Believe it or not: there is a major Human Rights violation occurring in Canada right now. Since 1980, at least 1,182 Aboriginal women are missing or have been murdered.  The Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister, however, admits that, despite these statistics, this number is likely substantially higher. How does something like this happen?

Twelve hundred mothers, sisters, and daughters have disappeared or are dead.   Breaking down the issue, the statistics surrounding this are staggering. Aboriginal women report violence 3.5 times higher than other Canadian women, and are 5 times more likely to die of this violence. Furthermore, the level of violence reported by Canadian First Nations women is more severe than that reported of other Canadian women.  The province of Alberta has the lowest “clearance” rates in the country – which means that the majority of the cases are not resolved. Why is this happening?

An inquiry into the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women in Canada, (MMIWC) is taking place to investigate the underlying mechanisms that make Aboriginal women more susceptible to violence, and the corresponding response of government and other institutions. The inquiry is set to be completed in 2018 – after 2 years of data collected. However, the Native Women’s Association of Canada’s Report card on the inquiry so far has it falling short of some expectations.

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Why Should You Care?

  • This issue has lasting impact. The majority of the missing and murdered are mothers. In 2010, an estimated more than 440 children were impacted by the loss of their mother. What becomes of these children in this intergenerational issue?
  • While the violence inflicted on aboriginal women is often done by their partner, Aboriginal women are 3 times more likely to be victims of violence from a stranger. This means that the crime has a lot to do with the vulnerability of the victim – and is far from simply an inter-familial or inter-cultural issue. This means that there are perpetrators among us who are actively seeking the most vulnerable members of our population.
  • Although MMIWC are receiving attention lately, this has not always been the case. There is a societal bias that this human rights violation has much to do with the risky lifestyle “chosen” by the victim. Victim blaming has no place in our society – a crime committed is the fault of the criminal, not the victim. As human beings, we are much more than what field we choose to earn money in. We all have multiple roles – and these women are daughters, mothers, friends, and “stolen sisters”.
  • If your set of personal ethics doesn’t lead you to be concerned, the very fact that there is a large inquiry being undertaken into this matter, that MMIWC is a well-known acronym, and the fact that Amnesty International has found this to be a significant human rights violation should stir you into concern.

What Can I Do?

Educate Yourself:

  • Gain knowledge in Canada’s historical treatment of Indigenous peoples and how these historical events, in particular, the Residential Schools, are impacting Indigenous peoples today.
  • Take a look around at the women in your life. Try to imagine what it must be like to physically search for them, maybe never hearing from them again after they disappear one night, or finding their remains after weeks or months of searching. Thousands of families and communities are directly affected by missing or murdered women. Make it real to yourself. Meet people who are searching. Hear their stories and recognize their humanity as well. Then lend a hand.

Create Awareness:

  • Help out with The Red Dress Project, where red dresses are displayed annually to symbolize each of the 1, 182 missing or murdered.
  • Partake in the Annual Women’s Memorial March that occurs in and around February 14 in various cities.

Influence Change:

  • Do not allow racist dialogue of any kind to occur around you.
  • Spread the word: do not be afraid to tell people that this issue matters to you, in-person and on social media.
  • Expressions of Reconcilliation – become involved in the truth and reconciliation process with suggestions found here.
  • Support feminism – which seeks to find equality for both genders and all races.
  • Reach out to groups doing work around these stolen sisters and at-risk Indigenous women, and lend your time, money and support to keep them safe.

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Erin Newman, M.Ed. is a mental health therapist specializing in the treatment of youth in both private practice and in the public sector. She is also passionate about feminist issues, Indigenous rights, and advocacy for children and youth. Academically, Erin was the recipient of the Indspire Scholarship and the Metis Bursary Award for social services. She hopes to pursue further graduate studies exploring how movement, dance and therapy can assist in healing trauma. Erin uses gardening, nature, and animal therapy for her own personal growth, is a dancer with the integrated and political performing group, CRIPSIE, and spends the rest of her spare time chasing after a toddler.

