Charlotte Hrenchuk, a Whitehorse-based advocate for women, was named the recipient of a Governor General’a award on Oct. 18. (Submitted)

Whitehorse women’s advocate earns Governor General’s award

Charlotte Hrenchuk, of the Yukon Status of Women Council, was named one of the winners on Oct. 18

Charlotte Hrenchuk, a Whitehorse-based advocate for women, is a recipient of a Governor General’s award.

The accolade, formally titled the Governor General’s Awards in Commemoration of the Persons Case, was announced last week, on Oct. 18. It’s on this date, in 1929, that women were considered, under Canadian law, “persons.” The development was spearheaded by Emily Murphy, Henrietta Muir Edwards, Louise McKinney, Irene Parlby, and Nellie McClung.

As the coordinator at the Yukon Status of Women Council, where she’s been for 17 years, Hrenchuk has worked on issues that “affect the quality and equality of women’s lives,” she told the News.

“It’s pretty overwhelming, actually, and quite a surprise,” she said, referring to the award. “Quite an honour. I don’t expect to get that type of recognition for my work, I guess. It’s a very humbling kind of thing.”

Hrenchuk’s main focus during the last three years has been conducting qualitative research into both sex trafficking and the sex trade in the Yukon — studying the scope and determinants to “increase safety for all Yukon women and increase knowledge and decrease stigma.”

Hrenchuk’s work includes campaigning on behalf of some of the most marginalized women in the Yukon to raise awareness about mental health, reproductive health and wage parity. She also conducted the first and only study about homeless women in the Yukon, part of a pan-territorial research project.

Status of Women Minister Maryam Monsef, who did not respond to a request for comment, said, via a Government of Canada press release, that she is “honoured to share this year’s occasion with Governor General Julie Payette, and congratulate the six recipients for their incredible dedication, passion, and commitment to making their country and the world a better place. Their leadership and stories are reminders that together, we can make gender equality a reality.”

The other recipients are Rina Arseneault, Shirley Cuillierrier, Rina Fraticelli, Hélène Lee-Gosselin and Alana Robert.

It was during Hrenchuk’s work on the homelessness and mental health file that she began to hear whispers of the exploitation of women and girls in the territory.

“Nobody was talking about it. Service providers weren’t talking about it. Women weren’t talking about it. The general feeling in broader society seemed to be that it did not exist in the Yukon. I knew that wasn’t true,” Hrenchuk said.

“People think of other parts of the world being trafficked into Canada, but, in actual fact, the large majority of women who are trafficked in Canada are Canadian women and it may or may not involve moving.

The sex trade and sex trafficking are on a spectrum, Hrenchuk said – whereas the former involves consent, the latter does not and instead entails exploitation for someone else’s gain.

Once women leave the sex trade, it’s very difficult for them to transition into another line of work, because of stigma and reputation, she said.

“And the same with trafficked women.”

To mark positive change for those involved, she intends to raise awareness and speak with service providers, dialogues that have already begun, Hrenchuk said.

The Yukon, she said, is a microcosm of everywhere else.

“Everything that exists in other places exists here, just on a smaller scale,” Hrenchuk said.

“It has been an honour to use my privilege to lift up the voices of those without privilege. And the award, I think, belongs to all the women who have participated in my projects and research projects as much as it does to me.”

Contact Julien Gignac at julien.gignac@yukon-news.com

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