Women’s Initiatives For Safer Environments - Initiatives des Femmes pour la Sécurité Environnementale

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By Sarah Scott, Director

February 2022

Let’s face it –no matter who you are or what you do, we are all having a tough time right now. The pandemic has been raging on for far longer than we ever expected, and “normal” life before March 13, 2020, seems like a fleeting memory…

In 2019 the World Health Organization published data that found significant impacts on mental health for individuals in conflict zones such as countries experiencing war or significanct economic contraction. In 2006, the World Psychiatry Association published research that found that the impact of mental health in times of crisis or conflict is more significant for women and other vulnerable groups.

The pandemic has created a situation not unlike a long-term crisis –and we need to allow for the impact this pandemic is having on our mental and physical health and safety.

In our very own city, we can see the physical impacts on women every day. Front line workers risking their lives are mostly women. Gender based violence (GBV) has seen a startling upswing as women are more isolated and less financially stable. Shelters for women and families are overflowing.

Women have always worn many hats in the community and in the home, and COVID has only amplified that: wife, mother, main cook, chauffer, disciplinarian, home school supervisor, professional working at home, caregiver for elderly parents/relatives, & community volunteer. No wonder women are feeling this strain. Something’s got to give!

​So, what gives? Our mental health.

Several studies point out the acute impacts that the pandemic has had on women’s mental health. One study in Tunisia Africa looked at the mental health impacts of partner violence during the pandemic and found extreme distress in 57% of participants. Another study from France finds that research on the subject of mental health issues during the Covid-19 pandemic is still scarce, especially concerning women. A third study from the University of Chicago Medicine points to the likelihood that a large portion of women were already near the edge of vulnerability: “When the world shut down, transportation became more difficult, food access became harder, and very soon after the crisis began, many women found themselves struggling to meet basic needs.” It is clear that women in our community need more support than ever.

In Ottawa, to address the striking rise in GBV, a new service was set up to help women and LGBTQ2S+ communities with a chat and text support line. Text to 613-704-5535 24/7 if you are feeling unsafe in your community or, contact us at WISE. 

Mental health resources are also available to support our community. In the event of a mental health crisis, you can call the Ottawa Crisis Line at 613.722.6914 24/7 or visit their website at https://crisisline.ca/ . You can contact the Ottawa Distress Centre by calling 613-238-3311 24/7 or texting 10am-11pm 343-306-5550.

If you prefer to be assisted in French, you can contact Tel-aide Outaouais 24/7: in Gatineau you can call 819 775-3223, and in Ottawa region you can call 613 741-6433.

Even though many of us are feeling overwhelmed, you can take part in a WISE Community Safety Audit, in which we band together with other community members to help address safety issues in our neighbourhoods, it can be one small way we can make an impact and help create that positive feeling that you are affecting change.

With your help, together we can continue to create safer physical and social environments in our neighbourhoods, parks, workplaces, recreational pathways, and schools. We believe that if we make the community safer for women and other vulnerable groups, it will be safer for everyone!

If you would like to support ending GBV in your city, please consider donating to WISE Ottawa.


Sources cited: 

Frontiers in Global Women’s Health, 2020: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fgwh.2020.588372/full

Stats Canada: https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/89-28-0001/2018001/article/00020-eng...

Springer, 2020:  https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00737-020-01082-4

University of Chicago Medicine, 2021: https://www.uchicagomedicine.org/forefront/research-and-discoveries-arti...

WHO, 2019: https://www.premiere-urgence.org/en/mental-health-and-conflicts/#:~:text...

World Psychiatry Association, 2006: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1472271/