“Why Doesn’t She Just Leave?”
Every 6 days, a woman in Canada is murdered by her intimate partner.
Shocking, isn’t it?
This statistic does not surprise Harmy Mendoza, however, Executive Director of the Woman Abuse Council of Toronto: “When I see this violence, and that there are not enough shelters for women, then it makes sense: they will go back, they will be found.”
A non-profit organization, WomanACT addresses both policy and systemic issues that impact domestic violence victims in Toronto, Ontario. That’s an utterly simple description of an incredibly complicated process, by the way.
As Mendoza explains, a Toronto woman who is the victim of violence is “impacted by rules and regulations, practices and policies that are drafted by the local, provincial and federal governments, and she’ll have to navigate all of those layers to be able to live free of violence.” The layers are confusing to the point of intimidating. And to navigate them while simultaneously surviving, and trying to escape a violent home, is unbelievably overwhelming.
Enter WomanACT, to support, guide, and educate.
“So, why doesn’t she just leave?”
It’s a question Mendoza has heard too many times. Yet, ever the optimist, this query only motivates her to educate. “How can I explain this to someone in 5 minutes, or less?” she wondered, and out of her curiosity came an incredible tool: Policies Matter: A Blueprint for Action.
“WomanACT came up with 5 determinants of safety”—Income, Housing, Child Custody, Support Access, and Discrimination—“then we were able to come up with different intersections through policies,” she explains. This impressive educational resource is at once an interactive flowchart, a glossary, and bureaucratic roadmap for the reasons women do not, and often cannot, leave their abusers.
Working across levels of practices, policies and legislation, WomanACT brings awareness about structural and cultural gaps that affect victims of domestic violence. Targeting both governmental channels and the community at large, WomanACT advocates to narrow these gaps, while providing domestic violence training programs, and fundraising for their initiatives, which include research studies that gather statistics to support systemic change.
What kind of change? A notable victory for WomanACT was the province-wide Workplace Leave Legislation, which allowsvictims of violence 5 days of paid leave when they tell their employers that they are fleeing abuse. Finding time to make a plan to leave an abusive home—one that may include children, daily violence, financially controlling partners—is just one of many unrecognized and invisible hurdles for victims.
Did I mention that WomanACT only has 3 full-time employees, including Mendoza herself?
“We’re a tiny organization” she beams, adding, “I have the most wonderful, committed, knowledgeable staff”—one supported by active volunteers across all channels. While Mendoza now works at a macroscopic level, she is former shelter worker herself, and never forgets the importance of the frontline.
Frontline workers are the first contacts: they staff women’s shelters, answer domestic violence hotlines, help victims’ transition from abusive homes to shelters, and liaise as legal support between victims and the police. Yet another echelon of WomanACT’s work is to support these frontline workers, so Mendoza created the Soul of a Warrior Awards: a ceremony that honors their efforts and achievements.
Calling frontline workers “warriors” occurred to Mendoza one night during a bout of insomnia. The next morning, she asked a colleague and friend who worked at Native Child and Family Services about her thoughts on the name. Her fellow advocate responded with a smile,in her native teachings, a warrior is indeed one who fights, but “they fight with the hope of bringing peace and balance” into people’s lives.
“This work is political by nature,” Mendoza says, and the political is innately personal, and cultural.
While WomanACT works tirelessly to help women, and their children, Mendoza also hopes to fund studies to better understand cycles of toxic masculinity, and male abusers.“What do we have in place to ensure that they choose not to abuse anymore?” she sagely asks, adding: “Let’s also help young men, boys, who are at-risk to become abusers.”
It is Mendoza’s background that lends her this unique insight and boundless enthusiasm. Born in Mexico, she immigrated to Canada to get her Master’s degree in Immigration and Settlement Studies at Ryerson University, and never left. She credits her mother, “a strong, career-oriented woman,” for instilling the drive and values that steer her work at WomanACT. “She taught me from a very early age to always challenge the status quo, to always think of change and how I could make a difference,” Mendoza says.
Mendoza, and all the members of WomanACT, are no doubt making a difference in the lives of abuse victims, and their communities. This is intentional, and essential for change, for “when communities thrive, the country thrives, the province thrives, the municipality thrives,” Mendoza explains. Of course, this idea applies the world over, regardless of geography. Domestic violence and homicide is a global issue , for Mendoza as acknowledges: “every culture in the world has some level of patriarchy.”
In my country, the US, 3 women are killed by their current or former intimate partner every single day.To change this, we need to talk about it, understand it, and challenge the status quo around gender and violence, like our neighbors to the north at WomanACT.
So, I will keep the conversation going by asking: How many women die each day as victims of domestic homicide in your country? And what can you do about it?
Relevant WomanACT Links:
WomanACT open letter to the Minister of Education about improving Ontario’s sexual education curriculum.
part of the Canadian Domestic Homicide Prevention Initiative.
Notall domestic violence is male on female. According to the US National Coalition AgainstViolence, 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have been victims of [some form of] physical violence by an intimate partner within their lifetime.However, it’s noteworthy that 72% of all murder-suicides involve an intimate partner; 94% of the victims of these murder suicides are female. Statistics for males are not available.