12/18/2012 01:55 EST | Updated 02/17/2013 05:12 EST

Is Anyone Listening To The 'Forsaken,' Marginalized Women Of Vancouver?


Forsaken women. Nobodies. Abandoned women. Marginalized women. Drug sick women. Sex trade workers. Poor women. Aboriginal women. Missing and murdered women.

These words were repeated emphatically throughout Monday's statement by Commissioner Wally Oppal at the public release of the final report of the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry.

Oppal implored us to take heed of the horrific suffering of the Missing Women to honor their legacy but also so we might better understand his position that systemic bias is responsible for the failings of the Missing Women investigation. As Oppal proclaimed at the opening of his statement, we need to stop violence against women and we need protect the most vulnerable members of our society.

With words like these, however, it is too easy to be left with the impression that the Missing Women, and marginalized women in general, are simply victims within this story, "troubled" women in need of protection by others.

The truth of the matter is these marginalized women have been among the leaders in the battle for justice for the Missing Women. These "forsaken women," "nobodies," and "sex trade workers" have a long history of organizing politically and demanding that someone answer for the violence experienced not only by the Missing Women, but also generally by the marginalized women of the Downtown Eastside.

And during Oppal's statement, we all had an opportunity to see this first hand — two brave moments of marginalized women demanding to be heard.

The first came near the beginning of the statement. As Oppal began to speak about some particulars of his report, he was interrupted by drums and singing. This was the Women's Warrior Song, and as it has been explained to me, it was gifted to an aboriginal woman who asked for a song for the Missing Women during a ceremony.

Sung to the beat of a traditional aboriginal hand drum, the Women's Warrior Song has become an anthem of courage and strength for those demanding justice for the Missing Women. By disrupting the proceedings, then, these singers and drummers demanded space within this "official" event for the voices of marginalized women.

The second came towards the end. After Oppal stressed that the commission had given everyone an opportunity to be heard, an aboriginal woman stood and bravely challenged him. She described herself as one of Oppal's "forsaken women" — someone with experience on the Downtown Eastside who had significant contributions to make to the inquiry. Yet she, like so many of the women and groups from the Downtown Eastside, was never permitted to be part of the hearings.

"You needed to hear what I had say," she said. "I am asking you to be invited to your table".

Thus, as Oppal and the media tried to talk about the Missing Women, the forsaken women, the marginalized women, these women demanded space to talk for themselves. They demanded to be heard — just as the marginalized women in the Downtown Eastside have long done.

Yes, these women are marginalized; yes, they have been forsaken by society; and yes, they are missing and murdered. But it's equally important to know that these marginalized women are also warriors, fighting to have their voices heard by the "powers that be." Fighting for a better life for the forsaken, the marginalized, and the abandoned women of the Downtown Eastside.

It remains to be seen, however, if anyone is listening.

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