Tag Archives: violence against women

Happy New Year!

4 Jan

Happy New Year! We hope you are off to a great start in 2013!

We had a peaceful and joyous start to the new year at Nellie’s Shelter thanks to the generosity and love of everyone who supported us over the holidays and throughout the year.

Since 1973 we have been committed to social change to achieve social justice for all women and children. We stand in solidarity with everyone who has made a commitment to end violence against women in our city, our country, and around the world.

We look forward to working with you in 2013.

Maureen with kids

16 Days: National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women

6 Dec

It’s cold. I can feel the chill seeping into my feet. There’s also a pervasive, collective warmth that shares a familiar combination of sadness, anger and the motivation to fight back and create change.

Every year, we stand here, at the December 6th Vigil at Philosopher’s Walk, commemorating women who have lost their lives to violence. Almost everyone in attendance holds a candle. There are often a variety of speakers – poets, musicians, activists, advocates, survivors telling their stories and sometimes even a politician or two. It’s the same year after year. The feeling has evolved, but there’s something about it that remains constant.

The December 6th Vigil falls on the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women; the anniversary of the Montréal Massacre where 14 women at Lecole Polytechnique were murdered at gunpoint – because they were women. Every year, there is a reading of these names as well as the names of other women and children who have lost their lives to violence in Ontario over the last year.


Every year, we say ‘never again’. For a moment, there is a collective hope and belief that there will never be another name added to the list again. Yet, every year, we add new markers and tell the stories of our sisters, mothers, aunts, friends, partners, neighbours, classmates and coworkers who have lost their lives, often brutally.

Then, of course, there are the women whose names never made it to the list. They were anonymous, unknown. Their deaths were attributed to other causes; their abusers unsuspected. Or, their deaths still haven’t been discovered. On this day, we mourn and remember, and as often quoted, then work for change.

Every year, the women at Nellie’s attend this vigil. One year, a woman who had just arrived at the shelter days earlier commented that she didn’t realize that it happened to so many other women. I could see tears in her eyes through the candlelight, as she whispered that she was glad that she left when she did, because… and she couldn’t finish that sentence.

The vigil leaves a lump in your throat and sadness in your heart. It reminds us of the women we’ve known who’ve lost their lives. It is a reminder that the difference between life and death for a woman in an abusive relationship is often just one more fight, one disagreement, or often, an attempt to leave.

dec 6 posts

At some point during the vigil most women remember their own stories of violence and remind themselves what a gift it is to still be alive, to have survived, somehow, and to still have that opportunity to fight for change; to end violence against women.

And, that’s what we need to do. We need to join forces and work together to create change and work towards ending violence against women. Join your local feminist organization if you haven’t already and take action. Lobby, protest, talk, discuss, create safety plans, support women, advocate, create dialogue, challenge notions and comments that perpetuate violence against women. Recognize systemic causes of violence and oppression such as sexism, racism, classism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism and oppression based on record of offences, immigration status and life experiences. Talk; perpetuate an awareness and understanding of violence against women. Most of all; do something. At the end of the vigil, we scream. We scream for ourselves, and for those who can’t.

Let us unite in solidarity to end violence against women. Mourn and remember those who have passed and fight for those who still have a chance.

16 Days: From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World

27 Nov

“From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World: Let’s Challenge Militarism and End Violence Against Women!”

This is the theme for the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence.  Organizers say that militarism creates a culture of fear and promotes violent forms of masculinity which endanger women.  According to the United Nations around 90% of war casualties are civilians, mostly women and children. A century ago 90% of those who lost their lives were military personnel.

This year the 16 Days Campaign’s focus on militarism centers on three priority areas:

1. Violence by State Actors such as army and police, who believe they can commit crimes with impunity and use the need for “security” as an excuse for violence and intimidation. A recent report by the ROJ Women Association revealed that Kurdish women activists in Turkey regularly endure horrific acts of violence by Turkish security forces including torture, sexual abuse, sexual harassment and psychological abuse. Unfortunately, only 10% of the women who endure such violence come forward to share their stories, and even then, they are regularly dismissed by the State. As is the case in so many other instances of violence against women, if there is no proper punishment for perpetrators, the violence will continue indefinitely.

