COLUMN: The plight of aboriginal women

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This past Saturday, March 8 was International Women’s Day. While some progress has been made in ensuring greater equality for women, much more action is needed.

At home in Canada, our federal government should agree to hold a national inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women. The Native Women’s Association of Canada states that 668 aboriginal women are missing or murdered.

Other statistics and reports find that aboriginal women suffer higher rates of poverty. Human Rights Watch has also found cases in which police forces have abused their powers against aboriginal women in northern B.C.

While the government has enacted certain legislation and provided funding for initiatives aiming to tackle the issues, not enough has been done to rectify the matter at hand.

Last Friday, the federal Special Committee on Violence Against Indigenous Women released its report, which included recommendations related to an “awareness campaign, support for the family of victims, support for communities, police services, [action to reduce] violence against women and girls, and other supports.”

It did not, however, include a recommendation for a national public inquiry.

While the report’s 16 recommendations are a step in the right direction, a national inquiry could help in better understanding the factors which lead to a disproportionately high number of indigenous women and girls going missing or being murdered. By thoroughly examining the causes and underlying issues, more effective and stronger steps could be taken to deal with the matter.

Witnesses in the Special Committee’s “Invisible Women: A Call to Action” report felt that a national inquiry would allow “victim’s friends and family to be heard,” as well as increase awareness about the violence facing aboriginal women.

Ultimately, they felt that an inquiry would help create a “national action plan” with “benchmarks” so that the problems facing aboriginal women could come to an end.

Last year, David Langtry, Acting Chief Commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission, stated that: “The murder or disappearance of some 600 Aboriginal women and girls over the past 30 years is a national tragedy. […] We must get to the root causes of these disturbing facts.”

Thousands of people from across the country, in addition to human rights organizations, opposition political parties, and the Native Women’s Association of Canada and Assembly of First Nations, are calling for a national inquiry.

Recently, the leaders of all three major parties in Nova Scotia supported this. In 2013, premiers from across Canada and a UN Special Rapporteur supported a national inquiry as well.

In light of  the hundreds of indigenous women that have been murdered or are missing, it is important that we all support a national inquiry.

As Canadians who believe in justice and human rights, it is imperative that we take all steps necessary to prevent any more sad tragedies from happening.

The federal government rightly states that “action” needs to be taken on the matter.  But full and proper action can only be taken if all voices are heard and a thorough inquiry is conducted.

Japreet Lehal is a student at Simon Fraser University Surrey. He writes regularly for The Leader.

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