Last week, we saw incredible mobilization worldwide for the #BringBackOurGirls movement. We had Michelle, Malala, and just about every other person on my Facebook feed sharing the information, demanding action, and questioning the lack of media coverage about this tragedy.
In the midst of this, the RCMP quietly released a second number about missing girls. But rather than the generally accepted 600 Aboriginal missing women, they casually mentioned Canada actually has closer to 1200 missing or murdered Aboriginal women. This is not to say at all that Aboriginal women are more important than Nigerian women, or that missing girls in any scenario is acceptable. It isn’t. It is never acceptable to have anyone hurt or missing, simply because of their gender. But Canadians were indignant, horrified, and saddened by the missing Nigerian girls—while our own First Nations, Métis, and Inuit women continue to suffer in silence and isolation.
There was an emergency debate in the House of Commons on Monday to discuss the Nigerian girls. We have yet to see an inquiry about our Stolen Sisters. Why aren’t Canadians demanding action on our own soil about our missing girls? They are being sold into sex slavery too, and the numbers are four times that of the missing Nigerian girls. Why don’t our Indigenous women have their own viral hashtag? Where is the outrage? Where are their memes?
I believe that we have stopped “seeing” our missing women because sexual violence is being used as a weapon of war against Indigenous women in Canada.
Perhaps we don’t have militiamen walking around with rifles, but when you look at the effects of war on a culture—colonization, racialization, oppression, and sexual violence—we cannot deny that this is happening in Canada.
Let’s examine the facts:
“Rape as a weapon is intended to humiliate, dehumanize and control and dominate women, their families and their communities.”
“The historical experience of Native people makes them reluctant to reveal sexual abuse problems to outsiders. Fear of bringing in alien, outside white others creates pressures to keep the family secret. The R.C.M.P., social workers, (who are seen as “baby stealers”), and the legal justice system can all be seen as oppressors rather than helpers.”
Thanks to the residential school system, and various other tactics of colonization, abuse and rape have become internalized in the Indigenous community, and there is therefore a great reluctance to talk about it, particularly to the people (government, police, religious leaders) who caused this in the first place. Non-Indigenous people continue to sexualize, fetishize, and dehumanize First Nations people, which, not surprisingly, leads to increased levels of violence against them. It is easier to murder and assault a “plaything” or “sex toy” than someone you see as a real person.
“Rape is used as a tool for ‘ethnic cleansing’ or genocide. Women and girls may be targets of sexual violence because they are members of a particular ethnic, national, or religious group.”
“Families of missing and murdered Aboriginal women have long argued that media pays less attention when missing and murdered women are Aboriginal than when they are White.”
When we look at the anonymity of the missing women, when we acknowledge the Robert Picktons and John Martin Crawfords of the world, how long they were able to hurt Aboriginal women because no one noticed, we cannot ignore the fact that because their victims were of a particular ethnic group, they were invisible.
“[Rape as a tool of war] tries to manipulate social control, destabilize communities, weaken ethnic groups and identities, and break up families.”
· 54% of Aboriginal women reported severe forms of family violence, such as being beaten, being choked, having had a gun or knife used against them, or being sexually assaulted, versus 37% of non-Aboriginal women
· 44% of Aboriginal women reported “fearing for their lives” when faced with severe forms of family violence, compared with 33% of non-Aboriginal women.
Aboriginal women experience rates of violence far higher than average Canadian woman. There are 1200 women (humans) who are either missing or dead, and we don’t even question it.
From the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC), “Current studies indicate that while one in ten Canadian women will be beaten or sexually assaulted in her lifetime, the statistics are much higher for Aboriginal women. It has been estimated that eight in ten Aboriginal women will be beaten or sexually assaulted in their lifetime. While fear of assault may be a real part of the lives of most Canadian women, being assaulted is too often just a daily reality for Aboriginal women.”
We have got to do better than this. Of course we should be outraged and demand action when we hear of girls worldwide being hurt or exploited. But we must also be outraged when it happens daily in our own country.
We must demand action from our government about human rights abuses happening in our own backyard. Our Canada. Our women.
I know that we, as a society, have the capacity to care. Clearly, when we come together, this current culture of social media and constant accountability measures, we can demand action. (Of course, as shown by Kony 2012, this also has the potential to go completely awry. We need to balance our armchair activism with responsibility for actual action from everyone.)
Why do we find it easier to make the Nigerian girls go viral? Is it because we don’t have to face our own failings as a Canadian society? We can blame “Africa” as a whole because it’s far away, and we see it as “tribal” or “uncivilized” (certainly not my thinking—blame Margaret Wente.) Perhaps this is why people are more ready to make an example of Nigerian girls.
Maybe we are ready to canonize the Nigerian girls because they were in school at the time of their attack, and we’ve idealized them and exoticized them. Nigerian girls, in our White Privilege collective consciousness at least, have not been marginalized and racialized so deeply from society that they have to cope with poverty, addictions, sex work or exploitation, as many of our missing Indigenous women have had to.
There is an “othering” which makes us comfortable—from our high North American horse, we can tsk-tsk and hit “share” or “retweet”. But if we look at our own country, 1200 girls, daughters, sisters, mothers, women are missing. There are thousands more who are terrorized simply for two reasons: they are Aboriginal, and they are women. No, it is not as acute as 300 girls missing in one day; instead, we have 400 women disappearing or dying every decade. We like to respond to the acute, because it feels like an easy fix. How do respond to the long-term epidemic? How do we respond as rape as a weapon of war, in our own peaceful country? How do we respond to these facts:
· 160 cases of missing aboriginal women in Canada; foul play is suspected in two-thirds of those cases
· 1,000 aboriginal women have been murdered in Canada over the past three decades
· Aboriginal women aged 25 to 44 are five times more likely to suffer a violent death than other women in Canada.
Let’s #BringBackOurCanadianGirls. We can do this.