In this episode, Emily addresses a prevalent problem in Morocco and around the world: street harassment. Emily unpacks and breaks down some of the common reasons given for street harassment, from orientalist misunderstandings of Arab men as over-sexualized to misguided associations of street harassment with Islam, from unemployment and boredom to the litany of victim-blaming reasons given by men for why they do it.  As usual, she cuts to the heart of the matter to understand rape culture and the power struggle at the heart of this epidemic problem and issues a revolutionary call for change that starts with YOU. #fierce #boyswillbeheldaccountable #womenwillbefierce #riseup #slay

For other episodes in this series, click here.

Letters to Our Brothers can be found here.

While anxiety around the impending Trump presidency and the people he is surrounding himself with remains (rightfully) high, it’s important not to get overwhelmed by pessimism and fear, or we may become paralyzed. As a defense against pessimism for the future, it helps to note victories and positive signs in the present. One positive sign that came out of the election but got somewhat lost under the numerous responses and stories around the presidential race, is that the next Congress will be the most diverse in US history.

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The most striking success is probably the three new senators who will be joining Mazie Hirono (D Hawaii) to make a total of four women of colour in the Senate. Hirono was already only the second woman of colour to be a Senator, so this is a substantial increase. Kamala Harris (Cal) is of Indian and Jamaican descent, making her the first Indian-American woman and second Black woman to serve on the Senate. Catherine Cortez Mastro (Nev) is the first Latina, and Tammy Duckworth is Thai-American. The total number of women in the Senate will be 21, which is a record, but there will be only 83 in the House, which is a decrease from the previous 84.

The 115th Congress will also have record numbers of Hispanic, Black, and Asian American members. 34 members of the House of Representatives will be Hispanic, 46 Black, and 12 Asian American. Four Senators will be Hispanic, three Black, and three Asian American. There will no comparable increases in LGBT representation in the Congress, with the number of openly LGBT members staying at seven. Jewish representation will increase by two, from 28 to 30. The number of Hindus will increase from one to four, and there will be three Buddhists, and two returning Muslims.

The numbers above are small in relation to the total number of members of Congress, which remains disproportionately dominated by straight, white, Christian men, so this is hardly an identity politics utopia of perfect representation. Many of the non-white, non-straight, non-male representatives are also Democrats and therefore members of the minority party, so their influence may be limited. (And it would be silly to suggest that just because an individual politician is a visible minority they will necessarily be a progressive force!)

The reason to take some heart in these numbers is not that a marginally more diverse Congress will single-handedly protect America from fascism and white supremacy – they can’t. Instead, we can take some reassurance in what this says about the American electorate, which is that they are not be so accurately represented by Trump and his most rabid followers. Not only will the 115th Congress be the most diverse yet, the 114th Congress, sworn in in January 2015, was itself also the most diverse yet at that time. While Donald Trump was winning nationally, women of colour, Black, Hispanic, and Asian candidates were also winning and continuing this pattern of progressive change on a smaller scale in local races. While remaining duly alarmed on a national scale, Americans should cultivate this smaller scale, local hope. And Canadians, of course, should remain vigilant at both a national and local level.


lizElisabeth came to Edmonton to do a Masters degree in History at the University of Alberta after completing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Art History at the University of Victoria. Her research interests include medieval and early modern social and cultural history, especially issues around medical history and persecution. In the first year of her Masters degree, Elisabeth received the Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship from the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada, followed by the Walter H. Johns Fellowship, Queen Elizabeth II Graduate Scholarship, and the Field Law Leilani Muir Graduate Research Scholarship.She  presented at the HCGSA Conference at University of Alberta in 2016 and will be writing the entry on Leprosy in World Christianity for the De Gruyter’s Encyclopedia of the Bible and its Reception (forthcoming). She has worked as a Research Assistant at the University of Alberta, and as a contract researcher and writer for the Government of Alberta’s Heritage division. In addition to her work as a writer and researcher, Elisabeth works with the Art Gallery of Alberta.

Anyone who calls themselves a feminist has their own reasons and path to claiming this label. I don’t intend this to be a confessional blog – there are enough over-educated, middle class, white millennial feminists talking about their lives on the internet and everywhere else, some with more wit, skill, and thoughtfulness than I could offer, and some with less…. But I thought it would be appropriate to begin this column with an introduction to who I am, why I’m here, and where I hope to go.

