The Women's Program
Did you know that October is Women's History Month in Canada?
Women's History Month represents an opportunity to highlight women's contributions and to recognize the achievements of diverse women as a vital part of our Canadian history. It also represents an opportunity to show how we all benefit from the efforts of our foremothers in our on-going quest for equality and represents an ideal opportunity to instill a sense of pride in our collective accomplishments.
This year's theme is “Aboriginal Women”. We will be posting a series of fact sheets highlighting the realities of Aboriginal women as well as their contributions to their communities and families and the unique challenges they face.
The fact sheets will specifically look at:
Aboriginal Women: a brief overview of a reality check
What do the Numbers Reveal?
It is first and foremost important to acknowledge that violations of Aboriginal human rights have been continuous and based on colonization. The statistics above reveal the results of this process that continues today.
Aboriginal women and children have been the most affected by human rights violations. Aboriginal women have had to deal with the dispossession of their traditional territories, the disassociation with their traditional roles and responsibilities, the dismantling of their participation in political and social decisions in their own communities, the disassociation with themselves and their families, the loss of their culture and traditions, etc.
The role of violence in Aboriginal communities and against Aboriginal women cannot be overstated. The statistics on violence against Aboriginal women are staggering. Aboriginal women in Canada experience consistently higher rates of reported violence than the overall female population. (For more information and analysis, see PSAC fact sheet on Violence Against Aboriginal Women and the “Sisters in Spirit Campaign” at www.nwac-hq.org).
The criminal justice system has failed Aboriginal people in general and the Royal Commission on Aboriginal people as well as many federal reports and provincial and territorial inquiries have confirmed this many times over. According to NWAC, it has failed because it is a system that has been created with basic European cultural values; values that are very different from Aboriginal cultural values. It is an adversarial system full of complex and foreign concepts; a system that is alien to most Aboriginal people; a system that has also impacted upon the lives of Aboriginal women.
NWAC also concludes that there is a correlation between colonialism and Aboriginal women being overrepresented in the legal system and in prisons. For many women, the crimes that they have committed were poverty-related. For others, the crimes were more serious and tended to be alcohol-related or in response to physical abuse. There is also a higher rate of suicide inside these prisons for Aboriginal women who are separated from their children, families and communities.
In 1876, the Federal Government introduced the Indian Act. This Act is considered by many Aboriginal organizations and Aboriginal rights experts to be one of the most racist pieces of legislation that continues to exist. The purpose of the 1876 Indian Act was to civilize, christianize and assimilate Aboriginal peoples. This Act was an example of the patriarchal notions common to that time period which are manifested today as well. It was discriminatory and had (and still has) extremely detrimental effects on Aboriginal women and their families.
In the seventies and eighties, thousands of Aboriginal women and girls lost their status under the Indian Act and were driven out of their communities, cut off from their family support and traditional livelihood. Today, many face desperate conditions in Canadian urban centres and sexist stereotypes and racist attitudes toward Aboriginal women and girls. These conditions have pushed many Aboriginal women into extreme poverty, homelessness and the sex trade industry.
Currently, a national consultation process, a joint initiative between Indian Affairs and Northern Development, the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC), and the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), on the issue of the division of matrimonial property rights on reserve is underway and consultations and dialogue sessions will take place in communities across the country. The consultations are scheduled to end in January 2007, after which a final report, with recommendations will go to the Minister. (For a more detailed analysis of the impact of the Indian Act on Aboriginal Women, or on the current consultations, go to www.nwaq-hq.ca.)
All of the above point to the link between the impact of colonization and the socio-economic situation of Aboriginal women and their families.
The statistics also show that Aboriginal women experience a high level of unemployment which is well above the unemployment rate of the total population in Canada. Aboriginal workers as a whole also earned only two-thirds of an average workers’ wage. The average annual income of Aboriginal women off-reserve is $13,300, compared to $18,200 for Aboriginal men, and $19,950 for non-Aboriginal women. (The last of the series of PSAC fact sheets will be taking a more detailed look at Aboriginal women in the workforce.)