HTO needs more women directors, study says
Boards dominated by elderly men who don’t welcome women
Nunavut’s hunter and trapper organizations could be more efficient in coming to decisions and handling their money if they had more women on their boards of directors.
But that isn’t happening — not because women aren’t interested in becoming involved, but because these boards are dominated by elderly men who aren’t always happy with the idea of women joining their ranks.
These are the conclusions of a recent study, “Gender and decision making in Arctic fisheries and wildlife,” by Joanna Kafarowski, a researcher from the University of Northern British Columbia, for Pauktuutiit Inuit Women’s Association and the Arctic Council.
“There was an understanding that women had something different to say, something new to bring to the table,” Kafarowski said during a presentation in Iqaluit last Tuesday.
An earlier phase of the project, which began about five years ago, looked at how Inuit women were left out of decisions made for Nunavut’s fisheries.
Phase two of the project began this year, with research conducted over three months by women in Iqaluit, Pangnirtung, Cambridge Bay, Rankin Inlet, Whale Cove and Chesterfield Inlet.
They interviewed past and present secretary managers of HTOs, as well as board members, to try to identify why so few women are involved with HTOs.
Women are considered better at handling money, leading them to occupy many positions as secretary managers, Kafarowski said. And women are also considered better at bringing a divided group to agreement.
But often women interested in joining HTO boards are too busy working during the day, caring for children, and sitting on the boards of other organizations.
“These women often say there’s just no time to do that,” Kafarowski said.
And some men feel strongly that HTO boards are no place for women.
“We’ve had so many come out and say, ‘My husband thought it wasn’t appropriate.’ … Or, ‘My friends think that it’s a really odd thing to do,’” Kafarowski said.
This is despite the fact that women’s role in hunting — such as preparing food and clothing — are said to be valued equally with the roles of men, such as loading komatiks and handling ammunition.
Nute Arnauyumayuq, who sits on the Amarok HTO’s board in Iqaluit, blamed the erosion of traditional Inuit culture for the absence of women on their board.
He said he remembers life in Arctic Bay during the late 1960s, when women and men frequently hunted together. But he said that changed a decade later, and now men and women don’t work together as closely while hunting.
As for the boards of HTOs, he said that it’s common to see women outnumbering men at the annual general meetings of the organizations.
But when it comes to electing new board members, the nominees are almost entirely men.
“The opportunity is always there for the women,” he said.
Last year Amarok had one women on their board, but she quit before her term ended. A woman was also given a four-wheeler to hunt last year, he said.
“This is a problem here in Nunavut, where the women don’t want to be on the board. I don’t know why,” he said.
But it’s no mystery to Mary Akpalialuk. She said at the meeting she’s tried for the last three years to be elected to the Amarok HTO board, without success.
“I tried running for it. I didn’t get voted, because I’m a woman,” she said.
She described the prevalent attitude among board members as “male chauvinism.”
“I was surprised when a woman was elected last year, because it’s all the same,” she said.
Akpalialuk said one barrier to women being elected to Amarok’s board is the timing of elections, held each year during the HTO’s annual general meeting.
Elections are usually at the bottom of the meeting’s agenda. If an annual general meeting runs late, as Amorak’s did last year, that means the elections are held late at night or early in the morning.
“By then, most the women are out of the meeting,” she said. “They’re too tired and they’ve gone. They have little kids to take home.”
A general election, held over a longer period of time, should be held to encourage a bigger turn-out, suggested Mary Nashook, who works in Iqaluit as a translator.
Nashook also said she felt the atmosphere at HTO meetings were hostile to women. “When I came into the meeting, they were rude. I’ve never attended that kind of meeting again,” she said.
“This breaks the traditional Inuit way of living together.”
One suggestion that comes from Kafarowski’s study is to create a subcommittee for women at HTOs. “Many women felt they would not be welcomed immediately by the board,” Kafarowski said.
And more could be done to encourage women to tap into resources available to them to set up programs for activities such as preparing skins, fishing, and taking families out on the land.
Nunavut Tunngavik Inc.’s hunter support program provides funding for such projects. But currently, few people are aware they could tap into this money, Kafarowski said, so not many applications have been made.
The study also found HTO members want more young faces on the boards. The study suggests creating seats for youth representatives on HTO boards.