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Regrettably I did not discover feminism in high school. I am convinced that my adolescence would have been greatly improved if I had listened to Bikini Kill alongside the Clash, but that came later. I mostly discovered feminism through blogs towards the end of high school and the first year of university – the Bust blog and magazine, Feministing, and of course, Jezebel at its high point. Body image and body positivity seemed to be a hot topic at the time, and was an ideal entry point for me. Like many (most?) girls, coming of age meant a sudden, negative awareness of my own body’s existence, from which followed constant comparison with other girls. Negative body talk became a primary topic of conversation with friends.

By the end of high school, I’d largely decided that fat/ugly talk was boring and reconciled myself with preferring food and sitting around to being “hot”, but the newfound concept of body positivity and body image as a political and cultural issue put my thoughts and feelings about my body in a new light with far reaching implications. My new understanding of beauty standards and girls’ body image issues led to real and long lasting changes in my own body image on an emotional as well as intellectual level. It also empowered me to eat the amazing carrot cake at UVic library coffee shop twice a week for all of first year and gain a good fifteen pounds with no qualms… Let’s just say that it took a couple years for my approach to body positivity to evolve past the many negative attitudes and associations that the weight loss imperative attaches to healthy eating and exercise.

More importantly, body positivity also kicked off an interest in, and awareness of, feminism in general. Through articles and discussions that I read online, as well as an introductory women’s studies course and other university courses that dealt with critical perspectives, I was exposed to concepts like privilege that changed how I understood the world and my place in it. Having grown up white, middle class, straight, etc in a predominantly white, middle class, complacently left wing environment, I was certainly opposed to racism, homophobia, and other kinds of bigotry on principle, but I had little understanding of how those things really worked or manifested. Reading about feminism that pertained to my concerns, led me to reading about feminist issues less directly recognizable in my own life. Themes such as feminism and race, queer feminism, and issues faced by transwomen, sex workers, or poor women, for example.

I was exposed to a multitude of perspectives, ideas, and issues, because I was mostly reading about intersectional feminism. Intersectional feminism takes feminism (“women’s/gender issues”) as a starting point, but recognizes the other factors that impact individual women’s lives and the concerns of diverse groups of women. Intersectional feminism recognizes a plurality of feminisms and the diversity, even contradiction, among “women’s experiences” and gender issues. Intersectional feminism not only led me to a better, and empowering, understanding of myself and my own circumstances, but to greater social awareness and critical sensitivity to issues and perspectives outside my own direct experience.

In my last post, I discussed the urgent need to embrace intersectionality whole-heartedly and for white people in particular to throw their weight into anti-racism efforts in the coming years. (And into efforts against the misogyny, colonialism, homophobia, transphobia, Judeo- and Islamophobia that are enmeshed with white supremacy.) It would be disingenuous to say that intersectionality matters now, as if it did not matter so much before. In some ways, this election doesn’t signal a change in American culture and society, so much as it should serve as a wakeup call to those of us who perhaps did not realize the extent and severity of racism and fear and anger in America in the twenty-first century. It is a privileged position to be unaware of that reality and perhaps if the greater mass of liberals and progressives had been more conscious, had really felt on the behalf of their marginalized, vulnerable, and even angry friends and neighbours who were telling them about this reality, the new reality of a Trump presidency could have been defended against.

Although I do not live or vote in the United States, I admit to experiencing guilt in the wake of the election because I was as disbelieving of the result as anyone else who didn’t think such overt bigotry could be so widely socially acceptable. I am taking the American election as a wake-up call that intersectionality needs to be more than awareness, it has to be felt and acted upon – it has to be more than a politically correct intellectual performance. As I did in my last post, I urge Canadians to start doing this work now and to reject complacency.

As I mentioned at the top of this post, I mostly want to avoid confessional-style blogging, but I want to hold myself accountable by expressing these intentions. So I apologize if my first two posts seem to be speaking to an assumed-white audience, but I also hope I can help motivate others like myself to avoid sliding back into privileged complacency as we all adjust to a post-Trump world. The general intention of this column is to discuss a diversity of feminism-related topics while maintaining an intersectional perspective and mandate. I hope to strike a balance between serious topics and more upbeat, and between positive news and critical perspectives. I am obviously limited in my ability, or entitlement, to give personal insight into many intersectional topics, but I hope to at least facilitate introductions to a range of issues, ideas, and critical perspectives.


