Monday, April 16, 2012

CSSW student goes to NYC to speak at United Nations commission

By Samantha Grey

This year marked the United Nations’ 56th Annual Commission on the Status of Women - and I was going to New York City to speak as a panellist during this momentous event.

Now, you may be asking yourself...

How might a second-year Community Social Service Work student get invited to such an event?

My name is Samantha Grey and I am from the Assiniboine Nation in Sintaluta, Saskatchewan. For the past two years, I have been a collective member of the Aboriginal Women’s Action Network.

AWAN was established in 1995 in response to a pressing need for an Aboriginal women’s group to provide a much needed voice for Aboriginal women’s concerns regarding governance, policy making, women’s rights, employment rights, violence against women, Indian Act membership and status, and many other issues affecting Aboriginal women in contemporary society. Recently, AWAN spoke out against the legalization of prostitution and has been advocating for the abolition of prostitution.

The Coalition against the Trafficking of Women invited AWAN to speak as part of a panel called “The Trafficking of Rural Women: From Poverty to Bondage to Empowerment.” The panel featured a number of prominent women from around the world including Christine Stark, an Aboriginal woman from Minnesota who recently published her first novel, Nickels.

The panel, which ran in conjunction with the commission, was meant to explore the poverty women in prostitution face, the ways in which they are bound to it and the ways in which empowerment can free women. For 15 minutes, I and another AWAN collective member spoke to individuals and organizations, including NGOs from all around world, about Aboriginal women and prostitution in Canada.

Here is an excerpt from my speech:

We [as Aboriginal women] want real choices, respect, dignity and safety for all women and children. We want access to services that adhere to our traditions and culture. We want access to long-term housing options, detox services, a guaranteed liveable income. Most importantly, we want Aboriginal women’s groups, like Native Women’s Association of Canada, to receive more funding. Our demands are simple, plausible and realistic. We simply ask that give us what we deserve.

I chose to be on the panel because I wanted to tell our stories as Aboriginal women: stories about sexual exploitation, colonization, poverty and empowerment. As a CSSW student, I have learned about the loss of culture and language Aboriginal communities experienced as a result of the residential school system and the Indian Act. I felt it was crucial for me to bring my knowledge as a CSSW student and my life experience as a young Aboriginal woman to the international level.

In fact, it is important for all students, regardless of their discipline, to speak wholeheartedly about the issues that affect their communities based on their personal experiences and education.