(OTTAWA, October 28) — In recent years, over 100 First Nations, Inuit and Métis women across Canada have come forward to say they were forced or coerced to undergo a sterilization procedure. The Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) has developed the Knowing Your Rights educational toolkit to help protect Indigenous women and gender-diverse people and combat systemic racism in the healthcare system.

“Those who have come forward are the tip of the iceberg. Our consultations with Indigenous women suggest there may be hundreds more whose basic human rights were violated and they didn’t even realize it, because they were never properly informed of their rights. We’re going to change that,” says Lynne Groulx, NWAC CEO.

Forced or coerced sterilization is a violation of human rights, medical ethics, and reproductive rights, and it is considered by the United Nations to be a form of torture.

In early 2020, NWAC engaged Indigenous women in Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia in consultations around health care. Those sessions uncovered a major gap in  sexual health education; in women’s understanding of their options when it comes to sexual and reproductive health; and in their awareness and understanding of their rights when in the healthcare system. To address this, NWAC developed the Knowing Your Rights toolkit, containing informational materials including brochures and posters that provide invaluable guidance on subjects such as: informed consent, birth control options, patient rights and responsibilities, and how to take action when rights are violated.

The Knowing Your Rights toolkit can be downloaded from the NWAC web site—www.nwac.ca—and will be distributed through our provincial and territorial member organizations. NWAC encourages all organizations, hospitals and clinics, and individual healthcare professionals who serve Indigenous women to download the toolkit and make them visible and accessible to their clients. NWAC will provide hard copies to anyone individuals upon request. In addition to the toolkit, NWAC will also be running virtual “Know Your Rights Expressive Arts Workshops” between December and March.

“Educating women about their rights is important, but only the first step,” adds Groulx. “A hundred known cases of forced sterilization, on top of tragic stories like that of Joyce Echaquan, demonstrate that sweeping changes are needed to end systemic racism in Canadian healthcare.”

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For information or an interview contact Gloria Galloway at gloria@gloriagalloway.com or 613-447-6648