Human rights law fails Yukon women

More than half of the women recently surveyed by the Yukon Human Rights Commission say they have experienced discrimination of some kind.

More than half of the women recently surveyed by the Yukon Human Rights Commission say they have experienced discrimination of some kind.

Some were complaints of sexual harassment, but there were also issues around pay equity, age, ancestry and disability.

The numbers suggest the territory’s women haven’t achieved equality and continue to face challenges, said the commission’s  executive director Heather MacFadgen.

The commission held nine focus groups with women in Whitehorse, Watson Lake and Dawson, and several interviews and surveys were also conducted.

In total, 255 women and girls participated in the study.

Of the 64 female students surveyed, 39 per cent had experienced discrimination.

However only five per cent of these girls said they had used the commission.

“Very few young people use the commission,” said MacFadgen.

“A lot tell us they just ignore it.”

Over the past 20 years, the commission has received 221 complaints from women.

Aboriginal women made 16 per cent of these complaints, and two per cent of the complaints were of a racial nature.

More has to be done to educate women about their rights and the role that the commission plays.

“We’ve done some work in schools, but not as much as we’d like to,” said the commission’s public education specialist Lillian Nakamura Maguire.

“It needs to be built into the curriculum.”

While the majority of complaints are made in Whitehorse, Watson Lake and Dawson, complaints and inquiries are received from all communities.

The only community that has not been a source of complaints is Old Crow.

One of the problems identified in the report is concern about privacy and confidentiality in small communities.

That and a fear of retaliation may prevent many women from coming to the commission with human rights complaints.

Even with these obstacles, a Canada-wide comparative survey conducted in 2000 showed that the Yukon Human Rights Commission had the highest number of complaints and inquiries in the country.

That’s a good sign that more people are accessing the commission in the Yukon, said MacFadgen.

“It’s very highly used.”

However, the human rights act was written in 1987 and needs to be updated.

Some of these changes are as minor as clarifying definitions and correcting outdated language and concepts.

Some are larger, like making pay equity mandatory for all employers, not just those in the public sector.

The report is recommending that gender-based violence be included as prohibited grounds for discrimination.

“Some women get beaten up and when they ask for time off to heal they get fired,” said Nakamura Maguire.

One of the major problems highlighted in the report was the six-month time limit to file a complaint.

In the past three years, at least three women were unable to file a complaint because they were outside of the time limit.

The commission is recommending increasing this time limitation to two years.

The report has also found a need for further research into areas such as retaliation provisions.

The Yukon Human Rights Commission currently does not have the ability to investigate retaliation as thoroughly as many other jurisdictions.

The commission will also do further research and consultation with First Nation governments and aboriginal women’s organizations.

Most women who had used the commission’s services said it was very helpful, according to the survey.

“We’re not perfect by any means,” said MacFadgen.

“But satisfaction is good on the whole.”