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How Women's Shelters Canada Provide ‘More Than’ Just Physical Safety

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The teams from lg2 and Women’s Shelters Canada on breaking down preconceived notions, the truth behind shelter support services, and boiling down an enormous issue into a single campaign, writes LBB’s Josh Neufeldt

How Women's Shelters Canada Provide ‘More Than’ Just Physical Safety

Both globally and nationally, Canada often holds a good reputation. The country is big, beautiful and multicultural, and of course, has free healthcare. However, what people might not be aware of is the fact that Canada also suffers from domestic violence issues. According to Women’s Shelters Canada (WSC), more than two in five women will face domestic violence in their lifetime. This alone is bleak, but worse is the fact that many of these women are held back from seeking support, both due to the sense of shame associated with acknowledging abuse, but also due to the fact that shelters are often misunderstood. Because of preconceived notions, many Canadians believe shelters are only for women suffering from physical abuse, and that they are institutional environments for emergency housing only.

It’s for this reason that WSC wanted to share the truth about the country’s violence against women (VAW) shelters and transition houses: women’s shelters are open to women experiencing any form of violence at home, and more than that, offer a wide range of services remotely, which don’t require in-person visits to access them. To achieve this goal, WSC partnered with lg2 to release ‘More Than’. Named to reflect the idea that women’s shelters are ‘more than’ what many people think they are, and the fact that violence against women can be ‘more than’ just physical, the campaign was designed to increase traffic and engagement at sheltersafe.ca - a website where people can learn more about the support offered by the women’s shelter system. This was accomplished through the use of OOH ads which directed users to the website via QR codes, and a centrepiece 60-second PSA which reflected on the lengths women go to when ensuring they get home safely - and the sad truth that not all women are safe upon getting there. 

LBB’s Josh Neufeldt speaks to lg2 and Women’s Shelters Canada to learn more about how this campaign came to life. 


LBB> Women’s safety and providing options to mitigate domestic violence is obviously a pressing and sensitive subject. What was the brief like? What immediate ideas came to mind when you first saw it? 


lg2> Women’s Shelters Canada (WSC) came to us with a very clear articulation of what they saw as a barrier to reaching women in need: the perception that women’s shelters only offer physical shelter, when in fact they offer a range of services and support for women impacted by domestic violence. As the voice of shelters across Canada, WSC felt it was critical to find a way to let women know about all the ways shelters can provide support. 

WSC> Our brief focused on the goal of the campaign – raising awareness about domestic violence, what shelters do/how they can help, and where to go to get help (sheltersafe.ca). We also were clear that we didn’t want violent imagery in the campaign (e.g. no bruised faces, closed fists, etc.) and that we wanted to show a diverse group of people (e.g. races, ages, body types, (dis)abilities, etc.) because domestic violence does not discriminate. 



LBB> What made lg2 the right agency for the job? 


WSC> We did a call for proposals for this campaign, and specifically sent the request for proposal (RFP) to lg2 as they had been in contact with us before about a pro bono campaign poster idea for sheltersafe.ca. What ultimately won us over was the strength of their response to our RFP. We really felt that they ‘got’ WSC in their proposed approach to the campaign. 



LBB> The campaign draws on a wide array of data, including the fact that many women are held back from seeking support due to a sense of shame, as well as the preconceived ideas that shelters are only for women suffering from physical abuse. As such, what was your research process like? What key data points and takeaways came from it? 


lg2> There is, in fact, a lot of data collected on the issue of gender based violence - by all levels of government - from StatsCan to shelters themselves, and of course WSC. Our process involved going beyond the numbers to get a deeper understanding of how the issue impacts women. We conducted interviews with interested parties representing all facets of the issue and the shelter system. This included women who had experienced domestic violence and shelters, advocates and support workers. Additionally, we also made sure we had representation from all provinces, age groups and experience levels. These interviews provided a nuanced understanding of all our potential audiences - from women who experienced the issue, to their families and support systems, perpetrators and the general public. 



LBB> The name ‘More Than’ is very memorable, and quite fitting given the nature of the ads. What was the process of choosing a campaign name like? Was there much debate, or was ‘More Than’ an easy and quick choice? 


lg2> Our relationship with WSC was highly collaborative, and while we presented several creative approaches, ‘More Than’ was something that was part of our earliest thinking and evolved into being an incredibly powerful and versatile platform for our messages. It allowed us to delve deeper into some of the more complex intricacies surrounding the issue of domestic violence. 

WSC> ‘More Than’ was a very easy choice for our team to go with, as it reflects the way we talk about violence against women (VAW) shelters and transition houses. We felt that this name really spoke to one of our main goals, which was communicating to the public – and particularly people who may need the assistance of a VAW shelter – that they could call a shelter without moving into one.


