Where are the Missing Women?

INDIGENOUS PEOPLES: Where are the Missing Women?

Susanne Link

UNITED NATIONS, May 14 (IPS) - Indigenous women from around the world go missing every day with only little notice and concern shown by the United Nations, governments and media, said a group of their peers Thursday...


Native Women's Association of Canada (NWAC) president, Kukdookaa Terri Brown, said yesterday that the unsolved murders of at least 10 Edmonton (Canada) area aboriginal women is partially the result of systemic racism among police."They are responsible for the deaths when they do not provide a safe environment for all... people are dying as a result of their inaction," said Brown, "They have not been policing properly. They have not protected our people properly. They do not investigate properly, and we're saying, do your jobs and we are going to do ours." Brown's allegations follow news earlier this month that police in Edmonton may have been aware of a serial killer stalking aboriginal women.

Earlier this year, NWAC started an important campaign to recognize the approximately 500 missing or murdered Aboriginal women in Canada. The Sisters in Spirit Campaign was launched on March 22, 2004 with events throughout the country. NWAC is seeking $10 million in federal cash to research Canada's missing and murdered aboriginal women.

"The problem is when young aboriginal marginalized women go missing there's little attention paid to it by police," said Brown. Amnesty International says it will be issuing a report on missing aboriginal women in Canada sometime this fall. "We're aware of what we see as a pattern of vulnerability experienced by native women in Canada" said its spokesperson Cheryl Hotaiss. Racism and sexism "flavor" the police handling of missing or murdered aboriginal women cases, but no one seems to have a handle on how big the problem is, the head of Amnesty International Canada said recently. As researchers prepare to write their findings after six months touring the country talking to victims' families, police, and aboriginal leaders, Amnesty secretary general Alex Neve says they are dealing with a human rights issue that requires immediate attention from politicians, police and justice officials. "It has become very clear right across the country the degree to which sexism and racism . . . are very much what is putting aboriginal women at risk," Neve told a news conference. "It puts them at risk of being targeted for attack and violence in the first place and the racism and discrimination further kicks in a double hit because it very much flavors the degree to which the police and justice systems take the case seriously."

Beverly Jacobs, a Mohawk lawyer and lead researcher for the Amnesty report, said she has met with several victims' families. Many shared similar stories of feeling disappointed with or being shut out of the way their case was handled. "What they're wanting the most is answers," said Jacobs. "They're wanting at least some kind of recognition that something's being done."

The sad fact is that indigenous women from around the world go missing every day with only little notice and concern shown by the United Nations, governments and media. Indigenous women are often victims of violence because they are marginalized in every nation, said NWAC's Kukdookaa Brown. Brown and other women have been trying to pressure the UN into taking action.

The biggest obstacle to dealing with the issue of missing indigenous women in Asia is that governments do not want to recognize the violence, said Sumshot Khular, president of India-based Community Action and Research for Development. "The government doesn't want to highlight the issue", she said, "and the police don't help to find the women". Building awareness about the abuse of indigenous women in Asia is difficult because the men who dominate the local media are not interested in the issue and because governments do not want to publish the issue for fear of creating a negative image of their country, says Khular.

In southern Sudan, indigenous girls as young as seven years of age are targeted for rape, said Susan Oduho, an activist from the African nation. Although the international community is now focused on human rights and humanitarian issues in the country's western Darfur region, "southern Sudan should be more highlighted", Oduho added.

Brown says indigenous women are typically mistreated wherever they live, so the issue is not isolated to any one area or region. "Hate, crime and racial violence against (the women) affect all aspects of indigenous society", she laments. Sources: IPS, Calgary Sun, CNW, CNews, Canoe, First Perspective

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Juli 2004

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