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Creating Opportunities for First Nations Girls and Women

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By Morgane Richer La Fleche, 2013 G(irls)20 Summit Delegate, Representing Canada

As the Canadian delegate to the G(irls)20 Summit, I was proud to represent a country that continues to make strides in narrowing the gender gap in both opportunities and achievements. In fact, a recent Group of 20 survey by TrustLaw found Canada the best place to be a woman among the G20 countries, thanks to policies that promote gender equality and protect women from violence.

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Yet a significant portion of girls and women in Canada still face systemic violence and a dearth of education and economic opportunities, and remain vulnerable to sexual trafficking -- issues that seem removed from the reality of most Canadians.

In Canada, First Nations women are at the highest risk of violence and are often unable to actively participate in formal education or work opportunities as a result. Low school-completion rates and lack of employment opportunity are obvious obstacles to the economic empowerment of First Nations girls and women, and they are underrepresented in all areas of the labour market. Furthermore, these difficulties are often compounded by discrimination and isolation from existing resources.

The most important contributing factor to the violence that disproportionately affects First Nations girls and women is poverty. Like all girls, those in First Nations communities must be given the tools to empower themselves and become leaders for their own communities, a task very much in line with the goals of the Girls20 Summit.

While the disheartening gap in the welfare of Canadian women should be an issue of national attention, we must also respect the importance of local solutions and make room for those closest to the problem to make their own voices heard. Initiatives like the Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre in Winnipeg, for example, stress a grassroots approach and privilege cultural identity in strengthening communities.

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The unequal situation of First Nations girls and women is a call to action, and an opportunity for change -- and, as we have seen again and again, improving the status of women is the surest way to end the cycle of poverty and violence throughout entire communities. Canada's standing as a leader -- in gender equality and human rights, but also in the economic prosperity of its people -- depends on our ability to generate opportunities for all Canadians, including First Nations.

To quote Rosemary Brown: "Until all of us have made it, none of us have made it."

Morgane Richer La Fleche, 2013 G(irls)20 Summit Delegate, represented Canada at the 2013 G(irls)20 Summit, June 15 - 19 in Moscow, Russia. Visit www.girls20summit.com to watch the G(irls)20 Summit.

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