There is no vaccine for domestic violence. But that has not deterred Balbir Gurm from working to prevent relationship violence. “It’s not a shadow pandemic, it was a pandemic before COVID came around, says Gurm. Look at the definitions of pandemic and we’ve been in a pandemic of domestic violence for some time now.”
She began to do something about that pandemic in 2011, when she founded NEVR, the Network to Eliminate Violence in Relationships. That project has garnered Gurm a nomination as a YWCA Women of Distinction award in 2021, coincidently a decade after the project’s beginnings.
Working together to make a difference
An award-winning professor at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, Gurm had previously studied domestic violence. Prior to NEVR, Gurm had attended annual conferences with the City of Surrey on the topic of domestic violence. “The service providers who attended always discussed needing real action, but nobody was listening or working with them.” Gurm recalls.
Gurm decided to launch a new project to gain a better understanding of the systems surrounding relationship violence and how to change them to aid prevention. “We began a participatory research program in 2011,” says Gurm. “We interviewed people across the system from police to survivors and workers in the justice system.” After interviewing 70 people from diverse occupations, Gurm concluded that the entire system had to work together to make a difference.
“I was going through statistics on domestic violence and realized they hadn’t changed much. We had to focus on prevention,” Gurm recalls. “We had to make sure governments were on board and everybody was talking the same language.”
A call went out for everybody wanting to be a part of the project. Over 60 people attended the first meeting which came up with the name: The Network to Eliminate Violence in Relationships, or NEVR. After that meeting, they began working on its goal of eliminating relationship violence, focusing on prevention. NEVR’s mandate goes beyond physical violence and includes sexual, emotional, and financial violence.
The network hosts annual conferences to coordinate its direction and monthly meetings to share their latest findings and research. As of 2021, over 200 organizations, groups and people have joined the organization. Gurm and the other partners have published toolkits on domestic violence. Along with 3 other authors, Gurm published a book in 2020, Making Sense of a Global Pandemic: Relationship Violence & Working Together Towards a Violence Free Society.
Change won’t happen overnight
Gurm cites immigration as a reason why relationship violence will not be fully eliminated in Canada without a global change. Newcomers to Canada suffer unique stresses and anxieties that can lead to domestic violence. “We have a constant flow of immigrants and we need them. Canada’s population won’t survive without immigration.” says Gurm who came to Vancouver at the age of 6 from Punjab, India in 1966.
Gurm however, cautions against incorrectly using statistics to form opinions about a particular group. A 2019 report from the Canadian government found that regardless of ethnic background or immigrant status, women in Canada’s rural areas suffered higher rates of domestic violence.
“There is more difference within a group than a cross-group,” says Gurm.
Gurm is also realistic about her expectations of ending relationship violence. “There is generational trauma, and if we, as a global community, want to break the cycle, it will still take 25–30 years,” says Gurm. “I don’t see a violence-free society in my lifetime,” Gurm confesses. But she also insists she is not a pessimist; she observes realities.
Gurm emphasizes the role the community played in helping to build NEVR. She insists anyone can achieve what she and NEVR have. They recently, presented a petition on preventing domestic violence to Parliament. “You don’t need big grants; all you need is community partners, and anyone can do this.” says Gurm.
For more information about NEVR, visit www.kpu.ca/nevr
For more information on Gurm, visit www.kpu.ca/health/bsn/faculty/balbir-gurm
For more information on the YWCA Women of Distinction Awards, visit www.ywcavan.org/women-distinction-awards