An open letter to Amnesty International from an Indigenous woman

Image: Susanne Ure/Amnesty International
Image: Susanne Ure/Amnesty International

Dear Amnesty International,

As I read the words of your 2004 titled “Stolen Sisters: A Human Rights Response to Discrimination and Violence Against Indigenous women in Canada”, I cannot help but find myself in a contradiction. You see, I admire the commitment Amnesty International once had to fighting against oppression towards my Indigenous sisters. You fought hard for a national inquiry into the missing and murdered Aboriginal women of Canada. You brought this issue to the attention of people around the world. Though your efforts have been largely ignored by the Canadian federal government, they have not gone unnoticed by Indigenous women, such as myself, in Canada.

However, I am shocked at your recent decision to adopt a policy calling for the decriminalization of johns and pimps. I feel dismayed at your willingness to promote men’s right to buy, sell, and profit from women’s exploitation.

Prostitution in Canada largely affects Indigenous women — a reality you readily acknowledged in your report, Stolen Sisters. Poverty, addiction, homelessness, inter-generational violence, and mental illness leave women exceptionally vulnerable to pimps and johns but you knew this already, didn’t you?  Why, I ask, promote an industry that exists off the backs of the most impoverished women? Why choose to stand behind those who profit from the human rights violations that occur in prostitution?

In 2004, you acknowledged that Aboriginal women are exceedingly vulnerable to violence by men, regardless of race. In fact, you explained this violence was partially motivated by racism. It baffles me that you have failed to recognize the inherent racism present within prostitution. You know that it is our women who are over-represented in prostitution. You know it is our girls who are the most vulnerable to entering prostitution. Undoubtedly, this will continue to happen when men are permitted to purchase women with impunity.

In Stolen Sisters, you pointed out that previous physical or sexual trauma pushes young Indigenous people into prostitution. As a front-line anti-violence worker, I am well aware of the profound harm incest and childhood sexual abuse can have on women in prostitution. When the statistics tell us that 84 per cent of prostituted women in Canada have experienced incest or childhood sexual abuse, the connection between the two is crystal clear. Why are you so blind to this reality?

Prostitution is classist, racist, and sexist. You’re familiar with those concepts, right? When an institution such as prostitution disproportionately targets poor women of colour, the intersectionality between these oppressions is obvious. With your new policy, however, you’ve opted to side with the rich, mostly white, men of the world who buy and sell women.

Our missing and murdered women were once top priority for you, Amnesty. Yet it would seem that now your organization has fallen victim to the liberal masses who insist prostitution is a choice; that trafficking and prostitution are two separate forms of sex work; that pimps and johns ability to sell or purchase sexual services from women and girls is a HUMAN RIGHT.

I feel slightly foolish arguing with a organization that has spent years fighting against various human rights violations, but perhaps it is time for a little Human Rights 101:

Lesson #1: For Aboriginal women, it is our human right to live happy lives free from violence, exploitation, prostitution, and poverty.

Lesson #2: For Aboriginal women, it is our human right to live without fear that men will abuse us, rape us, steal us from our lands, and sell our bodies.

Lesson #3: For Aboriginal women, it is our human right to have unfettered access to our lands, cultures, languages, and traditions. Prostitution is not a tradition of our people.

Final Lesson: Native women deserve better than prostitution.

All my relations,

An indigenous woman

S.B is a young indigenous woman living in Vancouver. You can follow her on Tumblr.

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