Dec. 2, 2020

Social work researcher to help create national plan to stop violence against women

Lana Wells, leader in gender-based violence prevention research, brings perspective that calls for policy as well as institutional culture change

“There’s a pandemic within a pandemic,” says Lana Wells, a researcher and associate professor in UCalgary's Faculty of Social Work, “and stopping it is going to take all of us.”

During the global pandemic, some homes have been transformed into pressure cookers, increasing incidents of domestic violence and personal danger as movement restrictions have trapped many women and children in dangerous situations. It’s a worldwide issue, as reflected by António Guterres, secretary general of the United Nations, asking for urgent action to combat the worldwide surge in domestic violence: “I urge all governments to put women’s safety first as they respond to the pandemic.”

  • Pictured above: Lana Wells, social work researcher and associate professor

The government of Canada seems to have been listening, as Wells was recently invited to be part of the Ministers Advisory Council to create a National Action Plan on Gender-Based Violence that is targeting a response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The invitation, from Maryam Monsef, federal minister for women and gender equality and rural economic development, outlines the progress made by her ministry’s $200 million investment to address gender-based violence (GBV) before saying, “gaps still persist, and the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic have further highlighted the immense work that is yet to be done in supporting survivors of gender-based violence.”

“I'm very excited,” says Wells, “to work with an extraordinary group of women from across Canada to advise and support the design of a National Action Plan to End Gender-Based Violence. Minister Monsef has demonstrated exemplary leadership in this area for many years. It’s an honour and a privilege to work alongside so many dedicated activists, researchers and government workers who want to drive change.”

Woman pressing hand against window pain

The National Action Plan on Gender-Based Violence will also target a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which Wells refers to as the "epidemic with the epidemic."

Kristina Tripkovic: Unsplash

More than policy needed

Wells — the Brenda Strafford Chair in the Prevention of Domestic Violence in the Faculty of Social Work and the leader of Shift: The project to end Domestic Violence is recognized nationally and internationally as a thought leader in gender-based violence prevention. Her approach looks at both policy change and institutional culture change — essentially trying to create the social conditions that prevent violence before it starts.

One key strategy is working with men to become part of the solution.

“We have lots of great policies and legislation in this country,” she says. “Yet, despite all of these policies, we are still seeing high rates of male violence against women and girls. In Canada, a women or girl is murdered every two-and-a-half days. One in three women have experienced unwanted sexual behaviour in public, and sexual assault continues to plague our country."

Wells argues that an enhanced approach that goes beyond policies and programs (short-term, crisis-oriented approaches) is needed.