After losing $34,312 CAD in annual municipal funding, Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter (VRR) say they have no plans to change or scale back their services or public education. The organization will rely on donations to make up for their budget shortfall.

On February 26, Vancouver City Council unanimously voted to strip grant funding from VRR. The annual grant from the city only represented a small portion of VRR’s budget and was allocated to public education and outreach.

A year ago, the council agreed to maintain funding for 2019, but threatened to rescind the grant should the organization refuse to change its policy (protected by law) and allow males who self-identify as women to access their rape crisis services and shelter. VRR refused to buckle, instead maintaining a commitment to women’s safety and liberation via their sex-segregated services. The council claimed that VRR’s female-only policy violates their grant eligibility criteria, which protects “gender identities,” but not “sex,” as characteristics requiring accommodation.

In an email, Karla Gjini, a VRR collective member, said the organization will “work hard” to make up for their new shortfall. “While we’re feeling disappointed by the decision, we’re also so, so encouraged and comforted by those who spoke out and wrote letters in support of our work, and in support of women,” she told me.

Several members of the public who benefitted from VRR’s education programs spoke to Vancouver City Council to plead with the city to reverse their recommendation. The council heard submissions for nearly 12 hours before the vote. Danielle Cormier, a former client and past employee of VRR, spoke about finding the organization after enduring rape and male violence:

“What I experienced at Rape Relief is what truly changed my life. Suddenly I was immersed in a world where women were prioritized. I had never experienced that before. A world where women mattered. Women like me. All struggling to give themselves and each other as much freedom as possible. And for the first time in a very long time I felt better. I came to Rape Relief feeling entitled to nothing — not even my own bodily integrity — but having experienced real moments of freedom, I left rape relief expecting more.”

A single councillor, Colleen Hardwick, expressed reluctance to vote in favour of defunding VRR. She said she would vote in favour of the city’s recommendation only because of the grant eligibility criteria. However, Hardwick said she would like to see the city add “sex” to the list of characteristics, which could theoretically allow the city to reinstate VRR’s grant in the future.

In the meantime, VRR plans to host their annual fundraiser walk-a-thon on June 7. “It’s a great community event with live music and a free picnic, and anyone can make a team and ask for pledges. We’re hoping for a great, big turnout to help make up some of the money,” said Gjini.

Many prominent feminists and allies have publicly offered support for VRR. Julie Bindel, UK journalist and feminist, announced plans for a pop-up restaurant in London to raise funds. Donations to VRR can also be made online.

Vancouver Rape Relief and Shelter will surely (and maddeningly) face continued backlash from trans activists determined to infiltrate or destroy women-only spaces. The women of VRR, however, are clearly up to the task.

Amy Eileen Hamm is a writer and registered nurse educator in New Westminster, BC. You can find her on Twitter @preta_6.

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