WINNIPEG - Manitoba's capital is the first Canadian city to join a United Nations campaign aimed at reducing violence against women and there's hope that the move will specifically address why a disproportionate number of Canada's aboriginal women are victims.
Winnipeg joins more than 15 other cities around the world, including New Delhi, Cairo and Kigali, Rwanda. The program has led to the inclusion of women's safety audits in urban planning in some of the cities and the banning of sexual harassment in public places in others.
In Winnipeg, police plan to team up with community groups to identify which parts of the city need immediate attention. Some aboriginal leaders are hoping the initiative will focus on sexual and racial violence facing native women, including the number of missing and murdered aboriginal women in Manitoba.
Leslie Spillett, executive director of the native organization Ka Ni Kanichihk, said the province has the third-highest number of such women in Canada.
"Currently, there are 79 documented cases of missing and murdered aboriginal women," she said Tuesday. "This initiative will help to shine the light on the underlying factors that replicate this alarming and increasing rate of violence but, more importantly, we hope that it will identify appropriate and long-term prevention strategies."
Spillett noted that most of the other cities identified to participate in the UN campaign are in the developing world.
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It's a recognition that there are two Canadas: one for aboriginal people and one for others, she said.
"We need to talk about that. Until we have those conversations, we're not going to get to those solutions."
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, United Nations under-secretary-general and executive director of UN Women, congratulated Winnipeg on becoming the latest city to join the initiative. In a videotaped statement, she said development, democracy and urbanization don't necessarily guarantee the safety of women and girls.
"They face risks from harassment and sexual violence," Mlambo-Ngcuka said. "This lack of safety limits their freedom to participate in education, work, recreation ... political and economic life, or to simply enjoy their neighbourhoods."
Joining the safe cities initiative is a commitment to make public spaces safer for women, she said.
Winnipeg police Supt. Danny Smyth, who has worked on cases of missing and murdered aboriginal women, said he had mixed feelings about being the first Canadian city to join the campaign.
"I'm really honoured to be part of this initiative and also a little bit alarmed," he said. "Certainly, in our part of the country, the incidents that have been reported are a little bit higher than some of the other areas. I think there is a lot of work that can be done as part of a collaboration."
Kerri Irvin-Ross, Manitoba's minister responsible for the status of women, said many victims don't report violence or harassment because they are afraid or feel helpless.
This initiative should change that, she said.
"That's a long, long-term plan," she said. "But I have confidence, when we work with community partners and different levels of government, that we will continue to build awareness and our ability to express that we will not tolerate violence against women."