2. The Role of Small Arms such as guns and machetes. According to the The International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA) women’s network  there are nearly 900 million small arms in the world today, and more than 75% are in the hands of private individuals—mostly men. Having a small weapon in the home increases the overall risk of someone being murdered by 41% and for women the risk is nearly tripled.  Here’s a short video from Switzerland advocating for the removal of firearms from the home:

3. Sexual Violence during and after conflict.  After a conflict ends, sexual violence continues as a tactic to reinforce hierarchies and humiliate women and their communities. Many women’s organizations have questioned the use of terms like “post-conflict” when brutal violence still takes place on a daily basis. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, estimates that 420,000 women per year are subject to sexual violence.  Eve Ensler’s V-Day is one organization dedicated to ending violence in countries in conflict like the DRC.  If you want to take action now to end rape and gender violence in conflict zones, you can sign this petition from the International Campaign to Stop Rape and Violence in Conflict.

At Nellie’s we support many women who are dealing with trauma from militarism in Canada and around the world. Some of our staff have, themselves, experienced and witnessed this trauma and tomorrow we will share one of their stories.

16 Days to End Gender Violence

26 Nov

Yesterday, November 25th, was the  International Day for the Elimination of  Violence Against Women and the launch of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence Campaign. We will be joining women around the world to raise awareness on this year’s theme of militarism and its impact on women, From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World: Let’s Challenge Militarism and End Violence Against Women!

In 2012, we have heard many horrific cases of violence against women.  From 15-year old Malala Yousufzai shot in the head by the Taliban in her home country of Pakistan as she left school on October 9th, to Brampton principal Debra Allan killed by her husband in a murder-suicide last month, violence against women knows no boundaries. While ending violence should be a priority every day of the year, for the next 16 days the world will come together in an effort to raise awareness and share solutions so that all women can live free from the threat of violence.

The annual 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence Campaign involves 4100 organizations in 172 countries. This year, in keeping with the theme of militarism and it’s impact on women, the 16 Days Campaign has partnered with  the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict to “demand bold political leadership to prevent rape in conflict, to protect civilians and rape survivors, and call for justice for all—including effective prosecution of those responsible.”  If you visit their webpage, you can make a personal pledge to support the end of rape and gender violence in conflict.  There is more information about this campaign in the video below:

During the next two weeks, there are eight important commemorative days in which we can raise awareness of the root causes of violence against women. They are:

November 25,  International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women

 November 29, International Women Human Rights Defenders Day

 December 1, World AIDS Day

 December 2, International Day for the Abolition of Slavery

December 3, International Day for DisAbled Persons

 December 5, International Volunteer Day

 December 6, National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women

 December 10, International Human Rights Day

This is the first blog in our 16 Days series. Stay tuned for blogs on Women and Militarism,  World AIDS Day, The Abolition of Slavery, The International Day for DisAbled Persons, the Meaning of December 6, and International Human Rights Day and find out what you can do to end violence against women.

Women at Nellie’s attend Wen-Do Workshop

8 Nov

Last week, the women at Nellie’s attended the first of two Wen-Do Workshops, taught by a certified Wendoka. Wen-Do is a form of Women’s Self-Defence that teaches women how to fight back and how to survive. Wen-Do employs a series of different tools and techniques that anyone can use, regardless of size, strength, age or ability.

 The workshop began in a circle. The women talked about what self-defence means to them and shared success stories. We uncovered myths and stereotypes about violence against women and the stigma associated with women who do fight back. It is often stigma, misinformation and sexism as well as a series of other interlocking systems of oppression including racism, classism, poverty, immigration status, homophobia, transphobia, ageism, ableism and others that prevent women from defending their own lives.

