Vancouver Rape Relief & Women’s Shelter (VRRWS) operates Canada’s oldest Rape Crisis Centre and a transition house for women and their children, opening in 1973. We are active in responding to women who have experienced any form of sexist attack on the continuum of male violence, whether recent or historic, some of which are: rape, battery, incest, prostitution, and sexual harassment. The collective is diverse in terms of race, age and class backgrounds. The majority of VRRWS members are women who have experienced some form of male violence in their lives.
VRRWS’s knowledge and authority on male violence against women is derived from responding to 1,200 women annually who call us for assistance. VRRWS is regularly invited to appear before the Senate and House of Commons to share this expertise, most recently in consideration of Bill S-212 and Justice Canada’s panel on the potential addition of a coercive control offence to the Criminal Code.
The Cost: Poverty and Violence Against Women
VRRWS has long campaigned for a Guaranteed Livable Income and enthusiastically supports the creation of a national framework for a guaranteed livable basic income in Canada. In no uncertain terms, poverty is one of the most fundamental barriers to women’s ability to live free from violence.
We see in our frontline work that women and their children who are financially dependent on an abusive partner risk homelessness by leaving him. Canada’s lack of a robust social safety net fails women and children every day. Of the women who stay in our short-term shelter, the vast majority (78%) live in poverty and 18% work in low paid jobs. Due to the disproportionate impacts of poverty, 72% of our residents are women of colour and Indigenous women. The women who seek refuge in our house cannot find safe, adequate, and affordable long-term housing in their community. The waitlist for subsidized housing is years long, with some waiting more than five years for a unit. As a result, women are forced to uproot their children away from their schools and social supports to chase the lowest market rents, which are still unaffordable. We frequently hear from former residents who have to settle for rental housing that is in poor physical condition, has pests, and that these women may now face harassment from the landlord.
The Province of British Columbia’s Income Assistance rates are set abysmally low with no relation to the cost of living, and leave recipients completely unable to meet their basic needs. Women who’ve moved out of our house still regularly call on us to provide them with gift cards to be able to buy groceries for their family. Instead of building a self-determined life free from violence, women who leave controlling and violent partners are kept in a state of precarity and because of this, risk returning to him or entering a new abusive relationship just to see to their survival.
We urge the Government of Canada to introduce a guaranteed livable income that meets adequate standards of living and allow for discretionary spending to enhance full participation in community life. We maintain that to promote the wellbeing and autonomy of Canadians, that such a program be provided unconditionally (without a means test, without a job search requirement, without limitations on expenditures, without claw backs, without wait times or any other conditions). It must be given to all individual adults in a household regardless of marital status and provide for each child that is in the care of that adult.
Additional considerations must be made for those with disabilities to ensure their particular needs are met. We echo the urgent alarm raised by those in the disability justice community who have shared accounts of individuals that are forced to consider ending their lives through medical assistance in dying (MAID) because of a lack of concrete financial support to ensure quality of life.
We acknowledge that the introduction of a guaranteed livable income will not eliminate violence against women nor other oppressive forces, it will however, transform the current conditions by providing real options and hope for a better life. With a guaranteed livable income, women will have more ability to resist exploitation and abuse from bosses, co-workers, landlords, pimps, and violent husbands. Families can raise children free from the threat of economic insecurity. Women will have more ability to engage in their communities and public life. We maintain that with economic security, more women could be in a position to offer leadership in society, and this will advance women’s equality.