lizElisabeth came to Edmonton to do a Masters degree in History at the University of Alberta after completing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Art History at the University of Victoria. Her research interests include medieval and early modern social and cultural history, especially issues around medical history and persecution. In the first year of her Masters degree, Elisabeth received the Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship from the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada, followed by the Walter H. Johns Fellowship, Queen Elizabeth II Graduate Scholarship, and the Field Law Leilani Muir Graduate Research Scholarship.She  presented at the HCGSA Conference at University of Alberta in 2016 and will be writing the entry on Leprosy in World Christianity for the De Gruyter’s Encyclopedia of the Bible and its Reception (forthcoming). She has worked as a Research Assistant at the University of Alberta, and as a contract researcher and writer for the Government of Alberta’s Heritage division. In addition to her work as a writer and researcher, Elisabeth works with the Art Gallery of Alberta.

Host Emily Mattingsley unpacks some of the typical reactions she gets when she says she lives in Morocco and shows why they are problematic with reference to being a white woman. She shows how important it is to recognize privilege and how it constructs the types of choices we are able to make while balancing that with honouring the life someone is then able to build for themselves as something more than chance. She also takes a look at the bigger picture of what really constitutes “bravery” these days and asks you to ask some hard questions of what being a woman is like all over the world.

Mona Ismaeil is the think-tank behind a brand new podcast to hit the airwaves called The Modern Hijabi. Recently, she joined The Drawing Board’s owner and editor-in-chief, Nakita Valerio, to discuss this exciting new adventure and her plans for Muslimah activism and community-building in the future.

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Fast Facts:

Favourite Qur’anic Verse at the moment: A verse that governs my life and how I view life’s challenges and obstacles is: “Allah does not burden a soul beyond that it can bear” (Al Baqarah, 286). I’ve been through a number of obstacles from health related issues and doctors telling me I was infertile to having a spouse who’s work takes him away from our family for long periods of time.  I try to remind myself that this is all Allah’s plan for me and that I can handle it because he will never give me more than I can handle.

Woman from Islamic history you are “feeling” right now: I absolutely adore Khadija bint Khuwaylid (May Allah be pleased with her). She was the “Mother of the believers”. I admire that she was strong, confident, successful and devoted to her work, her community and most importantly her husband. She was the ideal Muslimah and an amazing example for all Muslimahs.

Women who professionally inspire you: I love to draw inspiration from my friends and sisters who I know very well. I feel that it is important to choose people to look up to and make our role models that are “real people”! I am not inspired by celebrities or generally high profile people because I feel that sometimes we end up chasing a dream or a life that is out of reach. When we look up to or draw inspiration from sisters around us we can help ourselves to have more realistic goals and judgments on our successes and accomplishments. So with that said, I have two friends and sisters in Islam whom inspire me professionally and they would be Nakita Valerio; Owner of The Drawing Board and Wedad Amiri; Owner of Afflatus Hijab.  They both are doing what they love, and not holding back. They are both taking their lives and careers by the horns and I respect that. Also, both sisters are taking what they love and finding a way to give back to the community and to be active in a humanitarian way. Furthermore, both sisters are striving to make the world better for women which excites me.  Each sister has her own direction, method and niche but in the end, the goal is the same.

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Can you tell us about yourself and your role with the podcast? What are you trying to accomplish by creating space for the modern hijabi’s voice?

I suppose it is important to tell you about Modern Hejab first as that is where The Modern Hijabi stemmed from. My husband and I opened Modern Hejab in 2010. My goal was not to sell millions of hijabs but it was more to make a connection with young Muslim girls. I just used Modern Hejab as a platform, a way in. I started to wear hijab at 23years old. I struggled with the decision for a long time and it really came from the fact that I could not find enough good role models to get me excited about wearing hijab.  The women I saw around me were too meek, reserved, frumpy, and just not who I wanted to be. At 23 I was somewhat vein and the idea of covering my big curly hair was just out of the question. And for what? Was it even worth it? I craved that connection with God and after some soul searching I realized, hijab would fill this hole in my spiritual heart. From the day I wore the hijab, I fell in love with it and everything about it. The way it looked and felt and everything, just made me sure I had made the right decision. I often wish I had worn it sooner but only Allah knows when the right time is.

From there I decided that I needed to help other young women struggling with that decision. I wanted to show to Muslims and Non- Muslims that hijab is beautiful and that there is a way to make if fun, fashionable and still true to the Deen.

