16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence: Local Changemakers Fighting for Justice for MMIWG2S
16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence is an annual, international campaign that calls for the prevention and elimination of violence against women, girls, Two-Spirit and gender-diverse people. Beginning on November 25 with International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and ending on December 10, World Human Rights Day, it is a time for organizations worldwide to use their voices and influence to demand a safer world and an end to violence against women, girls and 2SLGBTQIA+ (two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and asexual) individuals.
The campaign was started by activists at the inauguration of the Women’s Global Leadership Institute in 1991 and the date of November 25 was chosen to commemorate the lives of the Mirabal sisters from the Dominican Republic who were violently assassinated in 1960. During this time, we also recognize the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women, which remembers 14 young women who were murdered in an act of violent misogyny at Polytechnique Montréal on December 6, 1989. The day pays tribute to them and urges global recognition of gender-based violence.
At YWCA Metro Vancouver we recognize our responsibility to use our voice for change, particularly in the face of injustice. Each year we choose from many pressing issues to spotlight for 16 Days of Activism. Last year, we focused on the ongoing genocide against Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQIA+ people and how too little is being done to stop it. While Indigenous women comprise about 5% of the country's female population, they face violence at a disproportionately higher rate than non-Indigenous women.
For each of the 16 days, we highlighted one of the 231 Calls for Justice from Reclaiming Power and Place, the Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. The Final Report, released in 2019, is comprised of the truths of more than 2,380 family members, survivors of violence, experts and Knowledge Keepers shared over two years of cross-country public hearings and evidence gathering. The 231 Calls for Justice are directed at governments, institutions, social service providers, industries and all Canadians. We attempted to demonstrate why each of the 16 Calls we highlighted is important, what progress (if any) had been made and what each of us can do to collectively create change.
To date, only two of the 231 calls have been completed — and more than half haven’t even been started. Although this inaction is unacceptable and inexcusable, we are inspired by the many people who are making efforts to address the ongoing violence and finding solutions to despite the lack of action by government.
Red Dress Alert
On May 2, 2023, the House of Commons voted unanimously in favour of declaring MMIWG2S a nation-wide emergency and agreed to provide funding for an alert system to inform the public when an Indigenous person is missing. Similar to Amber Alerts for missing children, a Red Dress Alert would send out emergency information to increase the chances of those missing being found.
While the last federal budget included a pledge of $2.5 million over five years to explore the feasibility of a Red Dress Alert, swift action and meaningful progress is needed to prevent more people from going missing.
California has demonstrated precedence with a Feather Alert system to inform residents of the state when an Indigenous person goes missing. It came online in January 2023.
Locally, there have been demonstrations urging for swift action in implementing the Red Dress Alert. This cannot afford to be deliberated longer, and Indigenous representatives and allies are using their voices to demand progress.
What YOU can do:
Support a Red Dress Alert in Canada, by signing a petition that supports MP Leah Gazan’s request to Public Safety Minister MP Marco Mendicino to end the ongoing harm against Indigenous women, girls and Two-Spirit people: https://ofl.ca/action/red-dress-alert/
Economic Reconciliation – Championed by Sxwpilemaát Siyám, Chief Leanne Joe
Sxwpilemaát Siyám is one of 16 Hereditary Chiefs for the Squamish Nation and the first female Chief of her family. Among many other successes, she currently owns Siyam Consulting and is Transformative Storyteller for Economic Reconciliation, with SFU, Faculty of Environment, Community Economic Development.
Chief Leanne Joe, along with Lily Raphael, co-wrote Step into the River: A Framework for Economic Reconciliation, which offers a new way of understanding, thinking about and interacting with wealth. “For our economy to shift, we need to rethink what we value, how we relate to one another and how we make decisions,” she said.
The framework asks the fundamental question: What if economic reconciliation were a means of transforming our collective economy from the current state to a desired future state?
