Trans women often excluded from conversation on violence against women
TORONTO -- Advocates say transgender women are being left out of the conversation on violence against women, to the detriment of all women.
Determining which studies and reports on violence against women include trans women can be difficult if they don’t provide details on how they define the term women in terms of the data collected. Trans women can be excluded entirely, or marked by an asterisk, as an other.
“It is challenging to think who exactly they're talking about, are they talking about one specific group of people, or are they talking about many different groups of population of women,” Tasmeen Persad, Trans Program Coordinator at The 519 Church Street Community Centre in Toronto, said in a phone interview with CTVNews.ca.
A recent report on femicide in Canada found that, between 2016 and 2020, there were only two transgender women murdered in the country. But Persad thinks they’re not asking for the data.
“Are they actively seeking the information or not,” she said.
By not seeking out this data and not having verifiable information, researchers conducting these reports and studies are leaving trans women out of a conversation that impacts all women.
“They’re not actually actively searching for this information from the beginning trying to be inclusive of all women from the beginning of the conversation,” she said. “It probably comes as an afterthought.”
Not including trans women in the data keeps the violence that trans women face from the public eye, said Persad.
“It is part of erasure, it is also part of accountability,” she said. “It’s about inclusivity and equity, all of these pieces have to build a sort of puzzle.”
“I always wonder if I'm included in a study, when I see a study on women,” Abigail Curlew, PhD candidate at the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Carleton University, told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview.
It’s not to say that these issues faced by cis women aren’t important, and that the outcry from cisgender women after the murder of Sarah Everard weren’t called for, says Curlew, but a population of women were left out.
“The issues of cis women, of course, are important...some people are left out of the picture, despite often facing a lot more violence, especially trans women of colour” said Curlew.
She said that she thinks that trans women aren’t included because they’re often left out of the very definition of women.
“When a cis person often says ‘woman,’ they mean cis woman as a default,” she said. “As opposed to cis and trans being descriptors for women, and, like women, cis women and trans women being equally in the category of women.”
Because of this, said Curlew, trans women aren’t typically included in discussions of violence against women, for example, despite their facing both misogyny and transphobia, as well as related violence.
“So, that kind of double whammy of oppression, or suffocation or prejudice often results in a lot more violence,” said Curlew.
There’s been an increase in this sort of violence against trans people around the world, she added.
“There's a humongous outburst of hate around trans women in particular, and trans people as well, that often goes completely unnoticed.”
According to data collected by Transrespect Versus Transphobia Worldwide (TvT), at least 350 transgender people were killed in 2020, an increase of 6 per cent over 2019.
Tracking the data of the severity of the issue becomes difficult because trans women, particularly trans women of colour, don’t always want to report assaults and harassment to the police.
“Trans women often are too afraid to go to the police if they're getting harassed or assaulted,” said Curlew. “Because there's a historical problem with police violence against trans people, especially trans people of colour.”
Strict definitions outlined in studies and reports muddy things further.
“These strict definitions about who counts as a woman and who is allowed in the conversation is a form of gender policing,” she added.
These kinds of definitions result in erasure of the violence they face altogether.
“The violence that we face is often either ignored, or lumped into other categories,” said Curlew.
“I rarely see trans women in these studies,” she added.
The Canadian Women’s Foundation said in a statement that they aim to be gender inclusive in their work to end gender based violence.
“We need more data collection and research as it concerns the experiences of diverse trans women, gender-based violence, and gender injustice. And we need more funding for community-based programs that address their unique needs. A National Action Plan on Gender-Based Violence is the works, and we look forward to how it will address the needs of everyone impacted by gender injustice, including women, girls, and trans, Two Spirit, and non-binary people,” Andrea Gunraj, vice-president of public engagement with the Canadian Women's Foundation, said in a statement.
For Persad, inclusion is of the utmost importance.
“Communities are stronger when we include everyone,” she said. “We need to think about that and think about historical factors that have brought us to where we are today.”
It’s important for all women to be included in the conversation about violence against women in Canada so Canadians can see the full scope of the issue at hand.
“But who is doing these studies and reports, are they engaging with communities and recognizing when you talk about violence, who does this really effect?”