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Hon. Hedy Fry Statement in the House of Commons, Thursday March 25, 2021:


Madam Chair, I am so glad we are having this debate tonight. I think it has long been overdue.
I heard a lot of people speak. All of them were passionate and really cared about what they were saying, but I want to make a statement: COVID did not cause violence against women. It exacerbated it and exposed it, but violence against women is pervasive. It has been rooted in history, tradition and culture for millennia.
In history and culture, women were possessions. They were chattels. It is only a little over 100 years ago that women in this country stopped being chattel and had the right to vote. They began that long march to being treated equally.
The idea of toxic masculinity, while it sounds horrible, is very real. It is real because, as women are becoming more equal and are moving forward toward equality, we find that some men who are still rooted in that history, tradition and culture do not like it, especially as women like MPs or judges begin to make decisions in influential places. These are the women who are being focused on. We need to think about that and recognize it.
Also, violence against women is intergenerational. We know that 43% of boys who grow up in an abusive home become abusers themselves and that 35% of girls who grow up in an abusive home marry, live with or find a partner who is also abusive. I think we need to talk about the fact that this is a reaction. What we have seen today is an absolute reaction by toxic masculinity against women moving forward.
When we look at violence against the women we love, we get upset and react if they are raped or murdered, but that is not the only form of violence against women. Women experience psychological violence every day. They are being threatened. Social media have increased the ability for people to speak out against women. Social media have been threatening to women. They can be threatened anonymously on social media, and those threats are part of the violence. They do not even have to happen. Just the fact that they are being threatened with language that demeans women to make them feel less valuable and feel badly about themselves.
However, I wanted to say that it is the psychology that starts it all. For instance, when we sit around a boardroom table with male colleagues and say something, they pretend we did not speak or put it down or make it sound silly. When women are threatened with rape, the death of their children and those types of things, they do not have to come to pass, but it is part of that act of putting women back into their places, of demeaning and threatening them. We see it everywhere. We see it specifically in the language in pornography and social media, the language that shames women, makes them feel like less than they are and devalues everything they do. It happens in the workplace and it happens at home. When carelessly we say something to our daughter or we say something to a female partner and it is putting down something that she just said, that again gives a strong message. We see it in film. We hear it in jokes.
What is more important is that we see it in parliaments around the world. I want to point to Ocasio-Cortez in the United States, who was berated, shamed and had vile language used against her by members in her own Congress.
This is the kind of thing we need to talk about. We need to talk about all those root causes.
We need to talk about intersectionality. Women are not one large group of people. Women of a visible minority, women who are LGBTQ+ or indigenous or suffer with mental illness or disabilities are put down and demeaned and experience violence, whether it is physical or verbal or comes in other ways.
I want to quickly touch on what we need to do about it.
We have shelters, and right now my government is responding to the emergency of it all by putting millions of dollars into shelters and helping women get food, find stability and be safe. That is all good, but that is a band-aid, as far as I am concerned. We need to deal with the root causes. We need to change the institutions—the police, the judiciary, parliaments and all of the institutions that continue to foster systemic violence against women in the way they behave and the way they treat them, and the way that moves forward.

Questions & Answers:

Q: Garnett Genuis MP

Madam Chair, I thank the member for her passionate remarks, and it has been a pleasure working with her on the foreign affairs committee. We do not always agree, but it is certainly a pleasure working with her.
I think that the member is quite right to say that this problem of violence against women did not start with the COVID-19 pandemic. It certainly did not, and there are many root causes. However, she also said that the situation has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the issues may be the kind of isolation some people have experienced as a result of the pandemic. People are not as able to connect with others and maybe share things that they are experiencing, which is much more challenging as a result of this kind of isolation.
Could the member comment on that social context? How can we think about the particular challenges that result from the isolation associated with the COVID-19 pandemic and the requirements that are in place, and how can we try to combat that to ensure that people can access those supports in the midst of an environment where they may not be exposed to community outside of their home in the same way they might normally be?

A: Hon. Hedy Fry MP

Madam Chair, I think we could do that by providing shelters and places that are safe, such as safe houses, where women can go and be free from violence. Here I mean all women, not just women who suffer from domestic violence. I think that is the first thing we can do. However, as I said before, that is a band-aid.
We need to now look at how we can deal with it, and I think we need to teach our children, our boys, to value women. We need to teach it in schools. We need to work with provinces and create a pan-Canadian plan, because provinces are responsible for education. The value of women should be taught in schools.
There are so many things we can do, such as in our institutions, including training our judges, training our police and MPs, because sometimes without knowing it, what we tend to do in the House when a woman speaks with a high voice and says “Oh, excuse me”, is to titter and laugh at her.

Q: Christine Normandin MP

Madam Chair, I thank my colleague for her passionate speech. All of the speeches we have heard this evening have been passionate.
There is one topic that we have not really talked about, though, and that is violence among seniors. Talking about how seniors have been affected by the pandemic has become a recurring theme for the Bloc Québécois. Financial violence is a form of violence, and we have highlighted the fact that the pandemic has left a lot of seniors financially vulnerable.
Does my colleague agree that we need to make seniors more financially secure and that this could have a direct impact on violence among seniors?

A: Hon. Hedy Fry MP

Madam Chair, I fully agree with the member. When we talk about intersectionality, we want to talk about all of the different types of women who are more susceptible, and seniors are susceptible.
Financial violence against seniors by dependants, by their children or by someone they are sharing their home with, also disempowers them. It treats them with that kind of psychological violence that we talk about where they are frightened and unable to make decisions on their own or to have any money to go out and buy something for themselves. That is a huge piece, but we have to talk about that under the intersectionality rubric: the different types of violence that women face based on who they are and the group they belong to.

Q: Jenny Kwan MP

Madam Chair, the member talked about societal issues, institutional barriers and changes. Sex trade workers often face some of the gravest situations, yet our society continues to segregate them and treat them in a way that puts them in even greater danger. I wonder whether or not the member will support the call for action to decriminalize the sex trade.

A: Hon. Hedy Fry MP

Madam Chair, absolutely. The Supreme Court ruled on it. With regard to the three areas that we have to decriminalize, we just have to do it.
I speak to sex trade workers very regularly, about 50 of them, on Zoom. They really need to get help to find safe places to work, to live and to be protected.
Madam Chair, I want to echo some of the things the hon. member for Vancouver East spoke about. I know that women in the sex trade have been given help by our government, by helping them with all of the things they could do.
WISH has an overnight shelter now. It is not just a shelter, but a place where women in the sex trade can come. During COVID, women in the sex trade had no single means of support. That was when they talked to me, and we went to bat and worked very hard to support them in many ways.
It is really important that we pick this up and run with it, and that we recognize that if we are going to talk about women and about violence against women, we need to empower women. Women in the sex trade should not be looked down upon by most of us. There should not be this stigma and fear.