy’s fatality rate is 12%; Spain, France and Britain’s is 10%; China’s is 4%; America’s is 3%.) A number of factors feed into Germany’s low death rates, including early and widespread testing and a large number of intensive care beds. Again, however, the country’s leadership plays a role. As one wag on Twitter joked: if you’re asking why death rates are so low in Germany and so high in America, it’s “because their president used to be a quantum chemist and your president used to be a reality television host”. Angela Merkel, who has a doctorate in quantum chemistry, is actually the chancellor not the president, but the sentiment still holds.

Denmark (led by prime minister Mette Frederiksen) and Finland (prime minister Sanna Marin is the head of a coalition whose four other parties are all led by women) are also doing noteworthy jobs in containing coronavirus.

Correlation is obviously not causation. Being a woman doesn’t automatically make you better at handling a global pandemic. Nor does it automatically make you a better leader; suggesting it does reinforces sexist and unhelpful ideas that women are innately more compassionate and cooperative.

What is true, however, is that women generally have to be better in order to become leaders; we are held to far higher standards than men. Women are rarely able to fail up in the way men can; you have to be twice as good as a man in order to be taken half as seriously. You have to work twice as hard. With a few notable exceptions (*cough* Ivanka Trump *cough*), you’ve got to be overqualified for a top job.

A surplus of qualifications isn’t exactly a problem Donald Trump has. America’s response to the coronavirus crisis is arguably the worst in the world – although Britain also gets an honourable mention here. Instead of expertise, the Trump administration has led with ego. While thousands of Americans die, Trump tweets about his TV ratings. Instead of cooperating, Trump is lashing out at the press and state leaders. It’s hard to imagine Hillary Clinton responding to a crisis in this way without being immediately impeached. Which raises the question: are some men simply too emotional to be leaders?

Women using code words to escape domestic violence

There’s been a huge spike in domestic violence around the world because of the Covid-19 lockdown. With help harder to access, people are finding creative workarounds. A new initiative in France encourages people experiencing abuse to say a codeword (“mask19”) to a pharmacist at a drugstore to get help. In the UK the Silent Solution system allows victims to alert police without saying anything; you dial 999 operators and then press 55.


Rihanna has donated $2.1m to help domestic violence victims in lockdown

While some celebrities are responding to the crisis with cringey renditions of Imagine, Rihanna has opened her wallet to help the most vulnerable. Last month she worked with Jay-Z’s foundation to donate $2m to support undocumented workers, prisoners, homeless people, the elderly and children of frontline health workers in Los Angeles and New York.

The coronavirus crisis has shuttered most fertility clinics, leading to heartache and uncertainty for people needing help to conceive. “I’m numb at this point,” one woman told CBS News. “It’s the norm with IVF that there’s ups and downs, but you never get used to the phone call that says … you can’t move on.” There have been a lot of jokes about a ‘quarantine baby boom’, but for some people an extended lockdown may mean they’ll never be able to conceive.

Kayleigh McEnany is Trump’s new press secretary

Kayleigh McEnany is Trump’s fourth spokesperson and replaces Stephanie Grisham, who did not hold a single press conference during her time on the job. As you would expect from a mouthpiece for Trump, McEnany has a history of spouting racist lies. She has embraced birtherism and once tweeted: “How I Met Your Brother -- Never mind, forgot he’s still in that hut in Kenya. #ObamaTVShows.”


Rental rooms to avoid ‘coronavirus divorces’

Kasoku, a Japanese version of Airbnb, has found a new revenue stream during the Covid-19 crisis: avoiding-divorces-as-a-service. The startup is offering accommodation for frustrated husbands or wives sick of being at home with their spouses. Your fully furnished unit comes with a 30-minute divorce consultation.

‘I will never jeopardize the beans’

It’s probably fake, nevertheless this quarrel over quarantine beans had the internet making a lot of noise this week. On that note: have a good weekend.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/apr/11/secret-weapon...

The intimate connection between mass shootings and violence against women

The Nova Scotia attacks began with domestic violence. They fit a pattern that police, policy-makers and researchers have to stop ignoring.

by Jude McCulloch, JaneMaree Maher, policyoptions.irpp.org, May 7, 2020

Last month 51-year-old Gabriel Wortman killed 22 people over two days in a shooting and arson spree across Nova Scotia. Immediately prior to the killings he had assaulted and bound his girlfriend. The killings represent Canada’s most deadly mass murder and bear the hallmarks of similar events in Canada, the United States and other western countries. The killer was an adult male acting alone, and the killings were preceded by violence against an intimate partner or female relative.

Some mass killings that aren’t preceded by known histories of violence against women are nevertheless motivated by hatred of women and specifically targeted women. Wortman’s deadly rampage fits a pattern that police, policy-makers and researchers have been slow to recognize or quick to dismiss. Violence against women, misogyny and mass casualty attacks are intimately connected.

Ignoring this connection reflects and entrenches the long-held perception that male violence against women, particularly against intimate partners, is less serious than violence committed against strangers. Feminists have long recognized that this perception, consistent with the notion of women, particularly wives and girlfriends as male property, literally endangers women’s lives.

What is less well recognized, however, is that the failure to acknowledge the connection between male violence against women and mass casualty attacks influences the security of everybody. It undermines society’s ability to better understand, prevent and effectively respond to these attacks. There is a connection between male violence against women and mass casualty attacks and it is overlooked or downplayed by policy-makers, police and researchers. There are potentially lethal implications when these connections are not addressed.

