First Nations women’s participation in politics much higher than norm for Canada

OTTAWA—They did it without quotas, action plans or affirmative action.

Half of the eight candidates in the recent election for national chief of the Assembly of First Nations were women — a novel event, not just for the native organization but for Canadian politics in general.

The secret to such high female participation is two-fold, says Michele Audette, president of the Quebec Native Women’s Association.

It lies in politics at the local level, where women on reserves have been taking the reins more and more often, she says.

And it lies in an inclusive approach to men, making them realize that their own health and welfare will improve along with the empowerment of women, Audette said in an interview as the AFN elections wrapped up.

“We do not push the men away,” she said.

Audette recalls that just 30 years ago, the women of her reserve had to peer through the windows of the band office to read the lips of the male counsellors in the room making decisions on their behalf. Women had been banned.

She grew up to be an ardent feminist, eventually becoming the deputy minister in the Status of Women Ministry in Quebec. She believed in quotas and rules and affirmative action. But she later returned to First Nations politics and found she had to change her approach.

The word “feminist” does not really exist in her native language, she said, but that’s not because women weren’t standing up for their rights. They just did it differently.

Read the full story in The Toronto Star.


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