Alberta Assembly of First Nations regional chief Marlene Poitras says that International Women’s Day isn’t just a celebration of gender equality — it’s a call to action.
That’s reflected in the 2021 IWD theme of “Choose to Challenge.”
“A challenged world is an alert world and from challenge comes change, so let’s all choose to challenge,” says Poitras. “Think about ways you can help forge a gender-equal world. Let’s start today by taking the time to celebrate women’s achievements, raise awareness against bias and take action towards equality.”
Poitras highlighted the key role women play in Indigenous cultures.
“Today, we have many First Nations women who are taking the lead in the social, cultural, economic and political arenas. We need to encourage them and promote them, as well as those young girls and women who aspire to be like them, and seek to challenge and change the world,” she said.
Poitras, who is the first female regional chief of Alberta, says empowering women has been one of her major goals.
“I hope that soon women chiefs and leaders will be the norm across Turtle Island and not the exception,” she said.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been especially hard on Indigenous women, Poitras added.
“Many of them work on the front line and have been directly exposed to the virus. They have had to take great risk to keep our communities and families safe,” she said. “To all of you, I lift you up and thank you for all that you do.
“As the Elders say, women are going to take the lead in healing our communities and then healing the rest of the world.”
Native Women’s Association of Canada president Lorraine Whitman says it’s necessary “to pause and consider the special circumstances of Indigenous women here and abroad as we assess whether there has been progress made on human rights, justice, economic stability, and basic security.”
Looking back at the past year under the shadow of COVID-19, I believe there have been few strides forward in any of these areas, for Indigenous and non-Indigenous women alike,” said Whitman.
“In fact, we know the pandemic made things worse for the First Nations, Métis and Inuit women of Canada.”
She says this occurred in two ways — women who are victims of abuse have been cut off from their supports and forced to stay with abusive relatives, and progress has stalled on the government’s action plan to implement the 231 calls to action in the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women report.
Whitman ended her statement with a call for international solidarity among Indigenous women.
“The problem of violence is, at last, well recognized in Canada thanks to the advocacy of NWAC and other Indigenous groups. Now our sisters abroad need us to stand up for them and to find ways to keep them safe, just as we are looking for ways to keep Indigenous women safe in Canada,” she said.
The first International Women's Day was held March 19, 1911 in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland. That day, more than one million women and men showed up to public events in support. Other countries followed after.
The United Nations recognized 1975 as International Women's Year and began celebrating IWD on March 8.
Jeremy Appel is an LJI reporter for Alberta Native News.
Jeremy Appel, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Alberta Native News