The journey of community and government to address violence against women
This Community Album is a snapshot of the significant work done to address Nova Scotia women's experience of intimate partner and sexualized violence. Started by the Transition House Association of Nova Scotia in 2009 and continued four years later in collaboration with the women’s community and the Nova Scotia Advisory Council on the Status of Women, it highlights government, community, and collaborative actions taken to address violence against women in Nova Scotia. Early achievements include:
- The Nova Scotia Native Women’s Association was founded in 1972.
- Across the province, nine transition houses, two associated outreach organizations, and nine women’s centres opened, providing a wide range of supports, services and housing to women experiencing domestic violence.
- Men's intervention programs were established and funded across the province as a result of advocacy from Nova Scotia women.
- The Avalon Sexual Assault Centre and the Colchester Sexual Assault Centre, with a small staff and trained volunteers, provides support to women who had been sexually assaulted.
This timeline is also a reflection of "which women" were being supported. What began as a movement focused primarily on the perspectives of white middle-class women, slowly began to recognize needs and include programs and services that addressed race, ethnicity, class, language, sexual identities, and sexual expression. It became clear that healing from gendered violence meant addressing the multiple barriers women face, including poverty, literacy, childcare, mental health, sex work, conflict with the law, parenting and more.
Due to funding challenges and differing philosophies women's groups worked in silos. There was a lack of trust by both government and community as departments seemed unwilling or unable to acknowledge or fund programs and services that women's organizations believed were needed for women to move forward in their lives.
One significant event for women in Nova Scotia was the creation of the Nova Scotia Advisory Council on the Status of Women in 1977 to "Advise the Minister Responsible for the Status of Women on matters relating to the status of women in Nova Scotia... and bring to the attention of the Minister matters of interest and concern to women." (Advisory Council on the Status of Women Act) Consultations with individual women and women's organizations have continued, with information filtered through the Council and provided to the Minister of the day.
The Nova Scotia Advisory Council on the Status of Women played an important role in bringing community and government together. Government departments and women-serving organizations began to listen and learn from each other and collaborated on initiatives that would support the recovery of women with complex barriers.
Connections were established early on with some of the larger women-serving groups, including the Transition House Association of Nova Scotia with locations across the province supporting women and their children experiencing intimate partner violence and Women Centres CONNECT representing Women’s Centres across Nova Scotia that provide supports, referrals and programming that reflect the specific needs of their individual communities.
One of the first examples of inclusion and collaboration was the establishment of Mi'kmaw Children and Family Services of Nova Scotia in 1985, empowered through an agreement between Canada, Nova Scotia, and the Mi’kmaq. For the first time, policy, programs, and initiatives reflected the culture of the Mi'kmaw people.
A decade later, with government and community collaboration, the Framework for Action against Family Violence was initiated to "improve the response of the justice system to incidents of spousal/intimate partner violence." (Government Response) Community organizations were working collaboratively with the Nova Scotia Advisory Council on the Status of Women, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Community Services to increase the safety of women, while also ensuring programs and services for women struggling with the realities of intimate partner violence were more inclusive. This Framework is still in place today.
In 2003, the Domestic Violence Intervention Act was declared, but not before significant advocacy by Transition House Association of Nova Scotia to ensure the bill reflected the reality of women's lives. For the first time, community groups were invited to be part of the development of the regulations for an act, and specific training was created and delivered to community partners. Throughout this work, collaborative bonds were forming between community organizations and government leaders and their staff.
Today, the province’s Sexual Violence Strategy has completed its first phase. The Provincial Committee – Training and the Provincial Committee on Training were comprised of youth, government and community organizations, and representatives from a variety of diverse communities. Their collaborative work produced award winning public service announcements on sexual assault and consent, as well as a comprehensive sexual violence online training resource. This is some of the most collaborative and inclusive work done in Nova Scotia to date.
This Community Album reflects over forty years of Nova Scotia women’s advocacy in responding to end gender-based violence. The office of the Nova Scotia Advisory Council on the Status of Women continues to bring issues and concerns of women in Nova Scotia to the attention of the Minister Responsible for the Advisory Council on the Status of Women Act and advise the provincial government on these issues and concerns. Through promoting women’s economic security, supporting women in leadership, addressing options for women and girls to live free from violence, and improving the health and well-being of women and families, the Nova Scotia Advisory Council on the Status of Women continues to work to address the inequities that prevent women and girlswebsite.