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Vancouver Rape Relief’s submission to the Standing Committee on the Status of Women on Violence against Aboriginal Women

By Hilla Kerner
January 18, 2011

We appreciate the committee’s decision to invite women’s groups to speak about violence against aboriginal women and about our struggle to end it and achieve liberty and freedom for all women.    

Surely in this room we can agree that although women in Canada formally have equal rights, in reality women in Canada, and aboriginal women in particular, do not have equality in their political, economic, and domestic lives. Aboriginal women do not have representational power in the living political institutions in the democracy of Canada: the federal Parliament, the government, and the Supreme Court. Therefore, independent aboriginal women’s groups have a crucial role to play in bringing the voice, the experience, and the wisdom of aboriginal women to the political decision-making arena.    

We are calling on the Government of Canada to provide appropriate funding–with no strings attached, with no demands, with no conditions–to the only national aboriginal women’s group in Canada, NWAC, the Native Women’s Association of Canada; and to consult with NWAC regarding any issue that can affect aboriginal women in Canada.    

policing male violence against women

We know from 35 years of front-line work that men attack women in their own race and down in the racist hierarchy, and that aboriginal women are vulnerable to violence both of aboriginal men in their homes and communities and of all men everywhere they go. The criminal justice system that is consistently failing to protect all women is especially indifferent to male violence against aboriginal women.    Not only that, but cases of criminalizing aboriginal women for acting in self-defence against the attacking men are extremely high…. I want to encourage the members of the committee to find out how many cases of violence are reported to the police by women and compare them to the conviction rates. I assure you that you will be shocked to find out how small is the number of cases that are taken seriously by the police, that are fully investigated, and that are being brought before the courts in Canada.    

Poverty of Aboriginal women

It is a well-known fact that aboriginal women are the poorest women in Canada. In the hearing about trafficking and sexual exploitation in front of this committee in 2006, many witnesses pointed out that aboriginal people are disproportionately affected by poverty in Canada. The committee heard that 40% of aboriginal women in Canada live in poverty.    Poverty of women and violence against women are two powerful oppressive forces that feed each other. The Department of Justice Canada recognized poverty as a factor in increasing vulnerability to violence against women. The Public Health Agency of Canada states, “Poverty limits choices and access to the means to protect and free oneself from violence”.    

Canada has been criticized by the United Nations for its shameful income assistance rates. Women return to or cannot leave abusive relationships because they are unable to adequately provide for themselves and their children on welfare. A crucial measure to prevent the vulnerability of women to men’s violence is in providing economic security to aboriginal women and all women. Our ongoing vision is a guaranteed livable income, but definitely a mid-term measurement is to just raise the welfare rates. They’re completely unlivable.    

Aboriginal women and prostitution

One extreme expression of violence against women is prostitution. Later today, we’ll hear from the Aboriginal Women’s Action Network on their opposition to prostitution and the legalization of prostitution.     We are calling on this committee to adopt the recommendation of the report of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women from 2007: “Turning Outrage Into Action”. The report’s recommendations are calling on the federal government to target the poverty of women, and the poverty of aboriginal women in particular, and to decriminalize the victims, the women, who are prostituted—they should not be criminalized for being victims of inequality and violence—but to criminalize the consumers, the men exploiting the women’s vulnerability, the consumers of prostitution and the pimps.    

Aboriginal children in care

I encourage the committee to invest the appropriate time to have hearings about this issue. Less than 5% of the B.C. population is aboriginal, yet more than half of the children in care are aboriginal. According to the MCFD, in the last year there were 4,666 aboriginal children in care. The state uproots aboriginal children from their mothers, paying a fortune for foster care instead of investing this money in the mothers and offering them the economic security that enables them to get housing, food, and child care, which in turn enables them to take care of their children.    

In conclusion, we are calling on the Federal Government to consult and fund NWAC; end poverty of aboriginal women and poverty of all women, because that’s what makes them and us so vulnerable to violent men; end prostitution by targeting poverty on the one hand and criminalizing the buyer on the other hand; and force the police to follow the responsibility of the state to protect women by thorough investigation, by pursuing appropriate charges, and by bringing men to court to hold them accountable for violence against women.

Read the full evidence here

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