|OTTAWA | Jan.
27, 2006 — Facing criticism from the United Nations
and Amnesty International, the Canadian government is finally starting to
deal with violence against aboriginal women by funding a campaign to stop
|Last summer protesters gathered on Parliament Hill
to draw attention to Bill C-31.
The National Aboriginal Women's Association of Canada (NWAC) says the
human rights of Aboriginal women are in jeopardy.
According to the few statistics collected
by the federal government, aboriginal women are five times more susceptible
to violence then non-aboriginal women.
The association estimates 500 aboriginal women in the last two decades
have been murdered or gone missing.
"Violence against Aboriginal women is racialized and sexualized," says
Sherry Lewis, executive director for NWAC .
Aboriginal women are vulnerable to racial violence because of their
cultural identity and systematic violence because of their gender, Lewis
says. The result is aboriginal women are doubly marginalized.
Lewis has been pushing to bring attention to the plight of Aboriginal
women who have been victims of violence in Canada.
|'Violence against Aboriginal women
is racialized and sexualized'
Funding the movement
Last November, the federal government responded with a $5 million commitment
for the Sisters in Spirit Initiative. The five-year project started by
NWAC will work with a number of independent aboriginal women's groups
and the federal government to improve the human rights of aboriginal women.
The campaign will include a mandate to research and create policy that
will address the racialized and sexualized violence aboriginal women face,
as well as educate the public about these issues.
Scarce research and inaccurate statistics are some of the problems encountered
by organizations trying to address the problem, explains Cheryl Hotchkiss
of Amnesty International Canada.
"There is no indigenous data whatsoever on women and this has a tremendous
impact," Lewis says.
Reports published by Amnesty International and the UN show aboriginal
women are particularly vulnerable to human rights abuses.
The bigger picture of inaction
The Canadian government failed to ratify the 2003 UN Report of the Committee
on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, the only UN human
rights treaty to deal specifically with violence against women.
According to the report, it requires "...the state to accelerate its
efforts to eliminate de jure and defacto discrimination against aboriginal
women both in society at large and in their communities, particulary with
respect to discriminatory legal provisions and equal enjoyment of their
Lewis says the justice system is failing aboriginal women because there
are insufficient repercussions for people
who abuse them.
In 2004 Amnesty International released the report Stolen
Sisters, exposing the alarming number of aboriginal women
who are murdered, go missing, or experience violence in Canada.
"Only fairly recently did the Canadian government start to realize the
necessity to take action," Hotchkiss says.
But that realization only went so far.
Those inside the movement fear the new Conservative government will
not support measures started by the Liberals.
"There may be a change in what they see as priorities," says Lewis, "We
have to educate and convince them again."
The Conservatives have indicated they will accept the targets decided
at the First Ministers Conference on Aboriginal Affairs last November,
but they have left the particulars of their commitment ambiguous.
"It's an embarrassing secret issue, a taboo, a stigma," says Verna McGregor,
from the National Aboriginal Circle Against Family Violence, an organization
that works to end family violence in aboriginal communities.
McGregor says women's issues are generally deemed as private matters
in aboriginal families and communities and without a more open attitude
it will be difficult to reduce family violence and establish human rights.
"We need to put the needs of these women first," Hotchkiss says."The
rights of these women must to be enforced."
NWAC is eager to talk to the Conservative government about the funds
promised by the outgoing Liberal government. There is no indication yet
whether the Conservative government will honour the committments made
at the Aboriginal Leaders Summit.