Saturday, 7 March 2015

Women and Girls Making a Difference!

Happy International Women’s Day 2015!!!!

As we celebrate this day I want to highlight some remarkable achievements. Internationally and in Canada I have witnessed girls and women overcome great adversity and odds to have their human rights respected. 
I would like to highlight three of them, all of whom made significant achievements in 2014.

Embodiment of Empowerment. 

Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head in a school bus in 2012 by the Taliban for advocating the education of girls in Pakistan. [1]  She survived. In spite of being shot she continues this advocacy. Her actions led to her winning and sharing the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014 for her advocacy of children’s rights and education for girls. 

With an international audience watching, we witnessed this Pakistani teenage girl and survivor of gender-based violence say the following when receiving the award:

“We should all consider each other as human beings and we should respect each other. We should all fight for our rights; for the rights of children; for the rights of women; and for the rights of every human being.”[2]
She thanked her father “for showing to the world a girl is not supposed to be a slave. A girl has the power to go forward in her life. She’s not only a mother. She’s not only a sister. She’s not only a wife. A girl should have an identity. She should be recognized that she has equal rights as [those of a] boy.”[3]
I was humbled listening to her. I admire her for her courage. I am encouraged that she, her father and her family have been able to build on the aspirations of the people who put together the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action[4] 20 years ago as well as subsequent calls for actions to eliminate violence against women and girls and ensure their rights. 

Challenging our norms.

In September 2014, Emma Watson, UN Women Global Goodwill Ambassador delivered a speech[5] to launch a UN Women campaign called HeForShe. Feminism, gender relations, the impact gender violence has on women and men as well as how we address gender-based violence were debated, examined and reflected on.

I have listened and watched conversations unfold on social media, with friends and with colleagues. They have been impassioned and have made people feel unsettled. This actually makes me feel encouraged. 

In order to eliminate sexual and gender-based violence we must have exactly these kinds of difficult conversations. 

Through Ms. Watson’s speech, many have taken time to pause, reflect and re-assess gender relations and violence. 

She triggered something in many people. Whether they agreed with her or not, she was able to get many people around the world to talk about something they normally wouldn’t talk about. What came out was honest and potent with personal experiences of how the gender debate and dialogue has impacted men and women positively and negatively. It left many with questions and few answers. The key here is that people were curious, people asked questions, people shared experiences and over time all of this is marinating in people’s brains and hearts. 

The seeds have been planted and I am excited to see what ideas germinate.

Putting a face to Sexual and Gender-based Violence.

In December 2014, I was humbled by Rinelle Harper. She is a 16 year old Aboriginal who was sexually assaulted and left for dead by a river in Winnipeg in November.[6] She said the following at the Assembly of First Nations in December: 

“I am Rinelle Harper and I am from the Garden Hill First Nation.”
“I am here to talk about an end to violence against young women.”
“I ask that everyone here remembers a few simple words: love, kindness, respect and forgiveness.”
“As a survivor, I respectfully challenge you all to call for a national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women.”[7]

As I listened to her I took a moment to quietly thank her for her courage. Had I, or any other woman or girl experienced what she had, would we, in front of all those people and in front of social media beaming the message to a larger audience, be able to say what she said? – One month after her ordeal! I take a moment now to thank her again. 

Rinelle not only put a face to the plight of Aboriginal women and girls who face a disproportionate level of violence compared to non-Aboriginal women and girls in Canada, she gave this reality a voice.[8]
On March 9th 2015, people working to implement women’s rights, country representatives and UN entities, will gather at an annual UN conference on the Status of Women at the UN headquarters in New York.[9]  This year they will focus is on how far we have come in achieving gender equality and women’s rights and what we need to do.

Let us take a moment to see how far we have come. We are nowhere close to gender equality, women’s rights implementation or considering the full impact gender violence has on all genders and communities. We are living in a world where our incremental gains have paved the way for such women, like those mentioned above, to keep reminding us that our work is not done. These individuals also remind us that there is the will to make gender equality and elimination of gender-based violence a reality. 

I’ll let you sit with that. Marinate on it and let me know your thoughts. 

Ask me a question via the comments or in a private message. Talk amongst your friends or to strangers. Let us keep the conversation going and let us take action!

[1] Malala: The girl who was shot for going to school.” October 7, 2013.

[2] Malala Yousafzai - Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech (Full) | October 10, 2014 | HD

[3] Ibid.
[4] Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action’s aim is women’s empowerment and gender equality. You can learn more about the declaration here: Accessed March 5, 2015.

[6] Vincent,Donovan. “Rinelle Harper delivers emotional plea to Assembly of First Nations.” December 9, 2014.
[7] “Rinelle Harper calls for inquiry into missing Aboriginal women.” CBC, December 9, 2014. Accessed March 8, 2015.
[8] See statistics of violence against Aboriginal girls and women in Canada here Accessed March 8, 2015.
[9] The fifty-ninth session of the Commission on the Status of Women will take place at United Nations Headquarters in New York from 9 to 20 March 2015. Representatives of Member States , UN entities, and ECOSOC-accredited non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from all regions of the world attend the session. - See more Accessed March 5, 2015.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

A Call To Action for Aboriginal women and girls in Canada.

I’ve been munching on a thought for quite some time. I’d like you to stay with me on this one. I want to take you down a path of awareness, hope and action.

