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Facing family violence

Jessica Gray
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Nov 10/06) - Women in the North face challenges everyday, including family violence.

But the Government of the Northwest Territories (GNWT) and women's organizations, many of which are based in Yellowknife, are trying to change that.

NNSL Photo/graphic

Out of a total population 42,982 people in the NWT, 20,889 are women, according to the NWT Bureau of Statistics.

In Yellowknife, there are 19,429 people, with 9,636 of them women.

Groups in Yellowknife supporting women include the Native Women's Association of the NWT, the NWT Status of Women's Council, the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA), the Centre for Northern Families, and Victim's Services.

"The biggest concern is the rate of violence against women and children," said Charles Dent, minister responsible for the status of women in the territory.

"It's unacceptably high," he said.

According to a 2004 Statistics Canada report, 12 per cent of adults in Nunavut, the Yukon, the NWT have experienced spousal abuse in the past five years, many of them women. This is five per cent higher than what was found provincially.

The NWT Status of Women Council reported 274 cases of spousal assault in 2004 where women were the victim.

When it comes to women seeking shelters, the report shows in 2003-2004 at least 354 women and 368 children were admitted to shelters like Alison McAteer House, run by the Yellowknife YWCA. This is three times higher than numbers in the south.

To address the issue of violence against women, the GNWT has put together a report called the NWT Action Plan on Family Violence 2003-2008.

In it, the government lists several actions including legislation and policy review, creating an emergency phone line and what department is in charge of each action.

"It sets out what different government departments are doing to address this issue," said Dent.

The report is kept up-to-date and is found on the government website.

Dent said a second phase of this report is in the works.

Other issues facing women

Women have also approached Dent to discuss topics like few training and leadership programs, and issues surrounding daycare.

According to Shelagh Montgomery, one of the two women now sitting on Yellowknife's city council, daycare was on the minds of many constituents.

"It was one of the questions asked at a (candidates) forum," she said.

Montgomery said people asked if the city would create a daycare for its employees, an idea she would support discussing as a councillor.

In an Alternatives North report on daycare, 67 per cent of the facilities have a three to 100 child wait list with 74 per cent of the daycares reporting inadequate revenues for operation.

"I'm glad to be a woman... I look forward to my new role on council," said Montgomery.

RCMP Const. Roxanne Dreilich said many of the women she deals feel they don't have anyone they can turn to.

"For the most part, the women we encounter are in somewhat unfortunate positions," said Dreilich.

Often these women also don't want to talk to police, so the RCMP involve organizations like Victim Services to help the women open up about their problems with violence or substance abuse.

"We certainly use (these organizations) as much as we can," she said.

For Sandy Lee, Range Lake MLA, the social issues facing people in the North don't only involve one sex.

"NWT residents are most likely to be violated... by someone they know," said Lee, referring to a Statistics Canada report on crime.

Lee said many people in the North are still dealing with a troubled legacy of residential school horrors.

"We continue to suffer as people who have been abused and traumatized," she said.

As one of two female MLAs in the legislative assembly, Lee said she'd like to see more women get involved in politics, like in certain communities where women are mayors and chiefs.

"I see (women) as being strong," she said.