April 1, 2015
Honourable Committee members:
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to present on behalf of the South Asian Women’s Centre (SAWC), my name is Kripa Sekhar and I am the Executive Director of SAWC.
The issue of sexual violence and Harassment is a very complex one in the south Asian community, it is the story of newer immigrants in Canada, a story of two countries, the land of birth steeped in traditions and the land of settlement described as the land of freedom and opportunity. Within this complex framework are the struggles, challenges and survival of south Asian women.
So how does one define sexual violence and harassment in the community that we serve. Violence against women is a global issue, but manifests itself in different ways in different situations. The violence that south Asian women face is no different than what any other woman faces. The unfortunate situation in the case of immigrant women is exacerbated because they are newer immigrants, and fear of reprisal, loyalty to family, loss of income, loss of family and community support, isolation, language barriers dominates their willingness to talk about these issues, and she deals with this in silence. Many women have actually said that the abuse they face as a result of the system is shockingly alarming and scary.
A majority of South Asian women who face sexual abuse and harassment in the workplace will walk away rather than report it.
Last year almost 700 cases of abuse were reported at the south Asian womens, many cases are still open, because these cases take time to find resolution. Based on case work and client feed back SAWC has witnessed cases of marital rape as a result of forced marriage, incest and other forms of sexual violence .
What do we know based on the client profiles, there is a strong sense of family loyalty that dominates the unwillingness to out a family member because of the fear that the person will be punished or deported. This can cause tensions in the home country. Quite often mothers are also responsible for cautioning their daughters to put up with abusive spouses, or in the instance of sexual abuse by a relative to remain silent to avoid being shunned by the community and other family members. It is also seen as a barrier that prevent a woman from being marriageable. Rape is not a word that is used in the community, there is a code of silence around this word. Many women do not wish to report abuse and particularly sexual abuse because they are not even aware that this is not right, often they fail to understand that gestures, and emotional abuse are not characterized as abuse.
Another key factor in not wanting to report is the fear of being judged by a system that is new to them, as well as being shunned by family and community that feels stygmatised by media profiling, because these cases are represented through a community lens. In short if south Asian women are to feel supported there has to be a strong framework that is based on understanding and addressing the issues of race, class, gender, immigration status to name a few. Proactive measures rather than punitive ones are very important if there is a sincere desire to make the lives of immigrant women better.
Executive Director, South Asian Women’s Centre