OTTAWA—Monday was Dec. 6, when we remember the 14 women murdered at École Polytechnique 32 years ago. We are also well into the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, an international movement that started on Nov. 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. And I continue to mourn the death of my beloved cousin, who was also killed by her partner. And while we annually remember the 1989 massacre, we don’t recognize the countless number of poor women, BIPOC women, women with precarious immigration status, women with disabilities, or people in the LGBTQ2S+ communities who are victims of femicide. They don’t get a mourning period and the Tragically Hip doesn’t record a song for them. They are forgotten, they are invisible victims of systems and structures of patriarchy that don’t only rely on systems to ensure male supremacy over everyone else, but intertwine that supremacy with what Mona Eltahawy calls “patriarchy and its attendant oppressions.” This includes: racism (including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia), ableism, homophobia, classism, transphobia, and capitalism. Yes, for many capitalism is an oppression, so let’s dig into that.
Canada relies on resource-extractive industries for economic growth, which makes our claim to be somehow stewards of the environment a joke. It’s especially funny, given the repugnant way we treat the true stewards of the environment, Indigenous peoples. Extractive industries usually drill, mine, or frack near Indigenous communities, or on Indigenous land. For many of these communities, the introduction of man camps, or large encampments of men who work in these industries, has led to devastating consequences. Men who want to “blow off steam” from a physically challenging and isolating job go to the nearest community where they consume drugs, alcohol, and commit violent acts such as sexual assault and gang violence, all fuelled by a hyper-masculine (read: violently patriarchal) work culture and attitudes of white supremacy that renders Indigenous women less-than and expendable.
The Women’s Earth Alliance and Native Youth Sexual Health Network engaged in an initiative to document the impacts of extractive industries on Turtle Island’s Indigenous communities. In their report, they connect the intersection of the impacts of environmental violence, capitalism, and gender-based violence: “Many of these communities are sites of chemical manufacturing and waste dumping, while others have seen an introduction of large encampments of men (‘man camps’) to work for the gas and oil industry. The devastating impacts of the environmental violence this causes ranges from sexual and domestic violence, drugs and alcohol, murders and disappearances, reproductive illnesses and toxic exposure, threats to culture and Indigenous lifeways, crime, and other social stressors.” This is the intersection of oppressions faced by Indigenous women in these communities due to capitalism and its extractive nature. Add in colonialism, and you have a witch’s brew.
But we knew this. The final report on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls has a whole section on it, had anyone read past the word “genocide.” (I am cynical enough to believe that the white Canadian media industrial complex focused on bemoaning the word, “genocide” so they wouldn’t have to read and accept how much this country violently disposes of Indigenous women and girls and will continue to do so in perpetuity once the status quo is maintained.)
For Indigenous women, these camps are a threat to their safety. And there are no police to call for help (read the MMIWG report and you’ll know why). The Firelight Group, an Indigenous-owned consulting group that works with Indigenous and local communities to provide research and policy services, also studied the impact of resource-extractive man camps on nearby Indigenous communities. For women who work inside the camps, men use their patriarchal and economic power to elicit sexual favours: “There are many stories of men using their influence or position to leverage sexual favours from women, promising better shifts of avoidance of particular jobs.” Outside of the camps, in their own communities, Indigenous women and girls are being attacked, assaulted, and trafficked. It’s no coincidence that the Unist’ot’en camp is located on proposed route for the Coastal GasLink Pipeline. As The Narwhal reported, “the camp is located 66 kilometres from the infamous Highway of Tears, notorious for its connection to the disappearance and murder of Indigenous women in B.C.”
If you’ve watched the final season of Narcos: Mexico, the story of Amado Carrillo Fuentes is interspersed with the disappearances of Mexican women along the Juàrez-El Paso boarder (the crime drama series, The Bridge, captured this more fulsomely). The Council on Hemispheric Affairs notes the connection between globalization, patriarchy and its impending violence along the border: “Within the maquiladoras, globalization has caused the deregulation of different workplace dynamics; women are usually preferred as workers … In essence, women are filtered into the lesser skilled jobs at these factories and simultaneously are left vulnerable to sexual harassment and assault.”
Not all growth is progress. And economic growth doesn’t come without a cost, which is paid by society’s most vulnerable women.
Erica Ifill is a co-host of the Bad+Bitchy podcast.
The Hill Times