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For over 28 years, Esquao, the Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women, has been a beacon for Indigenous women, amplifying their voices and addressing the challenges they face.

“We are at the forefront of breaking down systemic barriers — as leaders and advocates, experienced in taking on larger issues, shaping policy, and collaborating with our partners,” says Josie Nepinak, President of Esquao.

Through continuous community engagement across Alberta, Esquao stays connected to grassroots issues. “Indigenous women face unique challenges and barriers in society, but they have demonstrated remarkable resilience, strength, and leadership in their communities,” Josie remarks.

Recent interactions and surveys have highlighted persistent struggles in areas like employment and poverty. Despite 54 percent of surveyed women holding full-time jobs, 61 percent earn less than $42,000 annually. The economic fallout from COVID-19, combined with rising living costs, exacerbates financial strain, particularly for Indigenous women and 2Spirit+ individuals.

Esquao’s initiatives aim to level the playing field for Indigenous women by providing skill enhancement, education, and access to certification, bursaries, and employment. Rachelle Venne, CEO of Esquao, underscores their commitment to inclusivity and community-driven endeavours. “Our programs and services are developed by and for Alberta’s Indigenous women and are open to all First Nations, Métis and Inuit women and gender diverse women, their families and their communities.”

Their employment program offers vital support for those looking to enter or re-enter the workforce. It tackles obstacles through personalized plans and direct assistance and helps prepare participants for employment. Collaboration with businesses across Alberta facilitates training and job opportunities. A recent job fair attended by 350 individuals and featuring 39 businesses showcased the tangible impact of these efforts.

“We continue to look for more ways to work with industry leaders so we can offer more training, mentorship, and employment opportunities,” comments Josie, “we need business to come along with us on our journey to provide mentorship, training, and employment opportunities for Indigenous women.”

By working together, we can foster greater understanding and support for Indigenous women, benefiting families and communities alike. When women can provide for their families and communities, we all benefit.

Scovan was proud to partner with Esquao in our 2024 International Women’s Day Forum event.

Originally published in IGNITE V8.