our analysis of the 2021 federal budget through the lenses of GBV & equity

On Monday April 19th, Chrystia Freeland, the first-ever woman to hold the title of Federal Minister of Finance, released the Federal Budget for 2021-2022. Women are mentioned often in Budget 2021-22, which sees a plan for universal child care, historic investments for Indigenous and Black communities, and funding for a long-awaited National Action Plan to End Gender-Based Violence.

This is Aura Freedom’s analysis of Budget 2021-2022, through the lenses of gender-based violence eradication, equity, and intersectional feminism.

ESTABLISHING A CANADA-WIDE EARLY LEARNING & CHILD CARE SYSTEM

The star of the Budget show was definitely child care, and we know we were not alone when we celebrated the announcement of $30 billion over five years to build a high-quality, affordable and accessible early learning and child care system across Canada. The investment will allow for a 50% reduction in fees by the end of 2022, with the end goal of $10 a day for families across the country.

Quality and affordable child care is key to the health and well-being of everyone living in Canada. Women are responsible for the majority of child care in Canada and often must leave the work force because of high child care fees. When we consider gender-based violence, we know that a safe and healthy child care environment for children living in homes with domestic violence is key to their mental and physical health and protection.

If implemented, the positive effects of a $10/day child care system on mothers, families, children, communities, (society as a whole!) are immeasurable.

This is the proactive and smart investing that sees countries thrive.

This is the way we honour, respect, and support working class mothers, marginalized mothers, single mothers, racialized and Indigenous women, LGBTQ2S+ parents, newcomers, and more.

We applaud this investment and will be here to hold the government accountable to ensure this promise is realized.

 

MISSING AND MURDERED INDIGENOUS WOMEN, GIRLS AND TWO SPIRIT PEOPLES

 $2.2 billion over 5 years and $160.9 million ongoing was announced for a National Action Plan in response to the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls’ Calls to Justice, as well as the implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action.

We applaud this hearty investment into what we see as Canada’s greatest shame: the ongoing genocide of violence against Indigenous women, girls and Two Spirit peoples. Implementation will be key and we know that promises have been made time and again – but time is up.

We would like to relay what our Indigenous partners have told us on numerous occasions – including during our community consultations for the National Action Plan to End Gender-Based Violence – which is that any funding or plans for Indigenous communities must be Indigenous-designed and Indigenous-led, with Indigenous communities at the table well before funding is released so that they are involved and in the driver’s seat from the start.

We look forward to the day when Indigenous women can finally see justice and peace restored to their communities and when they can finally live free from violence and exploitation. Until then, we will be here supporting and advocating in every way we can.

ADVANCING A NATIONAL ACTION PLAN TO END GENDER-BASED VIOLENCE (GBV)

As advocates of the urgent need for a National Action Plan to end the national emergency that is gender-based violence, we welcome the $600 million to finally begin to put this long overdue plan into place and have provided a detailed breakdown and analysis of this section of the Budget.

We are happy and encouraged to see GBV prevention mentioned in this section of the Budget, but it still seems that frontline response is being prioritized when it comes to gender-based violence.

According to the Budget, the government “is moving forward on developing a National Action Plan to End Gender-Based Violence, focusing on ensuring that anyone facing gender-based violence has reliable and timely access to protection and services, no matter where they live.”

But, the National Action Plan is to end gender-based violence, not solely respond to it. And the only way to end the violence is to prevent it. 

In Relentless Resilience, our Beijing +25 report on gender-based violence in Canada released in 2020, we raise the alarm about the lack of funding for GBV prevention and recommend more robust investments in this area.

This doesn’t mean that life-saving frontline agencies are funded less – it means that prevention initiatives are funded just as much. Proper investments in prevention will mean that Canada’s GBV sector can finally stop chasing its own tail and cycles of violence will be disrupted.

Every day, my colleagues in domestic violence shelters see two women leave their facilities and another three show up.

In an open letter penned to Dr. Theresa Tam in 2020, Heidi Illingworth, Federal Ombudswoman for Victims of Crime, implored Canada’s chief public health officer to include violence-prevention in the federal recovery response, saying it’s “critical” that resources be directed at preventing behaviours that lead to intimate partner violence, sexual violence and child abuse. Considering domestic violence alone costs Canadians billions of dollars per year, the economics point to prevention.

Here is what we know about the $600 million for the National Action Plan:

$200 million was proposed to enhance the capacity of organizations such as sexual assault centres, women’s shelters, and other organizations that provide critical and often life-saving services and supports for women, girls, LGBTQ2, and gender non-binary people experiencing violence. Moreover, $30 million was proposed to support crisis hotlines that are experiencing a rise in call volumes during the pandemic and 85.3 million was proposed to support free legal advice for survivors of GBV.

This is all good news. Frontline organizations are critical and their work saves lives. These investments are crucial to the health and well-being of women experiencing violence and their children.

