The results of an independent study into missing and murdered women has led to numerous calls for more government emphasis and effort to protect women, particularly aboriginal women.
Canim Lake Band health administrator Sheila Dick says she sees systemic societal issues that create significant, or even preclusive barriers to bringing about some crucial recommendations in the report – such as incorporating the voices of aboriginal women in making the changes.
The Inter-American Commission of Human Rights recently released its findings along with a series of recommendations for the government of Canada to implement to address the growing and tragic situation in British Columbia.
However, Dick explains it is going to be “extremely difficult” to address the historical and structural discrimination that the report points to as being at the root of this tragic and growing problem.
“I think as a broader society, we don’t value women in general, let alone marginalized or indigenous women.
“We are talking generations of patriarchal rule and hierarchical structures. We have always been … very much a man’s world.”
A solution is not just about making recommendations, but about watching them unfold in the years to come, and she questions “in what world” this will happen.
She says the systemic problems include a lack of concern and protection for women, both at the government level and in society as a whole.
Once women are seen as lesser beings, that is also where a lot of the violence starts, she notes.
Dick explains she witnessed domestic violence as a child and so grew up thinking “this is what it means to be female.”
This also leads to both men and women becoming apathetic – believing violence is “going to happen anyway” regardless of any measures taken to prevent it, Dick says.
She adds reading the findings and conclusions in the report stirs up sad emotions for her.
“It brings out a lot of losses that we know of; it is personal to me.”
For centuries, women have been held back from holding roles of importance, but particularly aboriginal women, Dick adds.
“We, as girls, were the very lowest of the low in [Indian Residential Schools] because they could do what they wanted to us and we were never going to report it, or if we did, we were not believed.”
In a society where women are devalued, indigenous women, in particular, will continue to struggle to prove their intelligence to people in control who are not really interested in making changes, Dick explains.
“I think these recommendations are wonderful, on paper.
“But unless we are willing to open up all of the ‘dark and dirty little rooms’, we are not going to move very far with this – because people, in general, are not willing to give up their power and control, let alone let women have a say at those tables.”
With all this history, she adds most indigenous women don’t believe they will be listened to even when they are asked to add their voice to policy changes.
“Not everybody; I think there are many of us stepping up to the plate and making noise.
“And it’s a hard place to be because people are so used to having women, in general, being marginalized or second-class … they try harder to ignore us.
“Fortunately, for society, the more we stand together as sisters for our missing and murdered women, the better life will become for all daughters and granddaughters.”