What Organizational Capacities are Needed to Address the Issue of Violence against Women?

By Charles Lusthaus and Efrat Shemesh

Violence against women remains a significant issue in Canada. In July 2013, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives published a report titled The Gap in the Gender Gap: Violence Against Women in Canada, which notes that the percentage of women who experience violence is unclear due to a lack of “regular, sensitive, detailed surveys of incidence of sexual assault and intimate partner violence.”

The report also argues that high levels of violence prevent women “from making it to the top.” The World Health Organization estimates that 1 in 4 Canadian women will experience violence – especially sexual violence – in her lifetime. This number increases dramatically if one considers violence emerging from psychological and sociological attacks on women as well. Much of this violence occurs directly or indirectly from women’s organizational activity. As this activity grows, so must the competence of organizations to deal with violence.

We live in an organizational society. As such, not only do individuals need the skills to manage the complexity surrounding issues of violence against women, but organizations must have the capacity to address these issues. Organizations need the ability to diagnose the extent of violence, and they must create rules and policies against such behavior. Further, organizations need ways to address both the victims and the perpetrators of violence, and they must find ways to learn and improve.

While we know that organizations need these capacities, we see little being done by organizations to build or strengthen them. The real questions to ask are: What are the capacities needed by different types of organizations? Do we know what capacities are effective, and which are less so?

Over the years, we have developed organizational capacities to deal with discrimination in the work place, inequality, working hours and so forth. Isn’t it time we put the effort needed into helping organizations build their capacity to reduce violence against women? We are interested in hearing about your experiences! What has your organization done to reduce violence against women?

Image courtesy of Ambro /

CharlesFor over 30 years, Dr. Charles Lusthaus was a Professor in the Department of Administration and Policy Studies in Education at McGill University. During that time, he taught Educational Management courses in organizational theory and behaviour, strategic management, organizational development, planning, and monitoring and evaluation to over a thousand graduate students.

Dr. Lusthaus is also a founding partner of the Universalia Management Group and is reputed for having pioneered an approach to institutional and organizational assessment (IOA). Today, the framework is used by a variety of international bodies including CIDA, IDRC, IDB, IUCN, and ILO. Dr. Lusthaus’ work on IOA is published in three books, one of which (Enhancing Organizational Performance) has been a bestseller for its publisher, the International Development Research Centre, for the past five years.


Efrat Shemesh Idelson, LL.B, LL.M, is a research fellow at the Universalia Management Group. She is currently conducting research on the characteristics of organizations that serve women in Quebec and Canada. More particularly, she is interested in the emphasis these organizations place on women’s rights. 

One thought on “What Organizational Capacities are Needed to Address the Issue of Violence against Women?

  1. Great post! I think that while rules and policies to prevent and address violence in the workplace are fundamental, their efficacy is limited to the degree to which they are systematically enforced. Management must play a leadership role in punishing violent behavior and building an organizational culture that is intolerant to the most subtle forms of abuse. To do this, management must gain a sophisticated understanding of power dynamics and its various dimensions (gender, race, class, seniority, etc.) rather than dismissing such issues as a matter to be dealt with by the organization’s human resources department.

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