On March 1, Women's Crisis Services of Waterloo Region (WCSWR) launched the fourth season of its She Is Your Neighbour podcast series. The podcast is part of the charitable organization’s public education project focused on increasing awareness and understanding of domestic violence. 

WCSWR’s mission stood out to Najma Jose when she was looking for an opportunity to give back to the community. Originally from Kerala, India, Jose came to Canada as an international student, earning a Master of Engineering at the University of Windsor and Master of Applied Science at the University of Waterloo, both in Electrical and Computer Engineering. She now works as a hardware engineer at Clearpath Robotics.

As an international student, Jose said she understood the unique barriers immigrant women face when reporting domestic violence and accessing services. 

“Most of the immigrant women who move here don’t have a support system. They’re far from their families and they’re not used to calling the police to complain about their spouses. There is a huge stigma associated with leaving your marriage or seeking divorce,” Jose said.

Waterloo Region continues attracting newcomers to Canada with job and education opportunities. Census data showed that Waterloo Region welcomed more than 27,000 immigrants between 2016 and 2021 – twice as many as in the previous five-year period. With the size of the immigrant community, Jose said local governments and educational institutions need to understand those unique barriers that new immigrants face when accessing some of these services.

“We need to look at whether the policies and programs can support the diverse needs of the community that we are trying to serve,” Jose said.

Being on the WCSWR board helps Jose bring awareness of its services to new Canadians in the community. She is actively involved in many South Asian organizations where she can talk about WCSWR and the services it provides for women experiencing domestic violence. 

“It’s very important to make these community connections. A lot of people don’t know about WCSWR and the services that we offer. I have had experiences where, when some women realize that I’m involved with the board, I get messages from women who are looking for information on what services are available,” Jose said.

Raising awareness across different communities is one of the goals of WCSWR’s She Is Your Neighbour podcast. Jenna Mayne, communications and fund development manager at WCSWR, said domestic violence can happen to anyone in any community. The podcast helps by raising awareness about the different types of domestic violence, what it looks like and who experiences it. 

“It’s not one type of woman who experiences domestic violence. That’s why it’s important to remember that we all have a role to play in ending domestic violence. That’s why we decided to call it She Is Your Neighbour,” Mayne said.

This season is titled Understanding Femicide, and the episodes look at what happens when domestic violence becomes lethal. According to the Canadian Women’s Foundation, a woman in Canada is killed by her intimate partner every six days. Mayne said that even with the high number of femicides – 52 in Ontario last year – the issue and its effects on families and communities weren’t discussed enough.

“I think the media is doing a really great job of highlighting these stories in the news, but for some reason, I don’t think it’s really resonating with the general public. It’s not just a headline or a clip on the news – we need to really dig into femicide. Talk about the definitions. Hear from survivors, experts, and family members who’ve unfortunately lost loved ones to femicide and maybe that will help people pay attention a little bit more,” Mayne said.

The term femicide is not commonly used in Canada, and Mayne said they hope to change that with the podcast. Femicide is defined as a murder of a woman or girl that involves sex and gender-related motivations or indicators.

“We know women and girls are most likely to be killed by those close to them – most often an intimate partner or family member. Using the term femicide brings attention to men’s violence. It’s not just about how someone lost their life, it’s about who took their life,” Mayne said.

The work on femicide prevention is another way WCSWR is working to educate and prevent domestic violence across Waterloo Region. WCSWR helps women and children escape domestic violence by providing shelter, education and outreach services. Mayne said the organization saw a significant increase in demand for counselling and shelter services during the pandemic. WCSWR saw a 92-per-cent increase in people seeking support through its outreach services over the last two years.

Jose said that the podcast helps educate policymakers, leaders, and the public by building awareness of domestic violence-related issues and how they affect people.

“There are survivors who are hearing these stories and they realize that there is hope. I believe personal narratives do have power, because when stitched together, it can create a shared experience that can help us improve the understanding of the need for collective action,” Jose said. “We need to shift the public perception so we view domestic violence as a societal problem – and that we all have a role to play towards ending it.”