The circumstance we find Canada’s indigenous women and girls in is not right. This is just not a moral stance I am taking, it’s an observation. The way they are regarded and treated is an indication of how much we, as Canadians, take notice and how much we value these women and girls. 


Last summer Tina Fontaine, a 15 year-old Aboriginal girl, was found wrapped in plastic thrown into the Red River in Winnipeg, Manitoba after being sexually assaulted.[1] In November Rinelle Harper, 16 years old, was sexually assaulted and left for dead next to another river in Winnipeg.[2] In July 2013, 25 year-old Bella Laboucan-McLean died after falling off a balcony of a Toronto condo. The death was called ‘suspicious’ by police.[3]  Even though she had been a part of a small gathering with 5 other people in the flat no arrests had been made as of December 19, 2014 when an article was published about her.[4]

Documented evidence backs the claim that missing and murdered indigenous women and girls is a reality and that it must be addressed. 

FAFIA reported the following:

Aboriginal women in Canada report rates of violence including domestic violence and sexual assault 3.5 times higher than non-Aboriginal women. Young Aboriginal women are five times more likely than other Canadian women of the same age to die of violence. Aboriginal women and girls experience both high levels of sexual abuse and violence in their own families and communities, and high levels of stranger violence in the broader society.[5]
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights reported that “police have failed to adequately prevent and protect indigenous women and girls from killings, disappearances, extreme forms of violence and have failed to diligently and promptly investigate these acts.”[6]

I could continue to write a long list of the horrific conditions First Nations women and girls experience but that would lead many of you, I feel, to feel despair and to stop reading. Let me instead bring your attention to this. 


We, Canadians, have an opportunity to support these women and girls. Let us take a cue from them.

Rinelle Harper said this at the Assembly of First Nations in December 2014: 

“I am Rinelle Harper and I am from the Garden Hill First Nation.” 

“I am here to talk about an end to violence against young women.”

“I ask that everyone here remembers a few simple words: love, kindness, respect and forgiveness.” 

“As a survivor, I respectfully challenge you all to call for a national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women.”[7]

Let it not be said that we are not aware. There is a problem when our society fails to recognize that the root of society – women – must be valued and their rights upheld. 

Federal elections will soon be called in Canada. As issues of the pipelines and the economy are raised, let us not forget that if we are not addressing the root causes of violence against women and girls – and in particular Aboriginal women and girls who experience a higher instance of violence than non-Aboriginal women and girls – then we choose to live in a country where we value some lives more than others.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights report includes recommendations in line with international conventions and agreements indicating that a balance of quantitative and qualitative measures need to be taken. A simple action we, as Canadians, can make is calling for a National Inquiry. 


1)      Be informed. A short overview of the problem and actions that can be taken can be found here:

2)      Participate in: Up For Debate

3)      Ask your MP or the candidate you will be voting for to support Aboriginal women and girls. Address this violence and eliminate it. Ask for a National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Aboriginal women and girls. You can look up your MP here:

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives provided this encouraging assessment: 

If the Government of Canada were to invest at least half of their Aboriginal Economic Development funding into enhancing skills and opportunities for female Aboriginal entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs, Canadians could expect to see profoundly improved economic outcomes for Aboriginal women in all ranges of business development that extend beyond their own financial well-being. In many cases, their increased independence can mean profound life changes, including helping them escape violence, improve their own and their children’s nutrition, exit poverty or afford safe housing. Aboriginal women also make up the fastest growing youth population in Canada and would be the ideal target for investment to fill the aging Canadian labour market gap.[8]

I know most of you have had a very dark moment in your life – a time where you decided not to give up. You picked yourself off the floor, dusted yourself off and made an effort to make your life better. Can you remember that time? Can you remember what it felt like when you found yourself surrounded by support and compassion from your family, friends and strangers?

Our First Nations women and girls have made a decision. From Rinelle to the collective group of Aboriginal  women who started what has become one of the largest grassroots movements in support of their rights and ours – Idle No More.[9] They will not give up.

Let us provide them the support and compassion once given to us in our time of need.

[1] Macdonald, Nancy. “Welcome to Winnipeg: Where Canada’s racism problem is at its worst. How the death of Tina Fontaine has finally forced the city to face its festering race problem.” Maclean’s Magazine. January 22, 2015 Site Accessed February 4, 2015. 
[2] Vincent, Donovan. “Rinelle Harper delivers emotional plea to Assembly of First Nations.” The Toronto Star. December 9, 2015
[3] Klein, Naomi “How a Cree woman fell to death, and no one saw anything.” The Globe and Mail. December 19, 2014 Site Accessed February 4, 2015.
[4] Ibid.
[5] “Murders & Disappearances Of Aboriginal Women And Girls.” Site Accessed February 4, 2015.
[6] “Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women in British Columbia, Canada.” Inter-American Commission On Human Rights OEA/Ser.L/V/II. Doc. 30/14, 21 December 2014, p.12. Site Accessed February 4, 2015.
[7] Rinelle Harper’s speech December 9, 2015 Site Accessed February 4, 2015

[8] “Progress on Women’s Rights: Missing in Action. A Shadow Report on Canada’s Implementation of the Beijing
Declaration and Platform for Action Prepared by a Network of NGOs, Trade Unions and Independent Experts.” Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, October 2014, p. 44. (Bold inserted by myself)  Site Accessed February 4, 2015
[9] Ibid; Site Accessed February 4, 2015