Purple background, shadow silhouettes of women's heads on the right. Text: Preventing Gender-Based Violence in Cambridge

Working Towards a Gender-Based Violence-Free Cambridge

For 75 years, YWCA Cambridge has been on the forefront of tackling gender-based violence through our work with women, girls and gender diverse individuals in Cambridge. Were fueled by the hope of a future in which everyone lives free of violence and those who do experience it have the support they need to move forward towards violence-free lives. We wish this for women in our community and we work towards the goal of ending gender-based violence every day through our community-based programming and advocacy.

Here are six key ways we’re charting the course to end gender-based violence in our community: 

Reducing Poverty by Building Economic Resilience

Poverty is a significant barrier to safety, particularly for women and gender diverse individuals who are at higher risk of experiencing both poverty and gender-based violence.  In fact, our recent research found that 6,200 women and 1,582 single parent women-led families in Cambridge are considered low-income. Each day, YWCA Cambridge works to enhance economic resilience and autonomy among women in our community. For example, last year, we supported over 600 children through our five child care centres, helping parents – especially mothers who tend to be the parent who stays home when affordable, high quality child care isn’t available – to participate in the workforce. Our Small Steps to Success pre-employment and life skills program and Uplift up/reskilling program aim to help women secure sustainable livelihoods as they re-enter or upskill in the workforce. Our financial literacy programs encourage skill and confidence building related to personal finance. Finally, a core pillar in our advocacy work is promoting policy and process changes to promote decent work across the care sector, a sector whose workforce is more than 80% women doing vital work that continues to be undervalued and underpaid.

Advancing Accountability and Addressing Service Gaps

Service gaps keep women from getting the support they need to address and prevent gender-based violence. In 2023, we designated Cambridge a “service desert” for women experiencing homelessness and gender-based violence. Led by our CEO, Kim Decker, and advocacy team, we brought together community stakeholders to explore service gaps and where we can work together to fill them in through our community-based research calling for a women’s shelter in Cambridge.

For 75 years, YWCA Cambridge has been providing leadership and demanding accountability on issues impacting women, girls and gender diverse individuals in Cambridge. We believe in leading by example. We also find ourselves coming together with community partners to address service gaps through our work on community collaborations like the Sexual Assault Response Team (SART), the Domestic Violence Service Coordination Committee (DVSCC), the Gender-Based Violence Leadership Table, and the Victim Advocate Case Review.

Creating Safer Public Spaces

 The acceptance that violence is a risk women, girls and gender diverse individuals have to accept when in public spaces perpetuates and normalizes violence. The streets in our community should be free of harassment and acts of violence for everyone. Each September, YWCA Cambridge leads Take Back the Night, an important rally and march in our community on exactly this premise. The Take Back the Night rally speaks to the need for safer public spaces and our march throughout downtown Cambridge is about raising awareness and reclaiming the streets. Youth participating in our programming hold a key role in organizing and leading this community event.

Conflict Management

Without conflict management skills, simple disputes run a higher risk of turning violent, whether that is emotional, verbal, physical or otherwise. It’s never too early to start developing the skills needed for positive conflict management, as is proof with our Roots of Empathy program. In 2022, Roots of Empathy worked with 475 school-age children across the region to reduce levels of aggression while raising social and emotional competence and increasing their empathy.

Policy Change

YWCA Cambridge provides a leadership role with YWCA Ontario, a coalition of 10 YWCAs across the province who are advocating for policy and social change on gender-based violence and the issues that inform and impact it. This work gives YWCA Cambridge a direct line to opportunities to shift narratives, impact political will and make recommendations around policy. At a federal level, we also work to influence policy change. One way we’ve done this recently is by helping to inform YWCA Canada’s recommendations to the Federal government on the National Action Plan Against Gender-Based Violence, ensuring survivors of and those working in gender-based violence in Cambridge were reflected in YWCA Canada’s recommendations.  Women’s leadership at decision-making tables is critical to policy and community change to prevent and combat gender-based violence. Each year, since 1994, we take time to celebrate these leaders who impact this community for the better and inspire us daily through our Women of Distinction awards. Check out last year’s inspiring Women of Distinction Award recipients.

Raising Awareness

Raising awareness about gender-based violence is a constant in our work and something we achieve through programming and events. For example, during the 2023 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, we’re hosting two events, a community knowledge building event on the intersections of gender-based violence and women’s homelessness in Cambridge on December 5 and December 6 memorial vigil marking the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women.

We believe in awareness -building around gender-based violence with youth, by youth and for youth. Participants in our SHYFT program create their own social justice-based media-arts projects to bring awareness to the issue of GBV and our staff team actively engage in education and awareness building through in-school and in-community workshops with youth of all genders ages 6+, covering topics like healthy relationships, consent and bystander intervention.

During the 16 days of action against gender-based violence, consider supporting our work. Join in by sharing this information with your network, reading the links in this article, participating in our events or financially supporting our 75th anniversary by donating $75 to our end of year campaign.

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