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AWAN's Mission Statement     ·    AWAN's Statement Opposing Legalized Prostitution



AWAN's Mission Statement

Aboriginal Women’s Action Network (AWAN)

Mission Statement (The River):

Our vision and beliefs stem from our collective experience.  Like the salmon swimming upstream, we, as Aboriginal women, recognize the strength of our determination.  The tenacity to challenge discrimination on the basis of race, gender, and economic status comes from enduring generations of cultural genocide.  Through institutionalized power, within social, legal, political and financial structures, we continue to experience the many faces of oppression.  The salmon Nation’s legacy of survival depends on an unwavering commitment to future generations.  This guides us in moving beyond survival through our political involvement to create social justice.

Goals and Objectives (The Journey):

Creating and maintaining a working group accountable to collective principles rather than hierarchical values and structures.
Redefining “feminism” to reclaim our matriarchal histories.
Breaking down the fear of what it means to be ‘political’ or have ‘political involvement’
Increasing Aboriginal women’s representation and voices by liaising and networking with other Aboriginal and women’s groups and individuals
Supporting self-determination and land claims and protecting Aboriginal women’s rights and interests within this process.
Challenging the inequity of resource distribution/allocation for urban Aboriginal women.
Lobbying governments to change regressive and oppressive practices and laws.
Education ourselves and other through workshops and focus groups.
Researching and gathering data for the purpose of policy changes.

Through our goals and objectives, we strive to respond to issues that impact Aboriginal women today.  Some of the issues are the following: poverty, housing, FAS, discrimination, homophobia, cuts to social programs, racism, criminal justice, employment practices, leadership, globalization, and the list continues to grow.

A Snapshot of Issues:

Violence Against Women

Over 80% of Aboriginal women surveyed has been victims of family violence and/or sexual assault.
The nature of violence against Aboriginal women is not limited to violence in relationships.
Violence also takes the form of victimization at the hands of police officers and the judicial system.
When a police officer attends to a domestic dispute, and the woman has been battered, it is mandatory for the police officer to lay charges against the offender.  Inconsistencies, lack of accountability, jurisdictional disputes and racism often prevent the implementation of this policy.
The rampant rates of violence, abuse and incarcerations are rooted in the multi-generational effects of the residential school experience.

Child Apprehension

Of all children in government care, over half are Aboriginal children.
Support services need to be increased for aboriginal women, especially because we are the highest group of single and teenage mothers. The federal government’s agenda for residential schools must be acknowledged as the contributing factor.
Mothers are continually at risk of losing their children if they disclose they are either battered or using drugs or alcohol; yet support services, facilities and treatment are inadequate.
There are increased pressures for social workers to apprehend particularly in light of the recent Gove inquiry and the formation of the new ministry for Children and Families.
The increased scrutiny leaves Aboriginal women particularly vulnerable to deeper stereotypes and are thereby more targeted for child apprehension.
Once a woman’s children are apprehended, the chances of getting them back are minimal because of the systemic abuse and demands and conditions made by the Ministry staff.
The Courts’ determination of the “best interests of the child” interferes with the cultural interests of the child.

History of AWAN (The Spawning Grounds):

AWAN began in November 1995 as a result of our concerns about the hierarchical and patriarchal power structures which can serve to silence us.  As a result of our individual experiences with leadership unaccountability, employee abuse, and/or frustration with conflict of interest within our communities, we realized the need for political involvement, education and action.  This ongoing process has led to the organization of our collective and the following actions:

The Women’s March against Poverty – AWAN played a key role in organizing and participating in the cross-Canadian month-long march that culminated on Parliament Hill.
The Pamela George Vigil – AWAN organized a vigil in solidarity with Pamela George’s family on the day of the sentencing of her murders in order to highlight the racism of the justice system.
Child Apprehension Rally – An Aboriginal woman had her child apprehended the day after she was born which brought us to action.
2nd International Women’s Conference Against APEC – We strive to increase our awareness and represent our voice pertaining to globalization.
Lobbying the Ministry of Women’s Equality – AWAN submitted a brief which resulted in a meeting with the Social Development Caucus of the NDP in Victoria.
Assembly of First Nations’ Leadership Election – We organized an Aboriginal Women’s Panel and distributed questions to the leadership candidates.
AWAN members are on various committees, boards and coalitions.

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AWAN's Statement Opposing Legalized Prostitution & Total Decriminalization of Prostitution

As Aboriginal women on occupied Coast Salish Territory, we, the Aboriginal Women's Action Network (AWAN) implore you to pay attention to the voices of Aboriginal women and women's groups who are speaking out in the interest of our sisters, our daughters, our friends and all women whose voices have not been heard in the recent media discussion on prostitution and legalized brothels for the 2010 Olympics.

