Equality Matters

We can help survivors of violence access justice

I work every day to support survivors of gender-based violence. As an Advocate in Toronto’s domestic violence court, I prepare survivors to actively participate in our legal system, thereby increasing their access to Justice.

Survivors of gender-based violence are dealing with trauma and must navigate the complexities of the justice system. Thankfully, there are measures in place to ease this burden.

We are fortunate that in Canada we have had progress in the laws which provide better protections for women and children. I see great possibilities that exist in partnerships that can be engendered between Canada and the efforts of those in the global South who are working to improve access to justice for women and children.

Canada can help them get there – and support the breaking of the cycle of violence along the way.

Navigating Justice in Tanzania

I have visited the Moshi in the region of Tanzania three times since 2017 as a member of the Crossroads International Access to Justice team. Typically, the teams have included, myself a crown prosecutor, judge, police officer, and defense lawyer.

Tanzania, as supporters of Crossroads International will know, is one of the most challenging places in the world to be a woman or a girl.

When I observed the lack of supports in the Tanzanian justice system for survivors of gender-based violence I am reminded of where were in the Canadian context 20-30 years ago. That is how I know the passion and commitment I have experienced from our counterparts working in Tanzania on behalf of women and children, we can make a difference.

The commitment of organizations like KWIECO, social welfare workers, and advocates on the ground in Tanzania is incredibly effective and inspiring. They are closing the gap, however, their ability to realize sustainable changes is dependent on the supports of programs like Access to Justice, where Canadian expertise and experience are shared.

In 2017, one of the things that struck me most was the need for improved coordination among social welfare agencies and other stakeholders within the legal system. A major challenge faced by social welfare workers was the responsibility they had to complete the official intake forms on which the victims’ complaints of abuse were documented. This is the responsibility of police officers and social welfare’s role in advocating and supporting the victim was potentially compromised and victims’ safety risks were not minimized with this structure.

Patricia Wilson (left) joined KWIECO’s Executive Director Elizabeth Minde, Access to Justice team member and Crown Attorney Cidalia Faria and a Tanzanian Senior Lawyer.

 

strengthening the system so that justice being served

In just two years, exceptional progress has been made. There is now increased coordination between social welfare agencies where case plans are developed more consistently between agencies to better support victims. There is a designated youth court and social welfare workers are required to participate in all hearings that involve a youth. Police Officers are now more regularly interviewing and documenting details of abuse from victims directly. Funding has been put in place to cover the costs of a witness on a case of gender-based violence to attend court and give their evidence.

It is heartening to see these changes, to know that survivors of gender-based violence will have a bit more support accessing justice and new resources for moving on with their lives.

As much as I have witnessed and shared by knowledge, I have also amassed a tremendous amount of knowledge about the culture which has guided my approaches in working with individuals from this culture within the Canadian context.

Not everyone will have the opportunity to support the efforts around ending gender-based violence in places like Tanzania by visiting there, but we can all advocate in different ways. Starting November 25th, 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence will begin. The launch is November 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, carries through December 5, International Day of the Volunteer, and ends December 10, Human Rights Day.

This is an opportunity to act. Learn more about the issue at home and around the world. Talk to your neighbours and co-workers. Educate them about the disparities in accessing justice for Canadians and those in the South. Much can be done in the area of policy development to support both groups like Crossroads and the organizations like KWIECO, who are on the ground in places like Moshi who are effecting change.

If you want to aspire to justice for all who have experienced violence, then we have to act. I encourage you to join me.

 

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