Canada May Change 141-Year-Old Law That Discriminates Against Indigenous Women
Indigenous women still face serious discrimination in Canada.
Around the world, discriminatory laws hold women back from benefiting from the same rights as men.
This is perhaps no truer than in the case of indigenous women in Canada. In Canada, a 141-year-old law has limited social welfare benefits — such as access to postsecondary education, property rights, and even dental coverage — for generations of indigenous people, by preventing Indian heritage from being passed down on the mother’s side.
But last week, the Senate passed legislation to remove this discriminatory policy from the law, the New York Times reports.
The government has estimated that the new bill would allow at least 1 million Indigenous people to regain their heritage and the associated rights, such as healthcare access, tax breaks, and property and voting rights within the indigenous community, according to the New York Times report.
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For indigenous women, who are already among Canada’s most vulnerable, the law took away an important support system in the indigenous community — thus exposing them to violence outside of it, activists say.
“Not having connections to your community, not having your status, is one of the root causes of our women being made vulnerable to violence,” Sen. Lillian Eva Dyck told CBC Radio.
The Senate passed the bill, called S-3, last Thursday with a majority, and the House of Commons is also expected to pass the bill, according to the New York Times. The bill was first brought to the Senate in the fall of 2016.
Some indigenous senators have spoken out against the bill, however, saying it doesn’t go far enough to restore rights to indigenous women — and worry that the bill may not be passed before 2019.
"Promises were made in 1985 and 2010 to eliminate all female sex discrimination in status. And those promises were not kept," Dyck told HuffPost Canada.
Sen. Serge Joyal told the Senate: “Unfortunately, with this bill, [discrimination] doesn't end. There is still darkness ahead of us.”
Joyal criticized the bill for not including a specific deadline for these rights to be implemented.
A change in the law is necessary for Canada to comply with its Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which bars gender discrimination.
In Canada, indigenous women face discrimination and violence at far higher rates than non-indigenous women. One study found that rates of violence against indigenous women are 3.5 times that of their non-indigenous counterparts.
Over the past three decades, 1,200 indigenous women and girls have either been killed or disappeared, according to the United Nations.
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