Women are taught that they are not strong, that they are not capable, that they should be afraid to pick a fight for fear of putting themselves in greater danger. Wen-Do teaches us that this is not true. The Wen-Do Instructor recounted success stories about five-year-olds and ninety-year-olds who have effectively defended themselves against attackers, using tenets of Wen-Do. Then, we learned some of the techniques.

 The women felt empowered and walked home from the workshop with a renewed sense of inspiration and confidence. It was the enactment of the chant often heard at Take Back the Night: “They say stay home – we say fight back!”  For more information on Wen-Do, or to sign up for a class, please visit: http://www.wendo.ca/

Women with Disabilities and Abuse: Unpacking the Myths/Exploring the Realities

6 Nov

Until very recently little was known about women with disabilities and abuse.  In fact, it is only in recent decades that studies have begun to explore the topic of violence against women with disabilities (2).  These studies indicate women with disabilities are at higher risk to experience abuse and violence than are their non-disabled peers.  “The number from different studies vary, but the risk for women with disabilities is anywhere from two to ten times greater than found in the general population (3).  Sadly, this lack of awareness of the impact of abuse in women’s lives has resulted in systemic discrimination in which women with disabilities are directed towards programs and services that address issues related to their disability but not to issues related to the abuse and violence they are dealing with.  This has also meant that services and resources are largely inaccessible for women with disabilities trying to leave abusive relationships therefore creating an environment of great vulnerability and risk for further abuse.

Nellie’s defines ableism as the belief system which views individuals with disabilities as incompetent, burden, drag on the system and more specifically as unproductive, unworthy and desexualized individuals needing consistent accommodation, assistance and requiring support from a caregiver.   Ableism impacts both the personal, interpersonal and the systemic realms of all of our lives.  The values and beliefs carried by policy makers, service providers and the general population create a world in which women with disabilities become vulnerable to abuse and violence simply due to the disabling environments in which access to full inclusion are denied and social isolation is created.  It is important to begin to explore, unpack and make visible the myths and stereotypes that exist for women with disabilities in order to begin to make concrete systemic changes so that women living with disabilities and their children can make informed choices that are suited to their individual needs and that prevent violence and abuse from occurring in the first place.

One of the most prevalent myths about women with disabilities has to do with sexuality.  Women with disabilities are either assumed to be asexual or hyper sexual.  When women with disabilities are assumed to be asexual it is assumed they will not be in intimate relationships or that they are not interested in sexual pleasure/desire.  If they are hypersexual they are assumed to be controlled solely by their sexual desires.  Hyper sexuality and asexuality in this context go hand in hand.  If disAbled women are assumed to be asexual then any form of sexual expression can lead them to be classified as hyper sexual and they may risk having their sexuality regulated in some way.  When they experience sexual abuse, it may be assumed that somehow they are to blame and have created the abusive situation.

Women with DisAbilities are often seen as objects of pity and tragic figures.  It can be safe to say that those who are objects of pity or whose lives are tragic, are not likely to make great life mates.  Anyone who chooses to partner up with them is seen as sacrificing a great deal of their own happiness and as a result will be seen as a martyr.  Ironically, this also applies to those who are paid to be in their lives.  However, as one study notes, “…in 44% of the cases, the abusers had a relationship with the victim that was specifically related to the person’s disability These abusers included personal care assistants, psychiatrists, residential staff, transportation providers, foster parents, and other individuals with disabilities(1).”  Women with DisAbilities are perceived as being dependent, childlike, and in need of protection and as a result of these stereotypes their experiences are devalued, ignored and rendered invisible, including their experiences with abuse.  In their stories of abuse, their coping strategies are largely ignored and their choices as to how they address the abuse and violence are made by others, thereby perpetuating the trauma through systemic abuse.

Unpacking myths and stereotypes is a process but as service providers, advocates and allies we must begin to increase awareness and challenge these myths and stereotypes in order to challenge ableism and work towards the elimination of violence and abuse in the lives of all women with and without disabilities.   This process can begin by unlearning some of these beliefs and challenging our own ableist thoughts and practices.  This can include creating inclusive spaces that are welcoming to women with disabilities and that provide opportunities for women to share experiences and expertise about their own lives.  Only through active and meaningful participation and inclusion of women with disabilities as staff, volunteers, friends and colleagues can the commonalities and the differences in experiences of abuse and violence be understood more fully and completely.

