National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women (December 6) hits a bit different for me this year. On December 6, 1989, 14 young women were murdered at Polytechnique Montreal. The women were pursuing degrees in engineering. Their murderer felt that by entering into a male profession these women were usurping a place in society that rightfully belonged to him. He ordered their male peers from the room at gunpoint to make sure we knew this was about hating women.
Earlier this year, doulas were targeted for gender-based violence because of their career choices. In this instance for choosing a feminized profession, the intimate and sexualized nature of which could be exploited by a fraudulent predator. As a result of the persistent efforts of the fraudster’s victims, she was arrested in March of this year and the situation did not escalate to worse violence. Still, I’m left with many questions about the climate of fear, suspicion, and infighting that existed within the doula community for months while police and other organizations that are supposed to protect the public did nothing to stop this person’s malicious, harmful behaviour. This despite so many incidents where woman-hating behaviour has escalated to femicide.
In Sault Ste. Marie in October, a known perpetrator of intimate partner violence murdered 5 people, including 3 children, adding momentum to a national call for gender-based violence to be declared an epidemic. We at Doula Canada wholeheartedly support this call, and add our voices to it. As birth workers, we know that pregnancy and postpartum are vulnerable times. Existing IPV often worsens, and in many instances, this is when it starts.
Our own safety also matters in doing this work. We are often behind closed doors, in people’s homes, providing intimate care one-on-one. It’s not constructive to approach care work from a place of fear. Statistically, our clients are more likely to be victims of violence rather than perpetrators. However, one of the most disturbing things I learned from events earlier this year is that there is a casual normalization of sexual harassment in this field. Several people posted about having their time wasted by solicitation from fetishists posing as birth clients, as though this was simply par for the course. Privately, I’ve heard stories of doulas being sexually harassed by a client’s partner in the client’s home, and not knowing of any options for recourse. Earlier this year, when birth workers were being targeted, many birth workers focused on the perpetrator’s well-being rather than the well-being of a growing number of victims.
The reason for this attitude is the same as the reason why some jurisdictions (such as the province of Ontario) have refused to declare GBV an epidemic. And it’s the same reason why opportunities to stop the perpetrator in the Sue before he killed were missed. GBV occurs in the context of normalized systemic misogyny. Even in a profession aimed at reducing reproductive violence for our clients, we’ve forgotten to expect more for ourselves.
Alongside growing our conversation about GBV in relationships, we need to shine a light on occupational GBV. In other fields where home visits are carried out by a largely feminized workforce (e.g. nurses, social workers), trainees are given guidance on spotting red flags, mitigating risk, and acting to effect accountability. We’re going to start doing that here at Doula Canada. On Jan. 23 we will open this much-needed conversation by hosting a webinar on GBV in birthwork and how we can take charge of our community’s safety. We owe this to ourselves and each other.
Webinar Details Here: https://doulatraining.ca/training/webinar-gender-based-violence-in-support-work/
It is fitting that Women’s Remembrance Day falls within UN Women’s 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence campaign. For ideas for actions you can take against GBV check on this resource on Canadian Women Foundation’s #ActTogether Campaign. https://canadianwomen.org/acttogether-campaign/
*If you are unfamiliar with the events of earlier this year that I reference in this article, you can learn more about that here: https://www.cosmopolitan.com/lifestyle/a44866427/kaitlyn-braun-doula-pregnancy-accused-fraud-harassment/
Keira Grant (she/her) Inclusion and Engagement Lead – Racialized Communities
Keira brings a wealth of experience to the Online Community Moderator role. She is a Queer, Black woman with a twenty-year track record in Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) education, projects, and community building initiatives.