Short term vs. long term plans

18 07 2009

Short term: We need safety measures immediately.

  • Restore MAP van.
  • Provide cell phones for the women on the streets so they can call 911 if they are in trouble or see someone else in need of help.
  • Provide more funding so that shelters can be open longer and serve more individuals.

Long term: We need to remove stigma and the barriers to obtaining “legitimate” employment.

  • One of the barriers is not having a fixed address. Fix the current housing situation so that more people have access to adequate housing.
  • Remove stigma – we need a long-running campaign to persuade people to change their minds about the sex trade. These workers are not throwaways – they are someone’s daughter, mother, aunt, girlfriend, best friend, grandmother….
  • Increase communications initiatives between bands and First Nations women who have left their communities. Currently, women do not “call home” because there is stigma around leaving home and not returning as a “successful” individual.
  • Expand on projects such as the Aboriginal Mother Centre. This centre provides a safe place for women to gather with their children, an early education program for young children and a program is being developed for exit strategies to help sex trade workers get off the street. There are also 16 beds available as “transitional supportive housing“.
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  • Increase the education levels of Aboriginal students so that if they choose to leave their communities, they are well equipped for mainstream Canadian society.
  • Develop new strategies for “harm reduction”, “prevention”  and “treatment” from the Four Pillars Drug Strategy. Drug addiction and prostitution often go hand in hand.

With our limited time and resources, we have decided to concentrate on implementing short term strategies to help ensure the safety of women who are in street-level sex trade. The strategy we are planning to embark on is the idea of providing cell phones for the purpose of calling for help if it is needed.

As a society, we are responsible for the well-being of our most vulnerable citizens. If someone wants to leave “the life”, they should have the tools needed to do so. If they don’t, then their work environment should be as safe as that of any Canadian worker. This is a matter of human rights.

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Our First Nations Sisters

18 07 2009

I met with Mark Selman on Thursday and we had a great conversation about First Nations communities and why there were so many Aboriginal women in the Downtown Eastside. Mark is the program chair of the Learning Strategies Group and has a special interest in First Nations issues.

Often, Aboriginal women who are in troubled situations with their families or are pregnant feel compelled to leave their small communities on reserves. Once they have left, where do they go? As with most people leaving small communities, the push is to head towards the cities. In BC, the main “big city” is Vancouver.

Once in Vancouver, they are cut off from their support networks and there is an abundance of drugs and alcohol. For women escaping situations that have brought pain into their lives, these substances bring a certain relief. Their pain is especially poignant when one realizes that many of these women who were pregnant upon arriving in Vancouver have had their children seized by the ministry.

If you give birth in a BC hospital and you are unable to provide a fixed address or prove that you are able to care for the child, social services is contacted and the child is removed. While these actions may be well-intentioned, there is no denying that it leaves the mothers as worse off as they originally were with the ADDED BURDEN of the knowledge that their child was ripped from their arms moments after delivery.

Added to these issues is the fact that many of these women have insufficient levels of education and skills that are deemed unmarketable by society. Their teachers expected them to fail in school, and often, that was indeed the end result.

Eventually, these factors add to a desperate situation in which the women need to eat and they need to feed a newly developed addiction.  Obviously, when one has no other real choice, one does what one must. The reality is, if I was ever in this situation – sell sex or starve, I would make the same choice as many of these women.

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