Two years ago, 25-year-old Alek Minassian drove a van at pedestrians in Toronto, killing 10 people, of whom eight were women. The attacker’s online posts point to hostility against women as a motive. Minassian identified with the incel, “involuntary celibate,” group of men who blame women for their perceived sexual rejection. He is currently in prison facing 10 counts of murder and 16 of attempted murder. His trial has been put on hold because of COVID-19.

In 2014, 22-year-old Elliot Rodger killed six people in a shooting and stabbing spree in California. He, too, obsessed over being denied sex by women and was motivated by violent revenge.

Most Canadians are familiar with the 1989 Montreal Massacre in which 25-year-old Marc Lépine deliberately targeted and murdered 14 women enrolled in engineering at École Polytechnique, affiliated with l’Université de Montréal. In his suicide note, he blamed feminists for ruining his life.

While the number and lethality of lone-actor mass-casualty attacks have increased dramatically over the previous three decades, the paradigmatic example occurred much earlier.

In 1966, 25-year-old Charles Whitman killed his wife and mother at their respective homes before shooting and killing 14 strangers at the University of Texas. United States research on mass shootings finds that domestic violence is part of most such events. That research found that in the 10 years between 2009 and 2018 the perpetrator shot an intimate partner or family member during the mass rampage in over 50 per cent of cases.

Mass shootings are only one location of the intermingling of “public” violence and domestic or family violence. There is increasing evidence that mass casualty attacks by lone actors where weapons such as cars, trucks or knives are used also fit the pattern.

The biographies of so-called “lone wolf terrorists” frequently include known and often extensive histories of violence against women. Yet the connection between mass casualty attacks and violence against women continues to hide in plain sight.

In western countries around the world, as mass casualty attacks by lone actors are increasingly recognized as a major security threat, governments are setting up centres to combat such attacks. These centres, however, typically don’t include experts in gendered violence.

Security services tasked with preventing and responding to such attacks continue to make sharp distinctions between what is considered “personal” and “public violence.” In Australia, for example, in 2014, Man Haron Monis, took a number of people hostage at a Sydney café. At the time, he was on bail, charged with being accessory to murder of his former wife and 40 sexual offences against seven women.

Prior to the siege, he had come to the attention of security services. However, they concluded, tragically, that he wasn’t a risk because his “acts of personal violence were exclusively directed towards women he knew in one capacity or other, rather than towards the public at large.”

During the siege, Monis’s capacity for violence was underestimated because his attacks on women were not considered real violence. Most shockingly, the sexual assaults were discussed as “acts of seduction.” Police were later criticized for failing to act to end the siege until after Monis shot one of the hostages.

Research has sometimes contributed to obscuring the intimate connection between “personal” violence against women and the more public violence of mass casualty attacks. Some researchers of lone wolf terrorism adhere to a “turning point” paradigm, looking for clues as to why men turn to violence.

In this framework, violence against women is often considered a “trigger point.” This approach is problematic. It assumes that men turn violent when they commit public acts of violence. However, it is often clear from the biographies of the men studied that they are not turning violent but switching the target of their violence from known women to random members of the public. In other words, such men are violent men who commit violence against women they know and then against members of the public.

In addition, by categorizing violence against women as a “trigger” to the violence against strangers, the initial violence against the female victim is considered separately to, and as less significant than, the killing of strangers. Yet, the violence against the woman is typically part of the same incident or event.

The idea of a “trigger” implies the woman victim is in some ways to blame for the violence. This is significant because violence by men particularly against their female partners is often falsely understood as a problem of the “relationship” rather than the responsibility of the abusive man. Dominant cultural scripts that blame women for male violence and minimize and deny such violence mean constant vigilance is needed to ensure language is not used in ways that entrench or reinvigorate these scripts.

The research on lone actor violence is replete with euphemisms for the male violence against women that precedes mass casualty attacks. Terms used to describe serious acts of violence against intimate partners such as “marital discord,” “conflict with women” and “personal conflict with a woman” support a false dichotomy between public and “private” violence that sees the former as more “real” and more serious than the latter.

The media can buy into these tropes by adopting or uncritically reporting similar language or suggest that an attacker is a regular guy or family man who just snapped. Additionally, when media report violence against women as less threatening, significant and deadly than violence against strangers, they are also guilty of continuing these stereotypes.

Last year in Sydney, Australia, a man assaulted his sister before going on to attack members of the public with a knife. A police commissioner dismissed the connection between family violence and the knife attacks stating: “That [family violence] is not unusual in terms of what we see day-in-day-out in some houses across NSW [but] that is not a common theme for someone to then take the next step of coming onto the streets of Sydney with a knife and killing people and threatening to kill people.”

The commissioner is correct. Violence against women by men and family violence as the most common type of this violence is endemic. Most men who assault their intimate partners, mothers and sisters don’t go onto attack random people. However, we can state with increasing confidence that most of those who do commit mass casualty attacks have committed violence against women, usually in the context of an intimate or family relationship either as part of the attack or previously.

There will no doubt be an investigation into the recent Nova Scotia mass killing. If we want to prevent these killings, we must begin with the connections between these killings and violence against women.

Photo: A tribute is seen at RCMP headquarters in Dartmouth, NS, on Monday, April 20, 2020. RCMP Const. Heidi Stevenson was one of 22 people killed by Gabriel Wortman. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

https://policyoptions.irpp.org/magazines/may-2020/the-intimate-conn...

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