According to Chief Leanne Joe, incorporating Indigenous world views on wealth is fundamental to achieving this desired future state. This means considering wealth beyond a dollar amount, and that to be wealthy includes, one’s “ability to support and care for others, have ceremony, sharing, giving, and knowing who they are, where they come from and why they are here.”
Special Prosecutor for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls
In BC, investigations into crimes that include missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and Two-Spirit people rarely receive the attention and resources needed to resolve them.
Beyond the increased provincial funding that is required to locate those who are missing or who have been murdered, and to prosecute violent offenders responsible for these crimes, bold measures are needed to restore trust and bring justice to victims and affected communities. One solution is to install a Special Prosecutor to work solely on such cases.
To address their own tragedies and unsolved cases, the U.S. Justice Department created a new program in June 2023 that will permanently place an assistant U.S. attorney and coordinator in five regions across the country. Our neighbours to the south in Eastern Washington will be the hub of one such Special Prosecutor.
In BC, appointing a Special Prosecutor falls under the purview of Assistant Deputy Attorney General, who has the authority to appoint a lawyer not employed by the Ministry of Attorney General if she considers it is in the public interest. The paramount consideration in appointing a Special Prosecutor is the need to maintain public confidence in the administration of criminal justice.
In both the Calls for Justice and the Calls to Action, justice for missing and murdered women, girls, Two-Spirit and gender-diverse individuals and their families is demanded. However, the entrenched racism in colonial judiciary systems and the resulting erosion of trust, paired with the ongoing lack of bold action, demonstrates that the status quo is ineffectual in resolving this abhorrent, ongoing situation.
A Special Prosecutor, independent of the office that would normally exercise jurisdiction in these criminal investigations, would bring expertise to this sensitive matter, help build bridges between victims and victims’ families, and provide a path toward justice.
Keeping Families Together
In 2019, a group of families affected by the child welfare system got together to support each other, launching a group they call Keeping Families Together (KFT). This coalition provides a confidential and welcoming space and participants are free to share on “the facts, the mistreatments, the violent history of colonialism, and the intergenerational trauma related to disconnection from land, culture, family, language, and identity.”
The colonial practice of removing Indigenous children from their families continues at an alarming rate in Canada. This is often referred to as the “Millennial Scoop” and is demonstrated by the disproportionate number of Indigenous children in care. In BC alone, Indigenous children are 15 times more likely to enter government care than their non-Indigenous counterparts. Statistics from the Ministry of Children and Family Development show that in 2020/21, Indigenous children accounted for 68% of all children in foster care in BC, despite only representing around 6% of the population (as of Census 2016).
The 1996 Child Family and Community Services Act promised a new way forward by supporting families and keeping them together. Despite ongoing reforms and many promises from changing governments, Pivot Legal Society has found that the “current child protection practices in BC violate the guiding and service delivery principles that are set out in law.”
In October, 2022, the province set forth to change provincial legislation and remove barriers for Indigenous Peoples exercising jurisdiction over child and family services. The amendments are meant to “respect the inherent rights of Indigenous communities to provide their own child and family services, and to keep Indigenous children safely connected to their cultures and their communities.”
In March 2023, The Splatsin First Nation became the first in BC to take charge of its own child and family services, but advocates say changes promised by the government in 2022 are slow to take form.
Although inaction from all levels of government and lack of progress on the Calls to Justice is harmful and disheartening, it is important to remember that we can demand and create change. These examples are evidence of that, and as a collective voice we can support Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQIA+ people in a meaningful way. These injustices have gone on far too long, and we urge changemakers to push these initiatives forward to ensure the safety of Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQIA+ people and provide healing and closure to families of victims.
231 Calls for Justice
Last year's campaign highlighted the 231 Calls for Justice from Reclaiming Power and Place, the Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. We attempt to demonstrate why it is important, what progress (if any) has been made and what each of us can do to collectively create change.
Banner image: Walking a Path; Never Alone by Nadzin Degagné | Gallery of Artistic Expressions