Kripa Sekhar, ED
Reena Tandon, Chair of Board
Marmitha Yogarajah, Project Coordinator
SAWC would like to sincerely thank the committee for giving us the opportunity to present our work in the area of violence and abuse against young women and girls. SAWC is a multi- service agency, and was founded in 1982 by a very committed group of volunteers who tried to support women from the community trapped in situations of violence. SAWC works from a feminist, anti- oppression and anti-racism framework, and a gender equality lens, and this is reflected in all our work whether it is service delivery or research and policy around this issue.
Like many other communities South Asian women, young women and girls in this target community also deal with violence and abuse, however the complexity of these issues makes it more difficult for women and girls to even speak about the abuse. Our experience informs us that the issue of violence against young South Asian women and girls is a continuum. It is connected to their mothers/grandmothers and previous generations of colonization, along with years of socialization and patriarchy. However these intricacies are not exclusionary of each other, but intersect in fully understanding the complex layers based on the years of violence. Immigrant and refugee young women and girls have difficulty in even talking about this issue. For example, many are married at a very early age, often through forced marriage that they themselves do not recognize.
Our longitudinal and on-going work in the area of Violence Against Women/Girls within the South Asian communities, and the collaborative work we do in the pan-Canadian and international context includes our work with SALCO, METRAC, Springtide Resources, St Michael’s Hospital, We Are Your Sisters, the Viveka Foundation all indicate to excellent work based on an anti-oppressive and intersectional analysis. We would like to emphatically state that if there is a commitment to end violence against women, we must ensure that this issue is framed from a true gender based equality lens and violence against young women and girls needs to viewed as situated in a continuum of macro and micro factors of racism, ageism, classism and sexism among other factors.
Young women are intrinsically part of a larger society whether embedded in family networks, peer-groups, educational institutions or other socio-cultural groups and workplaces, which are also locations and causal factors of systemic violence. In order to address the issue of violence against young women and girls, it is imperative to consider the role of significant others, like mothers, sisters, mothers-in-law, employers, teachers, friends – both male and female, through who violence is perpetrated and who are beholders, survivors and enablers of the values that present different contexts of violence.
We feel strongly that we need to understand the different forms of violence through the experiential lens of young women and girls. We can say with confidence that this is not an isolating issue based on our qualitative work / research/service delivery/case management and our on-going work with the community. We feel that isolating this issue only makes young women and girls more vulnerable and marginalized …any best practice guide would need to take in to consideration the important impact that mothers, and older women and men in particular have on the value-transfer and information within a large proportion of families.
While focusing on young women and girls is valuable, to understand certain specific forms of violence that may be unique to that age-group, we need to keep in mind the fact that young women (age-group 13-29 – or whatever the definition) live in very diverse contexts. Young south Asian women who immigrate here at an early age, or who come here as young brides experience violence in very different ways, often isolating them ever more because they have no immediate family, or the only one they know is the one they immigrated with. Then there are young women growing up here who become the little mothers of the family, because of systemic racism find their parents unable to work in the jobs they are trained for and end up working in multiple jobs to make ends meet. They do not have the same privileges as many of their peers.
SAWC has done some ground breaking projects to indicate that There is No Honour in Violence Against Women and Girls, Forced Marriage is a Form of Human Trafficking and now a project on sexual violence titled In My Mother’s House – A Story of Forced Marriage, Sexual Violence and Marital Rape. These projects have been powerful indicators of how much work still needs to be done to ensure that the most vulnerable women who may not be part of any educational system, need to feel supported and less isolated. This is also an indicator that the government has an opportunity to do more for the most isolated women that include racialized immigrant and newcomer women, and to ensure inclusion through a process of meaningful and true consultations at the ground level. In all our projects SAWC has brought men and young boys into the conversations.
Hello everyone, my name is Marmitha Yogarajah; I am the Project Coordinator for the project In My Mother’s House: A Story of Sexual Violence, Marital Rape and Forced Marriage funded by Status of Women Canada. We recently completed the research phase of the project, surveying, interviewing and conducting group sessions with over 150 girls, women and men of South Asian descent. Our findings revealed that young women and girls were greatly affected by the issue, which to me is not necessarily a startling revelation, being in the field for four years now – however what was shocked and surprised SAWC most during the research phase is that many women over the age of fourty-five were also greatly affected by the issue, still dealing with the trauma of their current and/or previous marriages. This particular population of women slips under the cracks, going unnoticed – their well being is assumed because of their preference to be silent on the issue – typically an attempt to maintain family status.
Many of the women SAWC spoke to revealed that they were in fact child brides, getting married at the age of eight to seventeen years of age to men ten, twenty or thirty years their senior, and had been abused their entire lives until their husband’s death or until a real fear for their own lives settled in, resulting in the cycle of abuse finally ending. Many of them immigrated to
Canada to live in joint families and depended on their husbands and in-laws for guidance. This heavy reliance on their in laws took away their autonomy resulting in little or no financial independence, no access to their legal documents and isolation from communities at large. This group had no understanding of consent, and felt they had to accept the marriage and continued to stay in the marriage because of family obligation and reputation. Others accepted that this was their fate, governed by patriarchal traditions, they adhered to principles of maintaining the status quo. This group also felt they should choose a partner for the children, with or without consent. Yes, it is important to recognize that many young women and girls experience violence and abuse everyday as a result of the entrenched patriarchal traditions that exist almost everywhere, however women in this age group continue to internalize their trauma without any support, truly believing that their old age means they have lived their lives and are unworthy of support, empowerment and love. Many young women come to SAWC to request help for their mothers who are afraid to come forward and ask for this support.
While at one level we stand together in solidarity regarding a certain universality of experience to strengthen the focus on young women/girls and issues of violence faced by them, we would like to emphasize that any policy or best practice recommendations would benefit from including the most vulnerable voices, and an acknowledgement of the diverse forms and expressions of violence faced by women.
- Recognition that true Gender Based Equality and Analysis must encompass the complexity of women’s lives who maybe outside of the academic and other realms.
- Recognize that there is much work to be done, and that resources must be allocated to ensure that this work is lasting and impactful to ensure that women’s and girls’ lives can be truly empowered. Restore ongoing core funding to ensure this.
- Consultation on these issues begins at the ground with the most vulnerable, and gatekeepers make inclusionary conversations impossible. This not only impacts women who need support, but also does not help governments make informed decisions on this important issue.
- Ensuring an intergenerational integration into all best practices
- Recognition that isolation is a result of inability to participate due to systemic barriers like racism, and government systems and processes that are exclusionary.
- Provide shelters with the ability for more long term support, but also provide better housing that is more permanent for women and their children.
- Create more inclusionary systems for example better access to childcare, legal support and financial assistance to women trapped in abusive situations.
- Training at all levels of government to ensure that immigrant and refugee women and girls might need special assistance if their documents are being held by their spouses or in-laws.
- Training in dealing with cases of forced marriage and human trafficking, so that women and girls trapped in these situations receive the right support, and are not victimized again.