LBB> A big aspect of this campaign is the 60-second PSA about domestic violence and shelter services. Can you tell us more about how this was made? Who was involved in making it, and how did this lead to the final spot being brought to life? 


lg2> We knew we had to find a way to bring awareness of the fact that services shelters provide directly to the women who need them most, but we also knew that we had to do something to get the attention of a broader audience who may be unaware of the magnitude of this issue. The 60-second PSA was designed to engage all women with the very relatable scenario of the lengths we’ll go to when getting home safely, while contrasting that with the stat that for two in five women, even home is not a safe place. The TSAs used QR codes to show that a shelter is more than a physical shelter by using transit shelters themselves to connect women to the resources shelters provide. 



LBB> How does a campaign like this help with destigmatising the misconceptions surrounding the purpose of women’s shelters? 


WSC> Shelters are not there to tell women what to do; they’re there to explain the options and to provide safety planning so that, if a woman does choose to leave her abusive relationship, she can do so as safely as possible. 



LBB> What has the response to the campaign been like? And how has website traffic for sheltersafe.ca changed since it launched? 


lg2> The campaign increased visits to sheltersafe.ca by 1.629%, and the personal response from women on WSC’s social channels reinforced how meaningful the campaign messaging was. 

WSC> The response to the campaign has been overwhelmingly positive, which has been great. Of course, we’ve had to deal with some negative comments like ‘what about men?’. I always wonder if campaigns for the Heart and Stroke Foundation, for example, receive comments like ‘what about cancer?’. 

But back to the positives – we’ve seen traffic to sheltersafe.ca increase substantially due to this campaign, which is great. We want more and more people to know about it and access it so they know what resources are out there and how to help a friend or colleague who may need support. There have been a lot of positive comments about the campaign, and the PSA specifically. 

We gave our member shelters and shelter associations the opportunity to adapt some of the campaign content for their own awareness raising, and that has been lovely to see. It really made ‘More Than’ turn into a national campaign, with different organisations across the country getting the message out that shelters offer ‘more than’ shelter. 

We’ve also heard from some shelters that they’re receiving more phone calls from people who know someone experiencing violence and want to know how they can help. They’re really glad to be receiving those types of calls, as are we. It’s so important for people to know how to support others. 


LBB> What challenges have you faced during this initiative? How did you overcome them? 


lg2> The challenge of this campaign was really about tackling the enormity of the issue. Once you dig into the data and hear from women themselves, it’s really overwhelming to have to boil it all down to a single campaign. Through our research process, we learned not only about the many different ways in which violence is experienced - because domestic violence is ‘more than’ physical - but we also gained an understanding of the equally broad numbers of barriers facing women who need access to shelters and the services they provide. 



LBB> What’s something you wish more people knew about women’s shelters? 


WSC> This campaign does so much for us, but there is still a lot we wish people knew about VAW shelters. Of course they house women and provide counselling, but they also do prevention work, job preparation, children’s programming, work with perpetrators, and help with navigating legal, health, and social services. And, we want people to understand that too many shelters have to fundraise just to keep their doors open. They need support from their local communities - particularly shelters in rural, remote, and northern areas where it's harder to fundraise. 



LBB> You mentioned that making people aware of domestic violence is one of your primary goals. What do you think people can do better to educate themselves? 


WSC> We are so lucky to live in a time when it is so easy for people to educate themselves. There are so many organisations out there and so much information about domestic violence available to people who want to learn more. We encourage people to hear the stories of survivors – whether through blogs, movies, memoirs, podcasts, etc. We also encourage people to phone their local shelters (their administrative lines, not their crisis lines) and ask how they can help. What does your local shelter need that you could perhaps provide? Attend events they’re putting on and follow them on social media. Most importantly, believe people when they say they’ve experienced domestic violence! We can all learn more from listening to survivors. 



LBB> Is there anything you’d like to add? 


lg2> One of the things that made this project so unique, improved the quality of the insights and the work, and ultimately got us to the ‘More Than’ solution faster, was that the agency team was made up solely of women. This was something we proposed in the initial pitch to WSC (also an all-woman team) and it really built a shared sense of purpose and understanding among all the team members.
Aside from that, we just wanted to say that WSC is doing important work in both supporting shelters across Canada, and driving change on the fundamental societal issues that contribute to gender-based violence. We’re continuing to work with them on several initiatives and look forward to building on the success of the ‘More Than’ campaign in the future.

WSC> Thanks for your interest in the campaign!


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LG2, Wed, 28 Sep 2022 16:53:59 GMT