On March 9, UNBC hosted their annual Northern FIRE Symposium. This event looks at the importance of women’s health in a broad sense. It has been present at UNBC since it opened in 1994, and Dawn Hemingway has been heavily involved since the beginning. The main topic being addressed was Gendered Violence: Local and Northern Perspectives. The panel members that presented on this issue included Rayne Tarasiuk, Shayna Dolan, Viva Behn, Claire Johnson, Cindy West, Tracy Porteous, Sarah Yercich, and Jacqueline Holler.
This empowering, yet emotional, symposium not only highlighted issues that are seen around various communities across Canada, but it also brought to light those issues that are not known of or talked about. The main issues that arose revolved around Indigenous Peoples, the importance of feminism, and domestic violence in Canada. The researchers who spoke talked about both a one-on-one approach and a less direct approach. In this case, they asked participants to take an artistic approach when describing how their experience made them feel.
During the first keynote speech, the presenter looked at all-male gatherings and the challenges that they face, both as a group and individually. Some of these challenges include sexual abuse, addiction, and no accountability of abusers. Later in the presentation, Rayne Tarasiuk illustrated how we, as a culture, can help change this view of men’s groups. Tarasiuk recommends men’s groups in universities, intergenerational trauma workshops, and breaking the cultural silence that revolves around all male groups.
During the two panels, the presenters had a shared idea which looked at violence in relation to women. The two types of violence that were touched on, were emotional and physical violence. In “Women’s Perspectives of Gendered Violence in a Rural, Remote & Resource Dependent Community,” Shayna Dolan and Viva Behn look at Indigenous rights within Fort Nelson. According to the 37 women who were interviewed, these women care about their children and what happens to them should they grow up in a city that is constantly changing. In “Voices in Thread,” Claire Johnson looks at women’s experiences being in a relationship with an alleged or known sex offender.
Dr. Jacqueline Holler’s presentation on “Hitchhiking & Sexual Violence in Northern BC,” looks at both the emotional and physical violence that comes to women. Due to the constraints that Indigenous women face, in relation to mobility, these women are forced to hitchhike to get from point A to point B. With this lack of mobility, Indigenous women are at risk—especially in northern BC—for sexual violence while traveling. What makes this emotionally violent, is the way the women feel afterwards and the reactions they have when talking to the RCMP about their experience.
The two presentations that touched primarily on physical violence were those of Cindy West, Tracy Porteous, and Sarah Yercich. In “Understanding Women’s Lived Experiences of Violence Within Intimate Relationships & BC Criminal Justice System in Relation to Victimization,” Cindy West looks at physical violence within intimate relationships. According to the women interviewed, some of the issues these women had within their relationship included isolation, emotional abuse, and minimization. On the other hand, once they were out of the violent relationship, they also worried about their and their children’s safety. A flaw that Cindy West found, is that there is no law for hate crimes against women, and if women want a protection order they must wait a month and a half for this to happen. In “Canadian Domestic Homicide Prevention Initiative,” Tracy Porteous and Sarah Yercich look at domestic violence specifically. Domestic violence includes all forms of abuse and the lack of safety these women feel. Some of the challenges that the presenters brought up included substance abuse, lack of availability and accessibility of services, and reporting violence.
These are only some of the many points that were presented during this event. Even though the material during this event was heavy and emotional, the event itself was very educational. By having a symposium like this, it not only showcased research on women’s health, but it also allowed for future researchers to be introduced to a body of research that is ongoing within UNBC.