On Feb. 24, outgoing Pauktuutit president Rebecca Kudloo’s term ended after eight years and vice-president Gerri Sharpe stepped into the role as interim president.

Sharpe spoke to Nunavut News ahead of International Women’s Day on advances Inuit women have made and the challenges they still face.

Nunavut News: What are some recent achievements or advances for Pauktuutit you have seen?

Gerri Sharpe: I have been on Pauktuutit’s Board of Directors for three years, going into my fourth year. A recent achievement that comes to mind is that Pauktuutit has secured $20 million in funding for a minimum of five shelters for Inuit women and children who are fleeing violence.

After 38 years of advocacy by the organization, this was a very important milestone. Funding under this initiative is for new construction or acquisition and conversion of existing property for the creation of new shelter spaces intended for Inuit women, children and gender-diverse people escaping family violence.

I also think of how much Pauktuutit has grown, even just in the time I have been involved. We have gone from 15 staff to almost 50! This is a testament to the work the organization does.

Nunavut News: One of Pauktuutit’s goals has been change aimed at reducing violence against Inuit women and children, ranging from advocating for more women’s shelters, getting the RCMP to commit to policy reform, more addictions and mental health resources. Have any of these matters seen any substantial change?

Gerri Sharpe: At our 2020 AGM, Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada called on the federal government to make a commitment to provide a minimum of $20 million towards the building of five new shelters in Inuit Nunangat, – one per region, and one in Ottawa for Inuit women and children fleeing violence.

One year later, this commitment was realized with the new funding announcement in the November 2020 Fall Economic Statement, which included Inuit-specific shelters to improve the safety and security of Inuit women.

Our Pinasuqatigiinniq Agreement with the RCMP is a step in the right direction and serves as a foundation to build a cooperative relationship with Inuit women and gender-diverse peoples. Our agreement will improve outcomes by changing how new and existing policing policies, programs and services are designed, delivered, and accessed. Together, we will continue to prioritize and take action on the 46 Inuit-specific Calls for Justice and begin implementing the 14 themes and actions identified by Inuit women, children, and gender-diverse peoples in the National Inuit Action Plan on MMIWG and 2SLGBTQQIA+ People. Recently, we have reviewed, and provided analysis on, the Guides for Families of Missing Persons and Families of Homicide Victims as well as working together to ensure a GBA+ lens is applied to the development of the Body Worn Camera training.

Nunavut News: What are some challenges Inuit women continue to face here in Nunavut and other places?

Gerri Sharpe: Inuit women continue to face challenges while accessing health care within Inuit Nunangat. The lack of health infrastructure in Canada’s North, where most Inuit reside, creates a system that forces women to leave their home communities. Inuit women must travel long distances away from their family and supports, often to an unfamiliar place, to access the most basic of maternal and reproductive health care.

The revitalization of Inuit midwifery is one effective tool to confront anti-Indigenous racism in Canada’s health care system and to eliminate the existing gap in health outcomes for Inuit women, gender-diverse people, and our families. It allows for a system that is more inclusive of our distinct needs. This can help strengthen our communities as a whole.

Another significant challenge is the lack of Inuit women’s leadership. The past half century has seen major advancements in gender equality and diversity in Canada, yet Inuit women continue to be under-represented and unrecognized for their roles in leadership. While Inuit women’s organizations like Pauktuutit are now invited into decision-making rooms, most often Inuit women are still denied a seat – and a vote – at the tables.

This is true at the community, regional and national levels, where the capacity and talents of Inuit women and Inuit women’s leadership to address critical challenges are too often diminished or untapped. Pauktuutit’s Inuit-specific GBA+ Framework has already begun to address these critical challenges and create systemic change while building successful relationships across government and with key stakeholders.

Nunavut News: What would you like to say to Nunavut on International Women’s Day?

Gerri Sharpe: Inuit women are in the best position to ensure that opportunities reflect the distinct Inuit cultural values and practices.

When Inuit women participate fully in public life, we all benefit from the diversity of their knowledge and experiences.

It is important to ensure the inclusion of Inuit women’s equal participation across Canada, to create meaningful change, for all generations.

Nunavut News: Is there anything else you would like to say?

Gerri Sharpe: Remember to stand tall and be proud of who you are. We are Inuit, are all humans and we are alive. We are here and we’ve got this.

We can only move forward as a healthy community as a whole community. We need women and children to also thrive together. We cannot do this alone. We need all of our communities to support us. Together, we’re stronger than ever.

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