Now, The Modern Hijabi. I am a teacher by profession and once a teacher, always a teacher. I wanted to use the Modern Hijabi to start conversations with Muslim sisters and even Non-Muslims about women and hijab. I wanted to use it as a platform for showing the beauty of Islam. I want to break down barriers and diminish stereotypes about Women and Islam. Even Muslim women have misconceptions about Islam believe it or not!  I want to create a space where sisters can come to learn about Hijab, Islam, Tips and Tricks for being a hijabi and general girl talk.

What do you mean by “modern” and “Hijabi”?

Hijabi is a term used to describe a women who dons the hijab (Islamic head covering). Now the “Modern” aspect of it is about taking a traditional practice and bringing it into the modern world. This can be difficult sometimes but it is about balance. It’s about following the latest trends while still remaining modest. It’s about being outgoing and enjoying life while still remembering the values and guidelines that we live by.

What are some of the subjects covered in your podcast series thus far?

My first podcast was about the Burkini Ban. Although it had already been overturned, I wanted to share my thoughts on the idea as that whole issue just blew my mind.

Next, I started a series called the “Journey to Hijab”. This series will cover 8 steps to starting to wear hijab. I had little guidance when I started wearing hijab as I think many sisters go through the same thing. I mean what is there to guide? Just put it on, and presto an instant hijabi! No! There is a process as it is a life changing choice and if rushed into, can have negative consequences. I know I am making it seem like a big thing but really when you take that step on your “journey”, you are changing your life forever. Through this series I want to help make the journey more meaningful, seamless and more enjoyable.

Can you give us a sneak peek into some future topics you will be exploring?

I will be sharing all things hijab. For example, styling tips, storage tips, my story of when I started wearing hijab and so much more hijab related topics. Also, I want to extend my podcasts to speak about different issues with women in Islam. I want to address stereotypes and misconceptions. Finally, I am a mom and the world of mothers is never boring! I will also be talking about parenting Muslim children and teaching our children about different Islamic topics including how to be proud of who they are as Muslims.

What are some of the most rewarding aspects of podcasting?

Well, I am new to the podcasting world but so far it is being able to put out information to help others. I love that we can reach so many people so easily.

What are some of the most challenging aspects of podcasting?

Getting people to listen. I’m still learning how to convince people I have something important to say.

What led you to adopting this technological medium to get your voice out there?

As much as I love blogging, I felt that podcasting and speaking to people unedited felt more raw and authentic. I want to have a conversation. When I blog, I can edit and re-edit what I want to say, while with podcasting it is more natural. It’s like we’re sitting down to have a cup of coffee or for me a latte together.

How do you plan what you are going to do shows about?

I really look at what moves me and I try to go from there. Honestly, I do not plan that much. I think about the different points I wish to cover but I don’t write anything down. I don’t read from cue cards or notes. Like I said, I want it to be raw and authentic and natural.

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What do you like to do in your personal time?

As a stay-at-home mom, I spend the majority of my time with my two children; Manessa (3.5 years) and Malik (8 months). I love to take them out to parks, playgrounds, anywhere I can help them learn about the world. I also enjoy surrounding myself with strong and like-minded women who can fuel the different parts of my life. My husband and I love being fit and active so I go to the gym often and really work towards a healthy lifestyle. My family always has the travel bug and we’ve been blessed to see many places in the world. I love writing, blogging and speaking to people about Islam. I also love to learn about other cultures and religions. Finally I love spending time with my family and friends. They bring me so much joy and just make life worth living.

What is something not a lot of people know about you?

I trained as an amateur boxer for 5 years. I trained at Panther Gym (the greatest gym in Edmonton). I turned to boxing to help me through some tough times. The sport itself as well as the family I gained from being at Panther gym really made the obstacles I was facing much easier. Boxing gave me and outlet for my anger and frustration and the people there gave me so much love.  Although I no longer box, Panther Gym will always have a special place in my heart.

If your podcast had one take-home message for listeners, what would it be?

I think the specific messages will change with each segment depending on the topic but the general idea is that Women in Islam are more than what people think we are. We are more than we think we are. I want to show that Islam is a faith of love, respect, acceptance, peace and so much more.

To sign up for The Modern Hijabi, click here.