The Smallest Steps

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Need Help Now?

If you or someone you know is being abused, please reach out to the Assaulted Women’s Helpline, open 24 hours, 7 days a week.

TOLL-FREE 1.866.863.0511
TOLL-FREE TTY 1.866.863.7868
#SAFE (#7233) On your Bell, Rogers, Fido or Telus mobile phone

What is Violence Against Women (VAW)?

To understand the term violence against women, it’s useful to first define gender-based violence. According to Women and Gender Equality (WAGE) Canada, “Gender-based violence (GBV) is violence based on gender norms and unequal power dynamics, perpetrated against someone based on their gender identity, gender expression, or perceived gender.”

Violence against women can therefore be defined as any act of violence committed against a woman because she identifies as, expresses herself as, and/or is perceived as a woman.

"One in three women, around 736 million [globally], are subjected to physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner or sexual violence from a non-partner."

Violence against women is the result of a complex social system that defines “woman” and “man” according to specific roles, actions, and behaviours associated to each, and that views “woman” as subordinate to “man”. Due to unequal power relations and unequal gender roles, women are more vulnerable to violence. Women who also experience racism, classism, heterosexism, transphobia and other forms of oppression are even more at risk of experiencing GBV. 

Violence against women is one of the most widespread human rights violations in the world, and it impacts everyone — women, their families, their communities, and society at large.

Check out the short UN Women video below outlining violence against women, or keep scrolling to learn more about different types of violence that women experience.

Types of VAW

GBV / VAW can take place between:

  • Intimate partners /  spouses
  • Family members
  • Co-workers
  • Authority figures and subordinates
  • Strangers

GBV / VAW takes many forms (definitions from WAGE Canada unless otherwise indicated):

  • Physical violence
    • Intentional or threatened use of physical force, including pushing, hitting, cutting, punching, slapping, shoving, strangulation.
  • Sexual violence
    • Sexual Assault – Any unwanted sexual activity involving physical contact (including kissing, fondling, and sexual intercourse).
    • Sexual Coercion – Using forms of pressure, trickery (e.g. alcohol, drugs, etc.), threats, or manipulation to have sexual contact with someone against their will (from
    • Sexual Exploitation – Profiting (whether financially or otherwise) from the use of another person’s body in a sexual manner where the perpetrator takes advantage of their victim’s vulnerable or dependent state, including being dependent on the perpetrator for drugs, food, shelter, protection, other basics of life, and/or money. The perpetrator can be any gender, an adult or a minor, and can act for their own personal gain or for the benefit of a criminal enterprise (e.g. street gang, organized crime). Sexual exploitation includes sexual trafficking and child pornography (from
  • Verbal / emotional  / psychological abuse
    • Insults, belittling, constant humiliation, intimidation, threats of harm, threats to take away children, harm or threat of harm to pets
  • Coercive Control
    • Patterns of control and abuse that cause fear or terror, including coercion (using force and/or threats to alter behaviour) and control (regulating or dominating a partner’s behaviour and choices, isolating a person from family and friends, and restricting access to employment, education or medical care)
    • Can also include:
      • Reproductive coercion – Controlling reproductive choices, pregnancy outcomes and/or access to health services (yes, even the government engages in this type of VAW)
  • Financial abuse
    • Control or misuse of money, assets or property, control of a partner’s ability to access school or a job
  • Criminal harassment (i.e. stalking)
    • Repeated conduct that creates fear for one’s safety or the safety of a loved one. The repeated conduct can include making threats, obscene phone calls, following, watching, tracking, contacting on the Internet, including through texts or email messages
  • Technology-facilitated abuse (e.g. Cyberbullying)
    • The use of technologies to facilitate virtual or in-person harm including observing and listening to a person, tracking their location, to scare, intimidate or humiliate a person
  • Spiritual or religious abuse
    • Using someone’s spiritual beliefs to manipulate, dominate or control them.

Take Action to End VAW

Now that you have a basic sense of what VAW is, take a look through our various Take Action topic pages to find out what YOU can do to help end violence against women (links below and under the “Take Action” menu)! You can also download our Activities, Actions & Discussion Questions booklet for ideas!

*Topics above without links are in progress and will be posted as soon as they are ready!