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No More Stolen Sisters: The need for a comprehensive response to discrimination and violence against Indigenous women in Canada

Drum painted by artist Jay Bell Redbird. © Amnesty International
September 30, 2009

No More Stolen Sisters: The need for a comprehensive response to discrimination and violence against Indigenous women in Canada

‘Families like mine all over Canada are wondering how many more sisters and daughters we have to lose before real government action is taken.’ Darlene Osborne whose relatives, Felicia Solomon and Helen Betty Osborne, were murdered.

Indigenous women in Canada face much higher rates of violence than other women. In a 2004 Canadian government survey, Indigenous women reported rates of violence, including domestic violence and sexual assault, 3.5 times higher than non-Indigenous women. Studies suggest that assaults against Indigenous women are not only more frequent, they are also often particularly brutal. According to another government survey, young First Nations women are five times more likely than other women to die as a result of violence.

In October 2004, Amnesty International released  a report, Stolen Sisters: A Human Rights Response to Discrimination and Violence against Indigenous Women in Canada which documented some of the underlying causes of violence against Indigenous women carried out by both Indigenous and non-Indigenous men. As the report showed, widespread and entrenched racism, poverty and marginalization are critical factors exposing Indigenous women to a heightened risk of violence while denying them adequate protection by police and government services.

This update to the 2004 Stolen Sisters report highlights the continuing marginalization and inequality experienced by Indigenous women in five key areas:

1) the role of racism and misogyny in perpetuating violence against Indigenous women;

2) the sharp disparities in the fulfilment of Indigenous women’s economic, social, political and cultural rights;

3) the continued disruption of Indigenous societies caused by the historic and ongoing mass removal of children from Indigenous families and communities;

4) the disproportionately high number of Indigenous women in Canadian prisons, many of whom are themselves the victims of violence and abuse; and

5) inadequate police response to violence against Indigenous women as illustrated by the handling of missing persons cases.

The scale and severity of the human rights violations faced by Indigenous women require a co-ordinated and comprehensive national response that addresses the social and economic factors that place Indigenous women at heightened risk of violence. Such a response needs to address the police response to violence against Indigenous women; the dramatic gap in standard of living and quality of life which increases the risks to Indigenous women; the continued disruption of Indigenous societies by the high proportion of children put into state care; and the disproportionate rate of imprisonment of Indigenous women.

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