At Nellie’s we are in the process of developing a Position Paper on Women and Accessibility.  This position will be used internally at Nellie’s to provide an overview and understanding on Ableism as well as provide recommendations to ensure women with disabilities and Deaf women receive services which are barrier free.  Additionally, this document can be used by other organizations to inform policy and ensure service geared to women with disabilities and Deaf women. The Position will be launched and available online in Spring 2013.  For more information on this topic, please refer to the references below.


1) Curry, Mary Ann, Hassouneh-Phillips, Dena, Johnston-Silverberg, Anne. (2001) Abuse of Women With Disabilities:  An Ecological Model and Review, Violence Against Women, Vol. 7, No. 1,  60-79

2) Hassouneh-Philips, Dena & Mary Ann Curry (2002), Abuse of Women with Disabilities:  State of the Science, Rehabilitation Counselling Bulletin, 45(2) 96-104

3) Kaufman, Miriam, M.D.,  Silverberg, Cory & Odette, Fran, (2003). The Ultimate Guide To Sex and Disability, Cleis Press Inc.

November is Woman Abuse Awareness Month

2 Nov

November is Women Abuse Awareness Month in Ontario. Previously called Wife Assault Prevention Month, this month recognizes and highlights violence against women. Women’s rights are human rights, and this month is an opportunity to reflect and take action.

According to Statistics Canada,

-Every 6 days in Canada, a woman is killed by her intimate partner

-About 3000 women and 2500 children are living in an emergency shelter to escape domestic violence

-About 80% of sex trafficking victims are women and young girls

-As of 2010, there were 582 known cases of missing or murdered Aboriginal women and girls

-Half of all women have experienced at least one incident of physical or sexual violence by the age of 16.

Recently in our city, on October 23rd, Nighisti Semret was fatally stabbed in a back alley in Cabbagetown as she walked home from work. Nighisti came to Canada from Eritrea and she left behind four children in her native country. According to this story, police officers are still trying to uncover the motives for her murder.  Her story matters because it is similar to the stories of so many women accessing our services.  Upon arrival in Canada as a new immigrant, Nighisti faced homelessness and poverty, and ultimately violence.  At Nellie’s we operate from an anti-racism and anti-oppression framework and believe that systemic racism, discrimination, and oppression based on race, class, sexual orientation, gender identification, age, and ability must be addressed as part of an integrated approach to addressing violence in the lives of women and children.

Several campaigns are occurring across the province and internationally this month to commemorate Woman Abuse Awareness Month that you can be a part of. They include the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence, the White Ribbon Campaign, and the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. At Nellie’s we will be launching our 2nd annual 16 Days to End Gender Violence Blog Series on November 25th.  During this time we will be sharing stories, articles, and videos about the work we do at Nellie’s. If you’d like to subscribe to our blog so you don’t miss a post, you can do so at the bottom of the page.

During this month, and everyday of the year, here are some things you can do to help end violence against women:

-Refuse to remain silent when witnessing violent acts against women

-Speak up against racism, ableism, transphobia, anti-semitism, classis, ageism and heterosexism

-Do not judge any woman who decides to remain in an abusive situation, instead, offer assistance in any possible you can

-Participate in social justice activities in your community

Nellie’s is committed to continue advocating for women’s rights and to stand up against violence done to women. Please join us this month online via twitter and facebook as well as at events in the community to end violence against women!

Aliza’s Story

1 Nov

Women who live in poverty are more likely to experience violence.  In fact, at Nellie’s we believe that poverty is a form of violence against women.

Aliza came to Nellie’s 5 years ago with her young daughter. She was homeless and without a penny to her name after her husband left her for the second time.  She had been financially dependent on him and without a job or any support from family or friends, she struggled to make ends meet.  When Aliza’s husband left he took everything from their apartment so she was left with nothing but the clothes on her back.  She came to Nellie’s as so many women often do, empty handed but for the child by her side.

