Women have a critical role to play in development of Nunavut. From the territory’s official birth to now, the past 20 years have been chock full of notable women who broke the mould and overcame significant odds to reach a high level of achievement.
In an age when classic gender roles are becoming more and more obsolete, women are clearly stepping up as not only providers, but leaders in contemporary society. Recently released data on working statistics in the territory show that of all government-employed Inuit, 65 per cent of them are women.
Nunavummiut also chose Mumilaaq Qaqqaq, who very much represents the next generation of up and coming Inuit, as their member of Parliament. The vote of confidence suggests a willingness to rally behind fresh ideas that are not attached to gender-based ideology.
But this is certainly not the first time a woman has taken on leadership roles in Nunavut. The territory’s second premier, Eva Aariak, was only the fifth woman to be elected to the position of premier throughout the entire country. Today she works with the Qikiqtani Inuit Association as a negotiator at large.
The women of Nunavut have also earned themselves high positions in private industry in places like Baffinland Iron Mines with Udlu Hanson as vice president and Aluki Kotierk as president of Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated, to name a few.
Within recent years Canada’s first Inuk heart surgeon, Donna May Kimmaliardjuk, earned an Indspire Award for achieving a career very few Canadians have the energy and motivation to attain.
Beyond the career achievements, the women of Nunavut have also played an essential role in keeping the Inuit language and traditions alive.
Recently Kugluktuk lost one if its longest living elders, June Klengenberg, who is fondly remembered for her passion for tradition.
Monica Ittusardjuat has worked for more than 50 years to preserve Inuktitut through the territory, earning her a 2019 Nunavut Council of the Federation Literacy Award and acts as just one more example of the highly motivated culture-focused women of Nunavut.
Some of Nunavut’s most famous artists have been women, with Annie Pootoogook and Kenojuak Ashevak putting Inuit artists on the map with their printmaking and drawing work.
Despite the ever-mounting list of women achieving success and garnering respect in their lives, there are still very large obstacles in Nunavut that prevent women and girls from reaching their full potential, namely gender-based violence.
The most recent available statistics show that women make up 64 per cent of the victims in police-reported violent crime and 95 per cent of victims of police-reported sexual violence. The territory as a whole has a police-reported family violence rate of 2,180 per 100,000 people.
That last statistic puts Nunavut as over 12 times the national rate for this kind of crime. These numbers are untenable and attitudes and behaviours must change if Nunavut and Canada as a whole, wishes to progress as a society. This means structural changes to how this issue is dealt with and support for those affected.
Women Nunavummiut have shown the world what they are capable of but it’s up to everybody to foster respect for a more inclusive future.