Did you know October 18th is celebrated as Person’s Day in Canada? This may not be very widely known, but it is in acknowledgment of the day that the definition of “persons” in Canada was expanded to include many women, opening the doors to more inclusion in public and political life, including the right to vote.
I realize I am a little behind in writing about this anniversary, but this year we had a very special opportunity when the Governor General’s Awards in commemoration of the Person’s Case were held outside of Ottawa for the very first time. The awards took place November 15th at the Manitoba Legislature in recognition of Manitoba’s pivotal role as the home of the famous five, which gave birth to the Person’s Case. I was honoured to be able to attend these awards along with many of our community partners, especially considering one of the recipients was Manitoba’s Diane Redsky, Executive Director of Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre, who was recognized for her tireless advocacy for Indigenous girls and women, particularly in the area of sex trafficking.
I am confident I am not the only person who was struck by the interesting juxtaposition that in fact the Person’s Case, though an important landmark in gender equality, is not one that is likely a celebration for Indigenous women, who continued to remain outside the personhood definition and were kept from voting and political life for many more years. I personally found it to be an important reminder that even when we feel we have come far, we often have a long way to go.
I also must acknowledge that, though there are dissenting opinions on sex work in Canada and around the world, in terms of what truly is in the best interest of woman and gender equality, the reality is that sexual exploitation is never a choice; we cannot let this detract us from the stark reality that women like Diane work to remind us of every day.
“Aboriginal people have inhabited northern Canada for thousands of years and today, many indigenous communities are still located on native lands in the sparsely populated far north. They are few in number, indigenous people make up only 4-percent of the Canadian population – yet they represent 50-percent of all sex trafficking victims in Canada.” http://www.mamawi.com/sex-trafficking/cnn-freedom-project/
Though sex trafficking is, and should be, considered a problem for our entire society, the reality is at its very basis it overwhelmingly impacts Indigenous women and girls in our communities, and we need to work together to help bring about change.
The Native Women’s Association (NWAC) has spent years gathering data on missing and murdered women in Canada, nationally and locally: the numbers are alarming.
“NWAC has gathered information about 79 cases of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls in Manitoba (third highest in the Country). This accounts for 14% of all cases in NWAC’s database. Eighty One percent of cases in Manitoba are murder cases (the national average is 67%)” https://nwac.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/2010-Fact-Sheet-Manitoba-MMAWG.pdf
Over the last several years at Klinic, we have worked with many community partners on a variety of projects and initiatives aimed at addressing sex trafficking, exploitation, and sexual violence. The vast majority of this work is led by Indigenous organizations and leaders, like Diane, who have dedicated years of their life to this work. Our own program for women and Trans women who are transitioning from sex work, Dream Catchers, works closely with others such as Mount Carmel’s Sage House to provide safe places and support; both peer and professional, to be successful in whatever path folks take in their lives.
We also learn a great deal from these women, and it is their words and experiences that shape our own approach to advocacy and support in this area. Currently our Social Justice Committee is working on position papers, on both sexual exploitation and reconciliation, which we hope will help shape our future strategies in a manner that is grounded in the lived experiences and voices of these women and others in our community.
So if we still have a long way to go, I do believe that just like with the storied history of the famous five, once again Manitoba women leaders are at the forefront of change, and this time I am hoping no one will be left behind.
Do you want to know more about human trafficking or what services are available in Manitoba for victims of trafficking? Klinic now operates the Human Trafficking Hotline in Manitoba (toll-free) 1-844-333-2211. This line provides 24/7 support and counselling to trafficked persons, and anyone else affected by trafficking such as service providers, family, friends and co-workers.
This year’s Persons Day in Canada is being celebrated with the #BecauseofHer campaign recognizing historic and current women that challenge gender biases and make a difference. For more information, visit the link below and consider sharing a story using the hashtag #BecauseofHer http://www.swc-cfc.gc.ca/commemoration/pd-jp/index-en.html