Every six days a woman in Canada is killed by her intimate partner. In a new Firsthand documentary The War At Home director Shelley Saywall tells the story of a handful of courageous women, who feel it is imperative to understand and reshape the way we see this crime.
The horrifying news is this: In Canada, if you kill your intimate partner, chances are you’ll serve less time than for any other murder. That doesn’t sit right with lawyer and abuse survivor Nneka MacGregor, who is featured in the documentary. “When he is caught and nothing happens to him, again, what does it say to women? Your life doesn’t matter. Your life is not important,” she says.
MacGregor believes that despite the enormous scale of the problem, change can happen from the ground up. Meet some more advocates from around the world who are changing the conversation around domestic abuse and fighting to give survivors a voice.
Galit Menahem and Pamila Bhardwaj
Menahem is a women’s abuse counsellor and paralegal, Bhardwaj is a family lawyer. Together, they created “a firm dedicated to representing victims of domestic abuse.” Menahem was a survivor of an abusive marriage who sometimes had to sleep in the closet because it was the only safe place with a lock. "I lost everything. But I knew that I could not do anything else but assist these women." She approached Bhardwaj to create a unique law firm which emphasizes client safety and access to resources — something many women who leave an abusive partner lack. Often they work pro bono, battling one judge at a time on behalf of their victimized clients.
An NDP member of the Alberta legislature, Fitzpatrick made waves when she told her own story of abuse in support of a bill allowing victims of domestic violence to break their leases without fear of financial penalty. By coming forward with her personal history, she put a face to a problem many people either don’t understand and don’t want to know about. She received a standing ovation for her bravery, and the bill passed unanimously.
For child survivors of an abusive home, recovery can also be a challenge. The actor best known for his role in the Star Trek series has spoken publicly about a childhood witnessing his father’s violence toward his mother. Since his father was a war vet, Stewart speculates he was suffering from PTSD — or “shell shock” — at a time when there was neither language nor resources to address it. Stewart has spoken on behalf of Amnesty International to address the legacy of domestic violence and the horror that remains with child survivors in their adult lives.
Author, poet, actress and teacher, Maya Angelou was beaten and abducted by an ex-boyfriend for three days before family members broke through a locked door to save her. Sadly, this wasn't the first time. Angelou was abused by her mother's boyfriend at the age of eight while living in rural Arkansas in the 1930s. She was so severly traumatitized that she stoppped talking to everyone but her brother for six years. Angelou did find her voice and in 1969, she published an iconic biography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings about how she overcame abuse despite a culture of silence and share and learned to be joyful. She died in 2014, but her legacy as an outspoken survivor continues.
Leslie Morgan Steiner
Leslie had a gun held to her head by the man she loved more times than she’s able to remember. She’s taken that story and opened minds all over the world with her TEDTalk, “Why domestic violence victims don’t leave,” which has over three million views. The Harvard-educated businesswoman dispels the myth of the “typical domestic violence victim,” and it’s her goal to change the idea of what a survivor looks like. Domestic violence doesn’t see race, or class, gender or sexuality, and her words are a window into a world many women feel too ashamed and scared to talk about.
Mary J Blige
Mary J. Blige After being sexually assaulted as a child and watching her father abuse her mother, the R&B star has taken her story back. In 2014 she released a harrowing video for her track “Whole Damn Year,” which takes a stark look at domestic violence and its effect on children. More notably, in 2009 she opened the Mary J. Blige Center for Women in her hometown of Yonkers, NY. The centre “is committed to providing girls and women with skills, knowledge, resources, and support that will empower them to pursue their personal goals and become self-sufficient, confident women.” It also provides referrals to services that support survivors of domestic violence and abuse.