Violence against women in Canada is an often overlooked, silent tragedy. For Indigenous women in Canada this tragedy is even more severe, as the reported rates of violence, including domestic and sexual assault, are 3.5 times higher than for non-Indigenous women. To add insult to injury, cases of murdered or missing Indigenous women often are not properly investigated and their killers are not brought to justice. After decades of outcry, a 2014 RCMP report concluded that there were 1,181 people-reported cases of homicides and long-term disappearances involving Indigenous women and girls between 1980 and 2012. However this does not include deaths deemed not suspicious or disappearances which were never reported. Estimates bring the true number of killings and disappearances closer to 4,000.
In Vancouver the lives of the murdered and missing women are remembered at the Downtown Eastside Annual Women's Memorial March. For 27 years every February 14th, Valentine's Day, this march pays respects to the mothers, daughters and sisters lost and demands that justice be served. The march calls attention not only to the fact that women are being murdered or going missing, but to the conditions that make them especially vulnerable. The government of Canada is failing women, particularly Indigenous women, when it does not deal with systematic racism, poverty, homelessness and addiction.
This year on Tuesday February 14th, families of the murdered and missing women started off the day with a gathering at the Carnegie Community Centre Theatre in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside (DTES), to share memories of their loved ones. At noon the intersection of Main and Hastings filled with hundreds of people including DTES and Indigenous community members, social justice activists and people who wanted to stand up against the ongoing violence against women. The memorial march made its way through the streets, led by the powerful drumming of Indigenous elders, and stopped at various points to commemorate where a women had been last seen or found. The march returned to Main and Hastings for speeches from community activists, before the crowd continued to nearby Oppenheimer Park for a healing circle. The day came to a close with a community feast at the Japanese Language Hall.
This annual march continues to draw attention to the crisis of violence and abuse that women, especially Indigenous women face. The government of Canada is spending half a billion dollars celebrating Canada's 150th birthday, a founding that marks the colonial theft of Indigenous lands and the genocide of Indigenous nations. One must ask, how can such extravagance be spent when women's centers and addiction and rehabilitation centers are grossly underfunded and homelessness is on the rise? It is up to justice-loving people to take on the struggle to end violence against women each day, and to demand action from the government of Canada to end poverty, homelessness and violence against women.
Follow Janine Solanki on Twitter: @janinesolanki
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