It’s been a long and "tumultuous" road for Vancouver activist Gladys Radek since she began raising awareness about missing and murdered women.
Radek has been co-organizing the Walk4Justice event for the last three years to draw attention to the issue of the 3,000 women her organization estimates have gone missing or been murdered across the country.
In 2008, she led a march from Vancouver to Parliament Hill to call for a public inquiry on the issue.
Part of the motivation of her campaign for justice is the disappearance of her own niece, Tamara Lynn Chipman, along Highway 16 near Prince Rupert in September 2005.
The incident is one of 18 missing or murdered women cases being investigated along what has been called the Highway of Tears, which stretches from Prince George to Prince Rupert.
As the national day of action on violence against women approaches on December 6, Radek is concerned about what she sees as a growing number of women that are going missing or being murdered. She said she’s receiving an e-mail almost every day letting her know about a disappearance or death somewhere in the country.
"It’s really been a tumultuous road because I know there’s so many families that are in a lot of pain," she told the Straight by phone today (December 3).
"Not only on these days but every day. Especially when every day we’re hearing about another woman that’s either gone missing or that has been killed."
The Native Women’s Association of Canada also researches the issue of violence against women. The organization has collected a database of nearly 600 aboriginal women and girls across the country who have gone missing or have been murdered.
The organization released a statement Friday indicating that aboriginal women are 3.5 times more likely to experience violence, and are eight times more likely to be victims of spousal homicide than non-aboriginal women.
Radek hopes to get more answers to the many unresolved cases. Like her niece’s case, many other families have few clues as to how their loved ones disappeared, and some have been waiting for decades.
"When I think about my niece and the Highway of Tears, I’ve been on the road talking about that since 2005 and there’s been no solving of any of the murders that the RCMP are talking about," she said.
"That begs the question why isn’t there at least one person that they can charge out of all of that, after all these years? I’ve walked with family members who have been waiting for 40 years for an answer."
Radek is also concerned about what she sees as a pattern of women being stereotyped under the category of "high risk behaviour". She said some of the women that went missing along the northern B.C. highway were simply on their way home for a visit.
"High-risk behaviour is a very large category- it could be anywhere from drug addiction to hitchhiking to prostitution to just being in the wrong place in the wrong time," she said.
"If you put down high-risk behaviour, everyone assumes they’re prostitutes – and that’s simply not true. Some of them were young people who were in school, some were in college, some were just going home to visit friends and family on their break."
"They were still human beings, and until we find out exactly what happened to them, we shouldn’t be putting them all in the same basket," she added.
Radek is also calling for acknowledgment of the issue from the federal government, assistance for families of victims and tougher sentences for perpetrators of violence against women.
"The government needs to start talking about it, and acknowledging, and they need to start stepping up to the plate and start worrying about these many issues surrounding why this is going on with the women, such as poverty, homelessness, addiction, prostitution, violence against women... and start charging these men that are perpetrating the women—start putting them in jail," she said.
"These are heinous crimes against our human race," she added. "Women are very vulnerable right across the nation—no matter what walk of life we are."
Radek will attend a forum on violence against women at the Aboriginal Friendship Centre in Vancouver on Sunday, December 4 hosted by MP Libby Davies, MLA Jenny Kwan and city councillor Ellen Woodsworth. The forum goes from 12:30 to 3 p.m. and will feature other community speakers.
You can follow Yolande Cole on Twitter at twitter.com/yolandecole.