Absence, Not Abundance: Where to Begin with Gender Issues in Arctic Communities?

Written by Rachel Kohut & Tahnee Prior

We met at an enlightening conference at Queen’s University over one year ago, titled “Arctic/Northern Women: Law and Justice, Development and Equality.” Held by the Tromsø-Umea- Arkhangelsk-Queen’s (TUAQ) Network on Gender and Law in the Arctic Region at the Queen’s Feminist Legal Studies Department, it was a rare gathering of academics and professionals working on gender issues in Arctic communities.

We were both delighted to have not only presented, but also participated in the discussions at the conference. We both finally felt that we had found a network that best housed our interdisciplinary research. Yet, we had two concerns upon leaving the conference. First, these discussions simply do not happen enough in Canada; and second, we were struck not only by the sheer absence of research and literature on gender research in Arctic communities, but also by how little research there was in Canada compared to our Arctic counterparts.

Sweden has already prioritized research on human trafficking in Nordic countries. Norway has already highlighted their concerns of increased immigration of Russian brides for Norwegian men across the Norwegian-Russian border. The Finnish Academy is currently funding a project on Human Security in the Barents Region with a gender component. Yet, the Canadian Women’s Foundation is the only organization at the forefront of research on human trafficking in the Canadian context. Although we applaud their efforts, there remains very little information to date on how human trafficking could adversely affect Arctic communities.

As we both study gender issues in the Arctic — Tahnee from an environmental perspective and Rachel from a health perspective — we consistently feel overwhelmed by the lack of dialogue on the dimension of gender across the Arctic.

As two of the youngest presenters at this conference, we thought to ourselves: what does this lack of research say for the next generation of scholars, researchers and scientists about the future of research on gender issues in Arctic communities? What foundation are we laying?

And if we feel that we have such a quiet voice in these sectors, do women in the communities most affected by resource development feel they can speak up? This makes us both cautious as how to best proceed forward.

Some may argue that we should no longer be concerned with the impact of extractive industries in the Arctic with Canada’s oil and gas industry at the cusp of a downhill spiral. This is not a permanent reality: extractive industries are already present in Northern communities, with further development in the not-so-distant future as the global community continues to vie for this ‘undeveloped’ terrain. So, why are we not being proactive, raising the voices of women to ensure equal representation in business and policy negotiations relating to the Arctic?

With the recent release of the “Extracting Equality — A Guide” by UN Women and Publish What You Pay, we felt an even greater need to express our concerns from the perspective of women in the Arctic regions. The first report of its kind, this guide analyzes how best to approach gender issues in the extractive sector to ensure women are involved in natural resource governance models. However, there is no mention of human trafficking in the report. Even so, how is this the first report of its kind?

As women and researchers in Canada, we are especially concerned by a lack of available quantitative data on human trafficking in the Arctic. Reports with anecdotal evidence of sexual violence and the human trafficking of indigenous women in both the Canadian and Arctic context exist. However, little research focuses on the risks associated with a clear demographic shift as resource extraction in the North leads to an influx of individuals from outside the region.

A lack of knowledge, monitoring, and social services is leading us to a problematic scenario. Further, the exclusion of indigenous and non-indigenous northern women from roundtables and policy- making fora, located north and south of the Arctic Circle, strikes us as very unlikely to contribute to an inclusive solution. Although there is no mention of the impact of extractive industries on gender or human trafficking, the 2015 Arctic Human Development Report has flagged similar concerns, highlighting significant gaps in our knowledge of the gendered dimension of changes in the Arctic.

But the question then arises: where to begin with such little information, data, opportunities for participation, collaboration or support? We felt best to start writing our concerns down in hopes of gathering support from others who feel the same.

 

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