But, we remind the government that gender-based violence is preventable. Femicide is preventable. Sexual exploitation is preventable.

In February 2021, Aura Freedom organized community consultations with the GBV sector on behalf of the Federal government to ask them what they would like to see in a national action plan to end gender-based violence. Over and over again, what we heard (including from frontline organizations) was the need to address the roots causes of GBV in order to prevent it, which include gender inequity, sexism, colonialism, systemic racism, homo/transphobia, ableism, classism, and more.

So, exactly how much will be dedicated to prevention in Budget 2021? It is still unclear, but it is considerably less than frontline response.

Prevention is explicitly mentioned in some areas, like the $50 million dedicated to Safer Relationships to prevent family violence and the $55 million dedicated to preventing violence against Indigenous women and Two Spirit peoples, which we applaud.

But if we do the math (see below), it looks like frontline response is being funded at least twice as much as prevention. If we include the Unclear category, it is upwards of three times as much.

Further comments regarding the National Action Plan investments outlined above:

Safer Relationships

Budget 2021 proposes $50 million over five years for the Public Health Agency of Canada to design and deliver interventions that promote safe relationships and prevent family violence, including intimate partner violence, child maltreatment, and elder abuse.

Although the details of this investment are not clear at the moment, we hope to see partnerships with and allocation of funding to community and feminist organizations that are already doing gender-based violence prevention work.

Gender-Based Violence Program

It seems that some prevention activities may fall under the Federal Gender-Based Violence Program, which is described as follows: Budget 2021 proposes to invest $105 million over five years, starting in 2021-22, for the Department for Women and Gender Equality to enhance its Gender-Based Violence Program. Funding will go to initiatives that engage men and boys. It will increase funding for initiatives to stop human trafficking, including support for at-risk populations and survivors. It will also provide support for testing and implementing best practices to address gender-based violence, with a focus on projects that could be scaled at the national level.

We don’t know how much of the $105 million will go to GBV/human trafficking prevention. In fact, supporting survivors who have already experienced violence is mentioned again in this section. As we expressed above, the idea is not to provide less funding to frontline GBV services, but to provide equal funding for GBV prevention initiatives so as to prevent future violence.

Indigenous Peoples

$55 million over five years will be invested for the Department for Women and Gender Equality to bolster the capacity of Indigenous women and 2SLGBTQQIA+ organizations to provide gender-based violence prevention programming aimed at addressing the root causes of violence against Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA+ people. These investments are in addition to those outlined above for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

This is the type of funding that will eradicate gender-based violence and we desperately need more of it. We applaud this investment and look forward to more progressive funding like this in the future that centres root causes and equity as a way to end GBV.

Protections for Women and Children during Divorce or Separation

This progressive investment is why we do the work we do and this investment is a direct result of grassroots advocacy. Aura Freedom has been very vocal about the connection between Domestic Violence, Amber Alerts and Femicide/Filicide. We know that children’s lives are at risk during or after separation or divorce. Aura Freedom’s Relentless Resilience report and accompanying campaign feature frontline stories (view one here) from advocates that document cases of femicide and filicide during divorce or separation. We are heartened and encouraged to see support for women and children during divorce or separation, as this will prevent femicide and filicide from occurring. Budget 2021 proposes to provide $28.4 million over five years for Justice Canada to support supervision services for parenting time in cases of separation and divorce.

We celebrate this investment and support it whole-heartedly, so that we may never again see another Amber Alert like that of Riya Rajkumar, who was killed at the hands of her father on her 11th birthday. We can, and must, do better.

Support for Newcomers Experiencing Gender-Based Violence

$2 million over five years was announced for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada to increase access to information and support for new Canadians facing family and gender-based violence, including enhancing the availability of anti-violence resources.

In our experience, newcomers who experience gender-based violence face multiple barriers to support, as well as systemic violence and discrimination. We see the amount of $2 million as quite low, as it works out to $400,000 per year for all of Canada.

Women living with disabilities are not explicitly referenced in the investments outlined under the National Action Plan to End GBV. We look forward to hearing more about their inclusion in the Plan in the coming months.

 

To conclude our analysis of the investments allocated to the National Action Plan to End Gender-Based Violence, we are pleased with the funding allocated to frontline organizations doing crucial work to support survivors. On the other hand, GBV prevention has fallen short. If we are to truly eradicate GBV, then Canada must prioritize the prevention of it. Just as urgent as domestic violence shelters and hotlines is the need to prevent the violence from happening at all; to prevent the trauma that rips through families and communities and costs Canada more in the long run.

No, we can’t “see” the impact of education and prevention happening in real-time. But the fact is, education saves lives, too.

We look forward to hearing more about how the $600+ million dollars for the National Action Plan to End Gender-Based Violence will be allocated to prevention activities that centre equity, including funding and support for grassroots feminist groups doing GBV prevention work and advancing the intersectional feminist movement.

