By Britnae Purdy
Every year, March 8th is dedicated by the United Nations as International Women’s Day. It’s a day to honor the unique struggles, strengths, and potential of women around the world, far too many of whom face violence, poverty, environmental destruction, disease, and discrimination on a daily basis. At First Peoples, we believe that a community cannot be healthy if its women are not supported and loved – strong women lead to strong families, communities, and nations. Here, we’ve compiled a list of five suggestions to help and celebrate Indigenous women on International Women’s Day.
1. Educate yourself about the epidemic of murdered and missing Indigenous women, a devastating occurrence that far too many people are unaware of – over 800 Aboriginal women have gone missing or been murdered in Canada in the past 20 years, and their cases are rarely thoroughly investigated by police. Start by watching Survival, Strength, and Sisterhood: Power of Women in the Downtown Eastside, a short documentary on the 20 year history of the annual memorial march for missing and murdered Indigenous women in Vancouver. Explore Rabble’s Why I March forum to learn more about families involved in the movement. Find a local showing of the very powerful Walking With Our Sisters exhibition, which honors the lives of these women through a display of hand-made moccasins, each representing a missing woman. Support the Missing Sisters mapping project by learning about open cases in your area and adding any information you are aware of regarding missing Indigenous women. If you’re feeling particularly ambitious read Amnesty International’s report Stolen Sisters, as of now the most comprehensive report on violence against Indigenous women in Canada. And of course, join the growing voice of people demanding an official inquiry into Canada’s missing and murdered Indigenous women – sign the online petition here, contact your local representatives to voice your concerns, and join the online conversation using the hashtags #MMIW and #VAW.
2. Join PBS’s SheDocs online film festival, featuring twelve short documentaries about inspiring women from around the world. In particular, check out “Kind-Hearted Woman” a film following the struggles and triumphs of a divorced Oglala Sioux mother living on the Spirit Lake Reservation of North Dakota. The coolest part about this film series is that you can join in the online conversation about them using the hashtag #SheDocs on Facebook and Twitter. These films will be available online from March 1-31. Another great film by PBS to watch in honor of International Women’s Day is “Young Lakota,” an new Independent Lens film about three young women fighting to make comprehensive healthcare available to women on the Pine Ridge Reservation. The film is not currently available for viewing online, but you can find details about public screenings as well as a DVD request form here.
3. Lend Financial Support. There are so many organizations doing amazing work with Indigenous women – if you have the money to spare, consider making a donation to an organization such as the First Peoples grantmaking program, which will help fund small-scale Indigenous led development project around the world, the Native Women’s Association of Canada or the Indigenous Women’s Fund (FIMI). If you can’t afford to donate, consider joining a fundraising event such as Walk in Her Shoes. By joining this movement, you’ll receive a pedometer and access to an online fundraising page. By getting people to sponsor you to walk 10,000 steps per day for a week, you’ll raise money to provide for water wells and water and sanitation programs for women around the world. The average woman in Africa must walk far more than 10,000 steps, or 5 miles a day, to collect water from far away sources.
4. Support girls’ dreams and aspirations. As girls enter puberty they become especially vulnerable to developing negative patterns such as unhealthy relationships, eating disorders, self-esteem issues, alcohol and drug use, unprotected sex, and slacking off in school and other hobbies. Girls living on or near reservations in particular are often exposed to higher rates of substance abuse, teen pregnancy, and youth suicide. Take the time to mentor young girls in your community or family, or volunteer at an organization that works with youth. For inspiration, explore this amazing collection of girls’ dreams from around the world compiled by Girl Effect, and watch the extraordinary documentary Girl Rising.
5. Support a local domestic violence shelter. One in three Native women will be raped in their lifetime. Three in five will be physically assaulted. Native women are more than twice as likely to be stalked as other women and are murdered at a rate of ten times the national average. Underreporting of assault and domestic violence means that these numbers are likely even higher, and unfortunately many of these cases are not properly investigated or prosecuted. This is a huge, multi-dimensional, systemic problem that unfortunately will not be fixed overnight; however, there are many ways to help. Support your local domestic abuse shelter – they typically can use monetary donations as well as donations of household supplies, children’s items, and volunteer time. All such shelters need your support, but some specifically offer services for Native women, such as the amazing Battered Women’s Support Services. And of course, spread the message of non-violent love in your life – the Indian Law Resource Center’s campaign Safe Women, Strong Nations provides great tools for helping others learn about healthy relationships. Help teach the young people you know how to recognize red flags in a relationship, how to negotiate disagreements and disputes without resorting to violence, what consent means, and where to turn for help if they find themselves in a dangerous circumstance.
(Photo: Tupinamba woman, Brazil, from http://www.actalliance.org/stories/tupinamba-indigenous-struggles-2#panel-2)