Small Communities

Making Women Safe in Their Communities

The terrible toll of violence against women continues to mount in the Northwest Territories. Eight women were murdered between 2011 and 2015, an unprecedented number. The women ranged in age from 33 to 63, and lived in five Northwest Territories communities.

With this toll in mind, it’s not surprising that violence against women in the NWT is nine times the national average, according to Statistics Canada. An innovative project by women’s organizations provides help for increasing women’s safety where they live. The idea for the project came from the death of Alice Black of Gameti in 2009. Alice was a 31 year old mother of seven who had endured years of vicious attacks by her partner before he killed her. Her death had a galvanizing effect. 

“After Alice’s death, I saw that there needed to be direct intervention at the community level. We wanted to work with women so they could help one another improve their safety,” says YWCA Yellowknife Executive Director Lyda Fuller.

YWCA Yellowknife and its partners in the Family Violence Coalition obtained project funding from federal and territorial government sources to take a fresh look at how to increase safety for women living in the small communities without resident police or safe houses. Together we created a three year pilot project that responded to women and their unique community dynamics.

The project team, one Dene and the other non-aboriginal with a long history in the north, traveled to nine of the small communities to meet with women and assess their situations. Lani Cooke and Suza’ Tsetso visited some communities more than half a dozen times. They quickly learned that most women remained silent about abuse and felt powerless to change their circumstances. Their response was to bring women together for activities they chose that helped them build confidence and relationships of trust with the team and each other.

Over 200 women participated in activities ranging from moose hide tanning to drumming to overnight camping, after building a foundation of collages about their hopes and dreams and determining what they wanted to do as a community of women.  

“At first, we were trying to understand what improving safety meant in each community. I wasn’t prepared for the size and strength of the barriers the women faced. The norms are strong and entrenched in the communities,” Fuller said.

“I think the project made a difference to all of us – the women in the communities, the leaders, the steering committee in Yellowknife. There was mutual learning. The project team worked hard to gain the trust of women in the communities they visited, and to build trust among them. I am dismayed that we haven’t been able to find funding to continue on with the project. Now it’s back to nothing again at a time when women’s safety is still a huge issue. I hope the project team has planted seeds that will continue to grow as it is so important for this work to continue,” she says.

See the whole report below.