We, the Aboriginal Women’s Action Network, speak especially in the interests of the most vulnerable women - street prostitutes, of which a significant number are young Aboriginal women and girls.  We have a long, multi-generational history of colonization, marginalization, and displacement from our Homelands, and rampant abuses that has forced many of our sisters into prostitution.  Aboriginal women are often either forced into prostitution, trafficked into prostitution or are facing that possibility. Given that the average age at which girls enter prostitution is fourteen, the majority with a history of unspeakable abuses, we are also speaking out for the Aboriginal children who are targeted by johns and pimps. Aboriginal girls are hunted down and prostituted, and the perpetrators go uncharged with child sexual assault and child rape. These predators, pervasive in our society, roam with impunity in our streets and take advantage of those Aboriginal children with the least protection.  While we are speaking out for the women in the downtown eastside of Vancouver, we include women from First Nations Reserves, and other Aboriginal communities, most of whom have few resources and limited choices.  We include them because AWAN members also originate from those communities, and AWAN members interact regularly with Native women from these communities.

The Aboriginal Women's Action Network opposes the legalization of prostitution, and any state regulation of prostitution that entrenches Aboriginal women and children in the so-called "sex trade." We hold that legalizing prostitution in Vancouver will not make it safer for those prostituted, but will merely increase their numbers. Contrary to current media coverage of the issue, the available evidence suggests that it would in fact be harmful, would expand prostitution and would promote trafficking, and would only serve to make prostitution safer and more profitable for the men who exploit and harm prostituted women and children. Although many well-meaning people think that decriminalization simply means protecting prostituted women from arrest, it also refers, dangerously, to the decriminalization of johns and pimps. In this way prostitution is normalized, johns multiply, and pimps and traffickers become legitimated entrepreneurs. Say "No" to this lack of concern for marginalized women and children, who in this industry are expected to serve simply as objects of consumption! The Aboriginal Women's Action Network opposes the legalization of brothels for the 2010 Olympics. We refuse to be commodities in the so-called "sex industry" or offer up our sisters and daughters to be used as disposable objects for sex tourists. 

A harm-reduction model that claims to help prostituted women by moving them indoors to legal brothels, not only would not reduce the harm to them, but would disguise the real issues. There is no evidence that indoor prostitution is safer for the women involved. Rather, it is just as violent and traumatic. Prostitution is inherently violent, merely an extension of the violence that most prostituted women experience as children. We should aim not merely to reduce this harm, as if it is a necessary evil and/or inescapable, but strive to eliminate it altogether. Those promoting prostitution rarely address class, race, or ethnicity as factors that make women even more vulnerable. A treatise can be written about Aboriginal women’s vulnerability based on race, socio-economic status and gender but suffice it to say that we are very over-represented in street-level prostitution. There may even be a class bias behind the belief that street prostitution is far worse than indoor forms. It is not the street per se or the laws for that matter, which are the source of the problem, but prostitution itself which depends on a sub-class of women or a degraded caste to be exploited. A major factor contributing to the absence of attention given to the women who have gone missing women in Vancouver is the lack of police response, and the insidious societal belief that these women were not worthy of protection, a message that is explicitly conveyed to the johns, giving them the go-ahead to act toward these women with impunity. If we want to protect the most vulnerable women, we could start by decriminalizing prostituted women, not the men who harm them. Although it is not mentioned in the local news, the Swedish model of dealing with prostitution provides an example we should seriously consider. It criminalizes only the buying of sex, not the selling, targeting the customer, pimp, procurer, and trafficker, rather than the prostituted woman, and provides an array of social services to aid women to leave prostitution. Given that the vast majority of prostituted women wish to leave prostitution, we should focus on finding ways to help them to do that rather than entrenching them further into prostitution by legalizing and institutionalizing it. Here in Vancouver, if we are to help those most in need, young Aboriginal women, it would help to think more long-term, to focus on healing and prevention. Let's not get tricked into a supposed fix which is not even a band-aid, but only deepens the wounds. 

AWAN demands that Aboriginal women have the opportunity to raise our families within our Traditional values of having a respected position for women and children in our societies. The single-most effective way of achieving that goal is empowering and resourcing Aboriginal women’s groups, such as AWAN, so that we can organize, engage with other sectors of society and speak with our own voices. We have a great deal of certainty that organized Aboriginal women’s voices would be calling for "Exiting" programs and services, support for Aboriginal women and children, and an end to forced prostitution. Let Vancouver enter into the 2010 Olympics without wearing the black-eye of decriminalized prostitution and legalized brothels that drive Aboriginal women further down the Human Rights ladder of Canadian and Vancouver society.

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© Aboriginal Women's Action Network 2009