We have a huge problem verging on genocide in Canada and the United States: violence against minority women. This is not a new issue, as you’ll read below, but it has reached crisis proportions in comparison to other progress made in modern-day civil rights.
Understanding violence against Black women, Indigenous women, and other minorities, including those who identify as female, is crucial if we are to move forward as a society that claims all people are created equal and should therefore be treated as such. When you truly comprehend how violence against minority women is permitted and perpetuated in Western culture, your cultural awareness, empathy, and ability to be supportive will vastly improve.
Shocking Statistics About Violence Against Black Women
Many people are not aware of how bad the violence problem for minority women is. This is partly because issues pertaining to Black men tend to eclipse those of women in the media, especially when it comes to police brutality. Let’s examine some facts about violence against Black women in the US as an example. It would probably shock you to learn the following:
Black women experience higher levels of law enforcement violence than other women.
Black women make up 13 percent of women in the US but account for 20 percent of women killed by law enforcement and 28 percent of unarmed shootings.
Excessive force is frequently used against young Black girls without cause, such as body slamming, being knocked unconscious, and violent arrest.
Police sexual assault and abuse of Black females is commonly dismissed or hidden from the public, often with the assumption that this demographic lacks the ability to fight back.
Black women are nearly twice as likely as their white counterparts to be incarcerated.
The message here? We not only live in a racist society; we live in a patriarchal one as well, giving Black women not one but two battles to fight.
Violence Against Indigenous Women: A Canadian National Crisis
While there are differences between racism in the US and in Canada, the latter is not without its share of violence against minority women. In particular, Indigenous women have been targeted for homicide and kidnapping, and this occurs in areas with a high concentration of Native Americans in the United States as well (see below).
To the north, it has become such an urgent problem that it has been labelled a Canadian genocide. Indigenous women and girls constitute only 4 percent of the population in Canada. And yet they make up 16 percent of total Canadian homicides between 1980 and 2012, a period studied as part of a national inquiry.
To put it in perspective, 1,000 Indigenous women were murdered during those three decades. From 2001 to 2015, Indigenous women were killed at a rate six times that of other Canadian women. In some provinces with larger percentages of Native American, Inuit, First Nation, and Métis women, the rates were even higher. And that is only addressing homicides. There are thousands of missing Indigenous women and girls who have never been located but may have been murdered as well, although some are suspected to have been sold into sex trafficking. They are often referred to by the abbreviation MMIW: Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.
In the US, Indigenous women have murder rates that are more than 10 times the national average. Among women and girls between the ages of 10 to 24 years old, homicide is the third highest cause of death. Extractive industries (fossil fuels, mining, and logging) are a large contributor to these statistics. Once again, we see multiple crises intersecting, where patriarchy and racism are ignited by careless environmental policies.
The Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Initiative
The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls was initiated in 2016, independent from the Canadian government, as it was felt that the government’s response had theretofore been completely inadequate. Activism is ongoing, with marches, calls for justice, and the start of an MMIW database from information collected by MMIW organizations.
This national inquiry is only the start of an investigation into the problem, and it’s only now beginning to touch on solutions. Myths, such as Indigenous men being responsible for the bulk of Indigenous female deaths, have been refuted. However, there is still no quantifiable data on how many Indigenous women have been affected by violence, kidnapped, or killed, although it’s certainly in the tens of thousands.
One section of the report generated by the initiative outlines what all Canadians can do to help support the MMIW cause:
Speak out against violence against Indigenous women, girls, and those who were born male but identify as female (two-spirit individuals).
Celebrate Indigenous history and culture with pride.
Understand the circumstances by which Canada’s land was taken.
Assist Indigenous girls and women to create self-determined answers.
Missing Indigenous women sadly isn’t a problem limited to Canada and the United States. Indigenous women and girls tend to be disproportionately targeted for murder and kidnapping in Latin America as well. While the response to the issue there has been slower, fortunately MMIW awareness is spreading, and the database is being expanded to include women and girls in Mexico, Guatemala, Central America, and South America.
Violence Against Minority Women Is as Old as the Colonization of the West
As we have mentioned, this violence against Black and Indigenous women is not new; it has existed since the first Western explorers and settlers began to conquer the Americas. Sexual assault and murder of both Indigenous and enslaved Black women was common centuries ago.
It wasn’t until the abolitionist movement gathered force that Black women’s rights and sexual justice entered the mainstream discourse. People like activist and advocate Maria W. Stewart insisted women needed to be both free of the bondage of slavery and entitled to the right to control their own bodies. Mary Prince wrote an autobiography in 1831 about being a West Indian slave, exposing the sexual subjugation of female slaves, in addition to the horrors of slavery.
Prince’s book was part of a trend of similar volumes that followed, and it soon became apparent that there were a set of stock excuses used to justify the violence against Black female slaves. Sadly, these rationales are still employed today in cases of police brutality, community violence, and domestic violence against Black women (where statistics echo or outstrip those of police brutality and MMIW):
Women’s rights are not considered equal to those of men.
The rights of Black women aren’t as important as the rights of white women.
Black women are considered “lascivious” (the “she wanted it” defence).
Black girls are mistakenly thought to be more mature and knowledgeable about sex.
Targets of violence are considered less reliable witnesses than men who perpetrate the violence.
Black women are more fearful of reporting violence due to repercussions that backfire on them.
Black women and girls are more afraid of fighting back against aggressors, knowing it’s more likely that self-defence will be turned into murder.
Minority women worry that reporting sexual assault and domestic violence will perpetuate stereotypes, so they put their rights as women behind the need to seek justice, especially if an aggressor is non-white.
Poverty, segregation, poor education, and reduced access to quality healthcare are factors intertwined with the above and can’t be separated from the issue of violence against minority women.
Who Is Affected by MMIW and Violence Against Minority Women?
Contrary to unfortunate popular belief, violence against minority women is not just a problem for them. It’s a problem for all of us. A thread that is woven among all the history and statistics discussed here is the dehumanization of the victims. In fact, the perpetrators of violence against these women didn’t even see them as victims but rather deserving of the harm they received.
History tells us dehumanizing of others is the gateway to further atrocities. We’ve seen this in the last century, with events like the rise of Nazi Germany, the Ukrainian Holodomor, apartheid South Africa, and lynching of Black citizens in the United States. Not only should violence against minority women trigger your empathy and outrage as a human, but it should also move you to do something.
If Black or Indigenous women are subhuman today, who will be considered so tomorrow? People of different religious beliefs or LGBTQ people? Artists? Dissidents? Members of the “wrong” political party? You’ve probably seen some of the seeds sown in that direction already. We must prevent going further down that road by standing up for people who are being dehumanized today, even if we ourselves feel safe from the violence or “it isn’t our problem.”
How do we do that? It starts with a dialogue, and these can be challenging conversations to initiate. That’s what Tough Convos is all about. We come to your company, nonprofit, or school to help facilitate these discussions to get the ball rolling. Tough Convos also assists with reassessing brand values and building a more diverse and inclusive culture.
To learn more or set up the first dialogue with your group, call Tough Convos at 858-876-8176, or reach out online to let us know what we can do.