By John Rafferty
Every year, the first week of March is celebrated as International Women’s Week, culminating on March 8 with International Women’s Day.
This week is a time to celebrate the many advances women have made towards equality, but also is a time to reflect on just how much further there is to go.
This week, I am pleased to be able to use this space to share with you some work that is being done by the Native Women’s Association of Canada in their “Sisters in Spirit” campaign.
It was launched in 2004 with the goal of conducting research and raising awareness about the high rates of violence experienced by aboriginal women and girls in Canada. The ultimate objective of the campaign is to reduce and eventually eliminate such violence.
Aboriginal women in Canada face discrimination—both because of their aboriginal identity and because they are women. The reality is that aboriginal women are disproportionately represented among victims and survivors of violent and sexual crimes.
Estimates are that more than 500 aboriginal women have gone missing or been murdered. And even though they are more likely to experience violence, it is rare that much mainstream attention and coverage is given to murdered and missing aboriginal women and their families.
As part of its work to raise awareness, the “Sisters in Spirit” campaign works with the families of these missing and murdered women to document their stories—ensuring their lives are not forgotten.
Vigils also are held, in communities across Canada on Oct. 4 each year, to publicly remember and honour lost aboriginal women and to support their families.
In 2008, 40 communities held vigils that were attended by thousands of people. In our riding, for instance, a vigil was held in Thunder Bay and many more were held in other Northern Ontario communities.
In further support of the families, “Sisters in Spirit” has hosted a series of family gatherings, which provide space for families to meet and bond with others who are going through similar experiences.
To support positive change for aboriginal women and girls, “Sisters in Spirit” advises communities, provinces, territories, and the federal government about the violence these women face and works to promote strategies to reduce it.
The campaign has produced community education tool-kits on subjects like “Safety Measures for Aboriginal Women” and “Navigating the Missing Persons Process.” Community awareness workshops and youth violence prevention workshops also have been developed.
These workshops educate participants on “Sisters in Spirit,” and focus on the lives of the women and girls who have been lost.
“Sisters in Spirit” is supported by “Brothers in Spirit”—a group of men who came together to support the vigil held on Parliament Hill in the fall of 2006.
Their goal is to stand in solidarity with their sisters and to discuss the role men have in ending violence against women.
I encourage you to learn more about “Sisters in Spirit,” and to get involved in ending violence against aboriginal women and girls.
For more information or to learn about how to get involved, visit www.nwac-hq.org
By John Rafferty