ADDITIONAL BUDGET 2021-2022 INVESTMENTS RELATED TO GENDER-BASED VIOLENCE & EQUITY:

Preventing Radicalization to Violence

This was by far the most surprising element of Budget 2021 for us. We applaud and welcome this progressive investment of $8.2 million over three years to increase support and research for frontline initiatives and programming that prevent and counter radicalization to violence, including violent misogyny. In our work, Aura Freedom often raises awareness about the connection between misogyny and GBV, and how mass murders like the Toronto Van Attack and the Nova Scotia Massacre are, in fact, hate crimes and directly related to misogynistic views of women.

Sexual and Reproductive Health

$45 million over three years was announced to fund community-based organizations that help make sexual and reproductive health care information and services more accessible for vulnerable populations.

How this rolls out will be important. We would like to see Indigenous midwifery services included in these investments, as well as interventions to address the ongoing forced sterilization of Indigenous women. We look forward to other marginalized women being supported through these investments, such as survivors of female genital mutilation and cutting who are not adequately supported by the healthcare system.

Sexual Violence and Misconduct in the Military

Budget 2021 proposes $236.2 million over five years to eliminate sexual misconduct and gender-based violence in the military and support survivors. We applaud this investment as it will create more awareness of sexual violence in the military and break the stigma in a sector that is known to be silent on violence and discrimination. It is important to note that adequately funding GBV prevention in the National Action Plan to End GBV would also prevent violence in the military.

Gun Control

Research shows that femicide and filicide are more likely to occur when a firearm is present in a household where domestic violence or intimate partner violence occurs. We applaud the Budget 2021 proposal of $312 million over five years, with $41.4 million ongoing, to implement legislation to help protect Canadians from gun violence and to fight gun smuggling and trafficking.

Support for Black Communities

Budget 2021 proposed $200 million to help combat anti-Black racism and improve social and economic outcomes in Black communities. We applaud this investment and look forward to seeing the positive effects in the gender-based violence sector as we know one of the root causes of gender-based violence is systemic racism. We look forward to seeing Black communities leading these initiatives in the ways that best suit their communities.

LGBTQ2S+ Support

$15 million over three years was announced for LGBTQ2S+ community organizations supporting LGBTQ2S+ peoples, who often experience gender-based violence. This investment is simply not enough for the many LGBTQ2S+ groups across Canada, many of them doing ground-breaking work with little to no funding. Without proper investments, many grassroots organizations will be forced to close their doors forever, leaving the folks they support even more isolated.

Housing for Women/Children Experiencing Violence

There were various investments made for Housing for GBV survivors and their children, which we welcome with open arms. We applaud the following tailored approaches to Housing for GBV survivors, which will not only save lives, but create healthy and vibrant communities in the future.

 -$250 million in funding will be allocated to support the construction, repair, and operating costs of an estimated 560 units of transitional housing and shelter spaces for women and children fleeing violence.

-$1.5B will be for Rapid Housing to address urgent affordable housing with at least 25% going to women-focused housing projects.

-$315.4 million over seven years through the Canada Housing Benefit is to increase direct financial assistance for low-income women and children fleeing violence to help with their rent payments.

Non-Profit Sector

$400 million will be allocated to a Community Services Recovery Fund to help charities and non-profits better support the economic recovery in our communities. This type of funding can be a game changer for smaller, grassroots organizations and is crucial to the health of many communities. Indeed, the federal Emergency Community Support Fund allowed Aura Freedom to keep our own doors open during the pandemic. We hope to see more core funding supported as opposed to project funding, as well as simplified grant applications and reporting requirements that do not drain smaller organizations of their time and resources.

International: Responding to the Rohingya Crisis

Budget 2021 proposes to allocate $288.3 million over three years to Global Affairs Canada to respond to the Rohingya crisis as part of Canada’s ongoing efforts to address the crisis in Myanmar. Many of us in the GBV sector have heard of the horrific sexual violence being used as a weapon of war against the Rohingya people and hope to see some of this funding allocated for local organizations working with survivors. Moreover, considering the recent actions of the Myanmar military against its own people, we applaud this investment to uphold human rights in Myanmar, along with the rights and safety of women and girls.

All in all, Budget 2021-2022 is a great start to feminist budgeting thanks to its investments in Indigenous communities, affordable child care, housing support for GBV survivors, and investments for a National Action Plan to End Gender-Based Violence. Of course, there is room for improvement. We are heartened at many of the investments made to respond to gender-based violence, and will continue to advocate for further grassroots support to prevent gender-based violence, advance equity, and empower women, girls and gender diverse peoples across Canada.

We can’t wait anymore.

 

Marissa Kokkoros is the Executive Director of Aura Freedom and author of Relentless Resilience