Upon arrival at Nellie’s Aliza disclosed that her ex-husband beat her regularly during the years they were together. She re-told incidents of horrific abuse and violation after he would come home drunk at night. At Nellie’s we made sure that Aliza received the appropriate counseling resources she needed to work through her trauma so she could regain her strength and self-confidence, for herself and her daughter.

While Aliza was with us, we began the process of applying for affordable housing.  When women are at our shelter, securing safe and affordable housing is the first step they take towards beginning new lives, free from abuse.  While Aliza did not qualify for Special Priority Housing because she did not have documents to prove cohabitation with her ex-husband, we were able to secure temporary housing for her through the Housing Allowance Program which provides tenants with financial assistance with rent for 5 years.  Although this relief would be temporary, it addressed Aliza’s immediate needs in the face of no other options.

In March of 2013, Aliza’s 5 year Housing Allowance Program will be complete.  This means she will no longer receive any financial assistance to help pay her rent.  Although she is working, her limited income cannot cover market rent rates, leaving her and her daughter at great risk for becoming homeless again.  Aliza’s future depends on breaking the cycle of poverty in which she is currently trapped. Temporary solutions like the Housing Allowance Program offer short-term relief, but do little to address the larger systemic issue of the lack of affordable housing in our city.  Although Aliza no longer has to fear punches and bruises from her husband, she continues to experience violence as result of living in poverty.

Today, we continue to support Aliza.  Our Transitional Housing Support Worker is assisting Aliza with navigating the difficult subsidized housing process.  We are helping her apply for Rent Geared to Income Housing, connecting her to counseling supports, increasing her involvement in the community, and encouraging her to explore additional government supports. Despite the challenges they have faced and the difficult journey they have been on, Aliza and her daughter are survivors and this story is the story of so many women who come to Nellie’s.

Nurturing Ourselves Workshop

31 Oct

This month We had our first Nurturing Ourselves Workshop at the shelter.  This workshop was created with the goal of providing the women at our shelter with a great afternoon filled with pampering and self care. While women are at our shelter, their days are always busy.  Between looking after their children, attending appointments, personal errands, and trying to stay calm during a difficult time, the physical and emotional toll can  be great. We created the Nurturing Ourselves Workshop to give women a space to relax, unwind, rejuvenate, and practice self-care. This new program will run twice a month.

Our first session was great! Women were very excited to do manicures, pedicures, and makeup and share creative tips on how they like to relax.   Despite the rainy, cold day outside, everyone’s spirits were lifted by the smell and taste of freshly baked cookies and hot coffee prepared by the staff.  Sharon, a mother of three particularly enjoyed the group as it gave her some time to relax and recharge after taking care of her children all day.  She had this to say: “On such a dreary, rainy day the Nellie’s Group made it sunny with manicures and taking care of ourselves.”

Thanks to the generous support of The Body Shop Eaton Centre, we were able to provide every woman with a lovely self-care product at the end of our first workshop.  Items included body lotion, body wash, shampoo and conditioner. These items added a special touch to the workshop and will remind the women to take some time out of every day to pamper themselves.

We look forward to our next session of the Nurturing Ourselves Workshop.

Team Nellie’s Race Re-Cap!

15 Oct

Wow! What a day! Despite a wet start, our team members braved the rain at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon in support of the women and kids at Nellie’s!

(Team Members Elizabeth and Kiela)

Our team members ran in the 5K and half-marathon races, and although their shoes were soaked and their clothes were wet, each one came across the finish line with a smile.  We are so proud of all of you.

(Team Members Louise and Faye)

Our fantastic team has raised $15,822, which is 80% of our $20,000 goal.  100% of the money raised will go to support our programs for disAbled women, including our Women and Accessibility Support Group. If you would still like to make a donation to our team, you can do so here.

It was wonderful to be part of the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon again this year and we look forward to participating in 2013. Thank you to our amazing team members and generous donors for making this year another great success!


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