The Feminist Northern Network (FemNorthNet), a project of the Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women (CRIAW-ICREF), is celebrating six years of innovative and intersectional participatory action research. FemNorthNet's research highlighted the experiences of diverse women in the north to illustrate an intersectional analysis on economic development and resource extraction.
FemNorthNet brought together a diverse group of women from the north with diverse women in the south. Our community research and action centered on the experiences of women in 5 northern communities - Thompson and Norway House, Manitoba, Labrador West and Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Labrador. Community leaders from La Loche, SK participated initially but withdrew to give more attention to pressing needs at home.
Our Network has grown to include about 40 community leaders, researchers and activists, over 30 students and 20 academic researchers. We engaged hundreds of women as participants in our activities and reached thousands of people through the distribution of our materials and social media presence.
Northern women are strong and resourceful. Many are important leaders in their communities. And they face challenges of limited social and physical infrastructure, being relatively invisible in national dialogues and with their communities being seen as places to take resources from but not to seriously invest in.
Northern women taught us to pay attention to the health and wellbeing of communities and those who were being left out of the economic boom, to not just focus on the jobs expected from economic development in the north.
Our research found a shift away from setting up a community around resource extraction in favour of Fly in - Fly out operations where workers are flown between home and temporary housing at the job site. Governments continue to neglect the interests of northern communities by not requiring community impact assessments, not monitoring cumulative impacts on communities over time, and not requiring corporate contributions to local communities. Where there are agreements about impacts and benefits they are private and confidential, largely between corporations and Indigenous nations.
Many Network members wanted to influence local decision makers about economic development. We supported local women's capacity to engage in decision-making related to economic development and resource extraction in their northern community.
We learned that northern women who question economic development plans often feel isolated. The Network helped to provide support and to build links and understanding among northern women and between northern and southern women. It underlined the structural importance of women's centres and women's programs to continue to do so.
A key finding is how difficult it is and how long it takes to significantly influence economic development plans. Longstanding, interconnected systems of inequality like colonialism and capitalism in Canada are based on resource extraction in the north. Some benefit greatly from resource extraction and resist alternatives that favour long term sustainability over short term profits.
This highlights the need for structural mechanisms that enable local women to voice their concerns about economic development in northern communities.
Our research underscored the importance of having enforceable Environmental and Community Impact Assessments. The current system needs to be improved and expanded to include community assessments. A gender plus impacts analysis must be required. This means, corporations and governments need to identify and monitor the
- impacts on diverse women
- cumulative impacts on community well-being and change over time,
- impacts on social infrastructure and
- on community diversity.
And they need to ensure action to mitigate negative impacts.
Our intersectional approach stimulated a range of methods including art, posters, workshops, meeting, presentations, fact sheets, videos, webinars and publications. We reached a wide audience including marginalized women, local decision makers, policy makers, other researchers, students, national and community organizations.
We produced over 80 research documents from clear language, short fact sheets to scholarly articles. We released 40 videos and held over 40 workshops or public events, and over 20 webinars and film screenings. We were committed to making our findings accessible by formatting written materials so they could be read by screen readers, providing closed captioning of videos, providing some materials in Braille and translated into Indigenous languages.
FemNorthNet's research has shown the importance of making northern communities more sustainable. We disagree with former Prime Minister Jean Chretian's April 2016 comments that the solution for northern residents facing challenges is to move to a less isolated location. That approach only continues the colonial practice of displacing northern residents rather than using the benefits of resource extraction to invest in northern communities.