Honoring Northern women
Every woman makes a difference

by Marty Brown
Northern News Services

NNSL (Mar 05/97) - International Women's Day began as an event to draw attention to the appalling conditions in which women worked.

That was in 1911, a time of social turbulence and crisis. Women from 17 countries decided to set aside a day to commemorate women and their struggle.

Women from Manitoba began celebrating International Women's Day in 1922. Japanese women began the celebration in 1923 and Australians in 1948. But it wasn't until the late 1960's that it was celebrated across North America.

The United Nations formally declared March 8 as International Women's Day in 1977.

Today the event allows women and men all over the world the opportunity to reflect on women's progress, celebrate this effort and acknowledge the work that's yet to be done.

Women in Yellowknife began celebrating the day in the early '80s with workshops, concerts, speeches and of course food.

Customarily, Northerners are invited to the Great Hall in the legislative assembly Friday, March 7 at noon for lunch and the presentation of the Wise Women of the Year Awards.

Last year there were 28 entries from across the NWT. This year judges will choose from 42 women nominated by their peers to receive the Wise Women Awards for personal and community-minded achievements.

Women's Day concerts at the Northern Arts and Cultural Centre Friday and Saturday night will spotlight talented women. In the old days there was so much talent, the concert went on until midnight causing organizers to hold it over two nights.

So grab your aunt, your mom, your granny and your daughter and celebrate International Women's Day.

Fact file

When it comes to child rearing, Northern women are still masters of the household. However, when mothers go into the workplace, many find it difficult to find adequate care for their children.

Child Day Care

  • In 1994 and 1995 there were a total of 1,286 spaces available for children in licensed day care centres and day homes spread across 17 communities in the NWT.

  • In 1991 there were 3,330 NWT women participating in the labor force who had a least one child under the age of six and would need some form of day care.

  • 72 per cent of NWT communities (43 out of 60) have no licensed day care centre or day homes.

  • Average day care fee for one child is approximately $600 a month.


On the education front, women -- aboriginal women in particular -- are slowly gaining ground when it comes to receiving diplomas and degrees from secondary and post secondary institutions.

  • In 1994, 25 per cent of NWT women over 15 had less than a Grade 9 education and 44 per cent had no high school diploma.

  • Among aboriginal women, 42 per cent had less than Grade 9 and only 7.5 per cent had a high school diploma.

  • 21 per cent of aboriginal women had a certificate or diploma. That's up from 15 per cent in 1991.

  • 9 per cent of non-aboriginal women and one per cent of aboriginal women had a university degree.


In general, Northern women are more healthy than men with a life expectancy rate years longer than that of men.

  • Life expectancy (1992): Aboriginal male: 65.7; Aboriginal female 73.9; Non-aboriginal male: 74.2; Non-aboriginal female 81.2

  • Women in the NWT have a lung cancer rate four times higher than the rest of Canada.

  • The NWT is the only place in Canada where disabled women outnumber disabled men.

  • There have been 38 cases of lung cancer in women since 1992.

  • The breast cancer rate dropped from 8 in 1992 to 2 in 1996. There's been 16 cases in the past five years.

  • Bowel cancer has increased from 2 cases in 1992 to 4 in 1996. There's been 15 cases over the years.

  • Pancreatic cancer has increased in women in the past five years from two cases in 1992 to four in 1996 for a total of 11 cases.

The Workplace

Disparity in the workplace? You be the judge. Statistics show that while women are pulling their weight in the Northern workplace, their remuneration certainly isn't on par with that of men's. Here are the statistics:

  • In 1994, 46 per cent of all NWT workers were women.

  • 69 per cent of women over 15 were in the NWT labor force in 1994.

  • 86 per cent of all non-aboriginal women in the NWT were part of the labor force, versus 65 per cent of Metis women, 53 per cent of Dene women and 54 per cent of Inuit and Inuvialuit women in 1994.

  • In 1994 unemployment rates were 24 per cent for aboriginal women and 5 per cent of non-aboriginal women.

  • 64 per cent of NWT women with children under six years old were in the workforce (1991 census)

  • In 1992, 57 per cent of the GNWT bureaucracy were women but only 20 per cent were managers.

  • The average income of the NWT women in 1990 was $20,816 or 67 per cent of the average income of NWT men ($31,231).

  • In 1990, the average employment income for single parent families headed by women was $26,317, compared to $35,564 for male single parents and $60,998 for two-parent families.


Despite women making up about half the North's population, women lag behind men when it comes to heading up political organizations. Here's the story statistically.

In 1997:

  • Two out of 24 members of the legislative assembly are women (8.3 per cent) and one woman is in cabinet.

  • 37 out of 93 Metis local board members are women (40 per cent) and three of the 14 Metis local presidents are women (21 per cent).

  • One out of 30 band council chiefs are women.

  • Of the 422 hamlet or band councillors, 114 or 27 per cent are women. Four of the 57 mayors or chiefs (7 per cent) are women.