On International Women’s Day this year, as we celebrate the strength and leadership of women around the world, we must look at the reality of what is happening here in Canada and within our communities. We must examine the statistics and acknowledge that in Canada that the question is not about women’s gender equality, because the data shows that not all women are treated or even seen as equal.
We know that more than one-quarter (26%) of Indigenous women experienced sexual violence during childhood, nearly three times the proportion of non-Indigenous women (9.2%) (Statistics Canada July 2022). 56% Indigenous women have experienced physical assault, while 46% of Indigenous women have experienced sexual assault in their lifetime (Stats Can, April 2022). Indigenous women are 7 times more likely to be homicide victims than the non-Indigenous population (Health Canada, 2009).
Indigenous women and girls are not vulnerable, they are targeted. We must recognize that violence against Indigenous women and girls in Canada is systemic, and very often perpetuated by the systems intended to serve and protect them.
We are now starting to see some attention in cities across Canada, like Thunder Bay. For some, that seems far away, where there have been numerous inquests, reports and recommendations to address the systemic racism and hate that plagues the city. There is a fundamental need for safety and healing. It’s not safe to be an Indigenous woman, whether you are walking to the corner store or trying to access services in the community.
But it’s not just limited to one city, this is happening across the country, we must acknowledge the families in Winnipeg who wait around the gates of a garbage dump waiting to put their mothers and sisters to rest. We must ask how in Canada, with all our resources, all our humanitarian efforts across the world how can we leave our murdered women in a garbage dump? How can we ask that their families to go about grieving when they can’t put them to rest. Why don’t they deserve the same respect and humanity as other women in our society, they are not seen or treated as equal.
We have to begin to look at how to create safety for our daughters and granddaughters all over Canada. We need to begin building new communities where Indigenous women are safe, through actions taken at individual, family, community, and systemic levels. We can do this as a collective, if we begin to measure the safety and well-being of a community based on the safety and well-being of the Indigenous women and children in that community.
As the Executive Director of the Ontario Native Women’s Association (ONWA), the oldest and largest Indigenous women’s agency in Canada, we are committed ending violence against Indigenous women and their families and ensuring equitable access to justice, education, health services, environmental stewardship, and economic development. These core values sit at the cornerstone of the organization. ONWA’s vision is clear, we celebrate and honour the safety and healing of Indigenous women and girls as they take up their leadership roles in the family, community and internationally for generations to come.
Unfortunately, Indigenous women’s agencies don’t receive equal access to funding, and when they are funded, it is often for one or two years. They typically receive the least amount of funding in the social service sector, but the data indicates they are the most vulnerable women and children in this country. We need core funding to create safe and healing places that are designed and developed by Indigenous women.
We collectively need to overcome the disruption of Indigenous women's voice. We have to be strength-based. We need to include Indigenous women in political decision-making, in all aspects of public life. We all need to do this together. Everyone has a role, that's the beauty of this, together we can change what is happening to Indigenous women and children all across this vast country.
I urge everyone to think about how you can change the outcomes for Indigenous women, girls, and two-spirit people in Canada so that safety is not a privilege, it is a basic and fundamental right that every woman deserves.
Ontario Native Women’s Association (ONWA)