1st Session, 41st Parliament,
Volume 150, Issue 176

Tuesday, June 18, 2013
The Honourable Noël A. Kinsella, Speaker

Violence Against Women

Inquiry—Debate Continued

On the Order:

Resuming debate on the inquiry of the Honourable Senator Oliver, calling the attention of the Senate to the need to engage in a national conversation to call for the elimination of violence against women, of all ages, in all its forms including physical, sexual, or psychological abuse, and, in particular, on how we, as a national legislative body, can take the lead in educating, preventing, increasing national and global awareness on gender equality and reaffirming that violence against women constitutes a violation of the rights and fundamental freedoms of each individual.

Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer: Honourable senators, I rise today to speak to the inquiry on violence against women. I want to thank Senator Oliver for speaking on this issue. As he and all honourable senators are aware, I have been an advocate for this issue for many years.

Violence against women is an everyday reality in Canada and around the world. The facts are sobering. Violence against women and girls affects one out of every three women worldwide. Half of all women in Canada have experienced at least one incident of physical or sexual violence since the age of 16.

In Canada, on any given day, more than 3,000 women, along with their 2,500 children, are living in an emergency shelter to escape domestic violence. As of 2010, there were 582 known cases of missing or murdered Aboriginal women in Canada. This is an issue which I have urged our government to take action on.

In countries experiencing armed conflict, violence against women has reached epidemic proportions. In the wars in Bosnia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and the ongoing conflict in the Congo, rape has become a weapon of war. Rape is used to brutalize and humiliate innocent civilians. Sexual violence is targeted overwhelmingly at women and girls, simply as a result of their gender.

The former UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict voiced that, “It has become more dangerous to be a woman fetching water or collecting firewood than a fighter on the frontlines.”

Honourable senators, the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo has been called a war against women. The Eastern Congo is described as “the most dangerous place in the world to be a woman.” A new study, published in June 2011 by the American Journal of Public Health, revealed that about 48 women are raped every hour in the Congo, totalling more than 1,100 women a day. These women are physically ravaged, emotionally terrorized and financially impoverished.

Today, honourable senators, I want to remind you of a woman who I know very well, who I worked with and whom I have spoken to you about before. This woman has completely changed my life. Her name is Bernadette. The first time the militia invaded her house, they killed Bernadette’s husband, one son, and they raped and killed her daughter while she was forced to watch. That day, Bernadette was also raped. She shouted for help, but no one answered her pleas.

The second time the Congolese army invaded her house they raped and killed her second daughter while Bernadette was forced to watch. Bernadette was raped again. She shouted for help, but no one came.

The third time the militia invaded her house, luckily her other three children were not at home. Bernadette was again savagely raped. This time her genitals were mutilated. The militia poured kerosene in her vagina and lit her on fire. Although Bernadette survived, this time she did not shout for help. She knew there was no one to answer her pleas.

Honourable senators, this reality continues for many women in the Congo. This reality is also true for many women in other corners of the world living in conflict. Canadians and we senators need to hear Bernadette’s cry. We have a duty to stand for the sake of humanity and take action to eliminate violence against women.

In order to eliminate violence against women, we must confront the core causes of this violence. The violence that women face in conflict does not exist in a vacuum. This violence occurs as a direct result of the discrimination and marginalization women face in society.

Women are not simply victims in conflict. Women are strong, yet they are too often made vulnerable through legal, economic and social discrimination. In order to eliminate violence against women, women must be empowered to be leaders and decision makers. Women must be involved as full and equal participants in building peace and reshaping their societies after a conflict.

In most formal peace processes, women’s contributions to preventing violence and building peace continue to be unrecognized, underutilized and undervalued. According to the United Nations, women have made up fewer than 7 percent of negotiators on official delegations in peace processes since 2000, and just 2.7 percent of signatories.

In 13 major comprehensive peace agreement processes between 2000 and 2008, not one single woman was appointed as a mediator, yet the evidence supporting their participation is clear.


As honourable senators know, I served as Canada’s Special Envoy for Peace in Sudan from 2002 to 2006. I was involved in the Darfur Peace Process in the Sudan.

I found out that a United Nations plane was being sent to pick up some Darfurian men in exile in Europe to bring them to the peace talks in Abuja, Nigeria. I went to Salim Salim, the mediator from Tanzania and former Prime Minister, and insisted that the women should also be brought to the peace talks. He agreed right away, acknowledging the importance of having women involved. He showed true leadership. After some negotiation with the people involved, 17 women were picked up from refugee camps from various parts of Darfur. These women were brought to the peace talks and received some of the same training the men were getting in mediation, land rights issues and leadership.

At the talks, the men were arguing about water rights in a particular region. One of the women questioned, “Why are you arguing about water rights in that region? The water dried up there more than five years ago.” Also, when discussing a certain food route, another woman stated, “That route is not useable, it is covered with mines. Why insist on this route?” Having the women participate in this peace process and provide their knowledge and insights was critical to its success. Including women right from the beginning also ensured the entire process was more effective and long-lasting.

Canada played a key role in the work leading up to the adoption of Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security. Our government viewed the protection and empowerment of women as critical to achieving sustainable peace. We have a proud history of peace-making and peace-building. Canada is a world leader of human rights, and we need to live up to this reputation for women around the world. Today, as I stand before honourable senators, I am ashamed to say that our government has taken a huge step backwards in protecting women’s rights and combating sexual violence.

As I mentioned in my statement earlier, Canada is the lead negotiator on resolutions on violence against women at the United Nations Human Rights Council. Canada put forth a draft resolution at the United Nations that fails to account for recent international progress in tackling violence against women around the world. On Friday, the United Nations adopted this resolution. Canada had the opportunity to strengthen the protection of women, but instead we have regressed by setting the bar lower for women’s rights.

Honourable senators, there are too many Bernadettes in the world. That is why it is so important that the government take a stronger stance, as I mentioned in my statement today. Sexual violence and rape is not a woman’s issue. It is an issue that impacts every corner of the world, from Canada to the Congo. It is an issue that we all have to take action against.

Honourable senators, as Canada’s envoy to the Sudan, I often spent many hours with the women at the camps. One day, while I was at a camp speaking to the women about how we could empower those women, I heard a loud noise and saw a young girl of 16 years being brought on a cartwheel to the camp. This young girl had been raped by eight militia men. There is nothing that I can say today and get through this to describe the injuries on this girl. I cannot tell you whether there was even one part of her that was not broken. I looked at the mother and said, “You knew that when this young girl was going to collect firewood she would get raped.” The mother looked me in the eye and said, “What choice do I have? I have to collect firewood. If I send my son, the militia will kill him. If I send my daughter, I will see her maimed.”

Honourable senators, we in Canada have a big role to play to prevent violence against women. We have the means; we have the resources; and we have the values. Now, we need the intent.

(On motion of Senator Carignan for Senator Boisvenu, debate adjourned.)