June 11, 2019

Social Work professor helps Nova Scotia draft provincial domestic violence prevention strategy

International thought leader Lana Wells points to need for national strategy on issue
Social Work professor Lana Wells is an internationally recognized leader in domestic violence prevention.

Professor Lana Wells is an internationally recognized leader in domestic violence prevention.

University of Calgary

Social Work professor Lana Wells has a fascinating view of policy. To her, good policy is almost like a crystal ball that envisions the society we’d like to see.

“I think what we're trying to do in these policy documents is to create a vision of change that people can gather around,” explains Wells. “So, imagine creating policies based on the change you want to see — or the dream — versus policies focused on the problem. What do we need to do to support the next generation to reduce male violence against women, to reduce violence against children and men’s violence against other men?” 

Wells, who holds the Brenda Strafford Chair for the Prevention of Domestic Violence, has devoted most of her career to the dream of preventing domestic violence before it starts. That simple and powerful dream led her to create Shift: The Project to End Domestic Violence with the unique approach of empowering others to create the social conditions that will stop violence before it starts.

Wells’ approach always focuses on the need for strengths-based policy. Over the years, her thought leadership in this area has been recognized by groups including the United Nations, where she contributed to a resolution, adopted by the Human Rights Council, that focused on engaging and mobilizing non-violent men and boys as a key prevention strategy. 

She’s also recognized as a Canadian leader. Besides working with the Alberta government to create the province’s Family Violence Prevention Framework, Wells has also contributed to domestic violence prevention strategies in Manitoba and British Columbia. This spring Wells was called upon again to join an expert panel that will help Nova Scotia draft what should be a very progressive domestic violence prevention strategy.

“What I'm very excited about,” says Wells, “is they've included extraordinary experts on the panel who are at the top of their game in terms of understanding the evidence. These scholars are in the community, partnering with agencies, testing and evaluating interventions. They really pulled together the best of the best. I think what we'll design in Nova Scotia, can be an example for other provinces.”

Wells hopes the example they set might also trigger a national conversation. She says that while the federal government’s commitments to gender equality and preventing domestic violence are important and appreciated, it still isn’t a national strategy. She points to Australia — arguably the world leader in domestic violence prevention — where the federal government has established a national policy with a 20-year commitment to eliminating violence against women.

“In Canada, we are still lacking a co-ordinated federal strategy that can guide provinces and territories in their approach to prevention. As a result, we have some provinces and territories highly committed with strong investments and policies while in other parts of the country they are lacking in prevention activities. It really matters where you live.”

“Working with provinces like Nova Scotia, B.C., Manitoba or Alberta are amazing opportunities. These policy commitments are really important because they articulate government’s understanding of the issue and identify priorities that direct investments. Money follows policy.”