Virginia Wabano reflects on International Women’s Day

Share Button

E. Virginia WabanoMarch 8 is the day the United Nations designated to celebrate women’s accomplishments; it is also an opportunity to highlight change needed to help women take another step forward on the long march to equality.

The UN theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is “Equality for women and progress for all.” To observe the event, the Nation spoke with Virginia Wabano, president of the Cree Women of Eeyou Istchee Association (CWEIA).

Wabano observed that while over 65% of women in Eeyou Istchee were well educated, Cree women still find face obstacles obtaining skilled employment on par with Cree men. Equality between men and women exists when both sexes are able to share equally in the distribution of power and influence, Wabano noted, a central goal of the CWEIA.

“A critical aspect of promoting gender equality is the empowerment of women, with a focus on identifying and readdressing power imbalances and giving women more autonomy to manage their own lives. Women’s empowerment is vital to sustainable development and the realization of human rights for all,” said Wabano.

To celebrate the influential positions women have held in Cree society and those who blazed the trail for women’s rights, the CWEIA will host a special event March 8 at the Forestel Hotel in Val d’Or under the theme “Inspiring Change.” Wabano said the theme represents today’s female leaders who continue to give voice to issues of inequality and who work to build a future free of discrimination, violence and poverty.

There is much work left to be done. Wabano said Aboriginal women are deeply affected by social policy decisions because they are doubly disadvantaged by gender and race.

“One of the biggest threats to Aboriginal women today is they are more vulnerable to domestic violence, and more likely to be caregivers for children and older people, the reduced commitment to social programs and services has significant immediate and long-term consequences. Most importantly, poverty and dependency, especially for the disproportionate numbers of single mothers must be addressed,” said Wabano.

CWEIA is working to help these women out of poverty by ensuring that the necessary employment opportunities are available. Aboriginal women also suffer physical abuse at higher rates and severity than their non-Native sisters. Wabano said CWEIA is organizing initiatives to facilitate the emergence of strong Aboriginal women who can change these odds.

Without proper support, First Nations women can fall prey to predators, as was pointed out so clearly in the Roos-Remillard study on the Inuit of Iqualuit being vulnerable to human trafficking. Wabano brought this issue up at a council board meeting in early February.

“This is a particular concern, as traffickers are keenly aware of how to hone in on an individual’s needs, wants and vulnerabilities, with the goal of sexual exploitation or luring youth into forced sex work. We hear of women being forced into situations of having unsafe living conditions in order to try to stay away from homelessness, a state in which they would be even less safe, and into dangerous life-threatening situations, and often the sex-trade industry,” said Wabano.

While CWEIA’s primary goal is to enhance, promote and foster the social, economic, cultural, and political well-being of Aboriginal women in Eeyou Istchee, they also work with provincial and national associations of Aboriginal and Inuit women.

Wabano said the CWEIA is now focused on its five-year plan and achieving the milestones it sets out. Right now they are trying to plan out the 2014 Healing Conference in conjunction with the Nishiiyuu Men.

“We would like to acknowledge the Nishiiyuu Men for their ongoing support in creating awareness to decrease violence against women in Eeyou Istchee. The primary objectives are to advocate on behalf of Aboriginal women, to promote awareness of issues affecting Aboriginal women through education and training, and to foster a sense of community among Aboriginal women through shared dialogue, meetings, workshops and conferences,” said Wabano.

The CWEIA will be hosting its Annual General Assembly in Whapmagoostui September 6-7, which is open to everyone.

“CWEIA encourages women to get involved with their local groups in order to address and collectively overcome the challenges in all spheres of life they face as mothers, daughters, sisters, aunties, grandmothers and most of all, as an Aboriginal women. You will bring attention to important issues affecting women today such as raising awareness about domestic violence, sexual assault/rape, equality and other serious problems that women face,” said Wabano.

Share Button

Comments are closed.