By: Tazeen Inam in Toronto, ON
One woman is murdered in Canada every six days, according to the Canadian Women’s Foundation. This statistic belies what's been happening in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) since the beginning of 2018: there has been a dramatic increase in female homicides, with five women killed in a span of six days.
Three were from the Peel Region, one from Halton and another from the Hamilton Region; all at the hands of their male partners.
Sharon Floyd, Executive Director of Interim Place in Mississauga, calls it “horrific” and says that there is “no specific cookie cutter that can tell what abuse looks like.”
“Women are murdered because they are women, they are not valued in their families and their voices are not heard,” she added.
In the midst of volatile situations, many women often turn to the shelter system which provides a safe haven for thousands annually. And although it may seem like a viable option for many, a lack of resources can force many shelters to turn away prospective residents in need.
The thought can be alarming, considering that in Ontario, 65 per cent of female shelter residents were fleeing emotional abuse and 46 per cent were escaping physical abuse.
Immigrant women more vulnerable
For women who have immigrated from countries that do not share the same gender-neutral values, abuse can manifest itself at even more alarming rates. Studies show that "immigrant women may be more vulnerable to domestic violence due to economic dependence, language barriers, and a lack of knowledge about community resources."
Canada is fraught with examples of this exact scenario and Samira Farah (name changed to protect victim's identity), a Bengali immigrant, endured many forms of abuse before finally finding access to the resources needed to remove herself from a potentially dangerous situation. Following an arranged marriage in Bangladesh, Farah immediately migrated to the U. S. before settling in Canada with her husband. Throughout their 10-year marriage, she was bombarded with emotional, physical, sexual and financial abuse.
Her husband asked Farah to obtain money ($50,000) from her father to pay-off his own debt, but she refused. Instead, she resorted to jobs as a salon worker in a failed attempt to raise money.
Even through emotional abuse and intimidation by her in-laws, Farah gave birth to a baby boy in 2003. Despite the trauma she had experienced, which included multiple miscarriages, positive thinking allowed her to find solace in her newborn.
However, her husband did not share her joy. With an eye on Farah's inheritance, he tortured her with threats of murder in isolated barren areas. Going as far as physical abuse with a knife in the presence of their then three-year-old son, she knew she had to make a change.
Farah struggled in silence to improve her marriage by opting for marriage counselling. Her counsellor suggested she call the police and later referred her to a shelter home.
“I didn’t want my son to grow in this violent environment, I want to teach him respect for women and that’s when I decided for divorce,” Farah says bravely.
Every victim is different, however, their aspirations are revived when “they hear that they are not alone”, explains Floyd, who runs a crisis centre for women. “With some initial counselling they learn that it’s not their fault and women are not to blame; this is more of a societal issue.”
Farah initially started her mobile beauty spa to make ends meet. But in the process, she has met women from diverse cultures who have been through varied kinds of trauma inflicted by their intimate partners.
She believes that sharing stories with others has helped many alleviate the trauma they have endured.
“I am not the only person who has gone through this, [there are] worse stories out there, but that little bit [of] light of hope can change a lot of things,” Farah says.
Working in different sales and marketing departments, she has now been able to gradually regain her self-esteem. With the support of her co-workers, instructors and mentors she has even followed through on previous plans to further her studies by enrolling in a College program.
“Besides taking action on divorce and get[ting] out of that relationship, I am capable of doing anything that is possible in life,” she says with new confidence.
A woman's self-worth
Generally, it takes a woman 6-7 attempts before she actually pulls away from a relationship because they are not sure of the abuse.Especially when the perpetrator is controlling, it’s important to note that a woman’s security risk doubles when she decides to leave.
Nancy Gibbs, a professor of Community Social Work at triOS College, suggests that education, information and a safety plan must be readily available. Working with victims for over 25 years, she maintains that only through greater public awareness will there be more consistency on what actually constitutes abuse.
“Advertising, blasting social media with what is available to women and what abuse looks like,” she explains, are great ways to spread the word. “It’s important to educate [a] woman [on] her own personal value.”
What one person would call abuse, another may refer to as just normal behaviour. Gibbs concludes that creating consistency in what is considered acceptable behaviour, stands as one of the first steps to eliminating abuse and ensuring a safer Canada for all.
by Maria Assaf in Oxford, England
Imagine being a child bride in pre-revolutionary Iran – suffering abuse on a daily basis, being forced into a joyless marriage and having children at the age of 13. There is no law or organization that can protect you, as the entire affair is perfectly legal.
Now, imagine having a beautiful husband and children, a mother and father, and then losing them all in a genocide.
What hope could remain in a human heart after enduring such calamities?
Could an intense desire to right the wrongs or change the world bring back life to a suffering soul?
In Amity, author Nasreen Pejvack makes her reader wrestle with such questions, page after page, as she recounts both the painful and happy memories that form the lives of her two main characters: Ragusa, a survivor of the Yugoslav ethnic conflicts of the 1990s, who is on the verge of taking her own life, and her unknowing rescuer, Payvand, who is an Iranian activist with a tragic life story of her own.
Paradox of the West
Amity shows that there are moments in some peoples’ lives in which hope does not materialize from suffering. There are times when the soul has been so utterly shattered, that the mere suggestion of finding meaning within its pain is insulting.
Pejvack presents a panorama of a Western world – with its affluence and the seeming peace of its clean streets – which hides many truths and stories of refugees or others who have fled conflict and reached what seems like a safe haven.
As the stories in Amity show, the suffering of many of those individuals will not cease once they have a Canadian passport or British citizenship. The marks that their pasts have left on their souls will accompany them forever, like a shadow surrounding the most trivial moments of their lives.
Yes, many of them have been saved; the lucky few have even re-married in their new countries and found jobs and successful careers. But who can take away the pain of the memories, the tears, and the nightmares that keep survivors trapped in their minds as if in a prison of their pasts?
Pejvack’s book is heartfelt throughout. It is honest and direct and her phrases are simple, clear, and concise.
For those readers who are fortunate not to have suffered the misfortunes of war, oppression and tragedy, this book will provide insight into the lives of the millions of people worldwide who are experiencing similar fates as Ragusa and Payvand.
Understanding each other, and the world
Amity is a testament of sympathy with victims and the experience of sharing an understanding of tragedy and pain; of expressing empathy towards those who feel that no one could possibly understand the depths of their suffering.
This book grabs the audience’s attention rapidly, with its strong life stories and its vibrant political, economic and historical debates, made intentionally easy to read.
The writer’s political debates illustrate the evils that have plagued Iran and the nations that formed the former Yugoslavia, creating strong sentiments between two women who shared impassionate days and brought joy to each other in their pain.
The book succeeds at making the audience care about global politics and the way it creates wars that lead to the kinds of crises that have made these two protagonists suffer so much in their lives.
As Payvand tries to pull Ragusa back to life by telling her stories, this book also grabs the reader’s attention and curiosity from the beginning by making us want to learn more about the fascinating characters Pejvack describes in each chapter.
For those interested in the histories of the places where conflict has struck recently, this book embarks on detailed accounts of Iran’s recent past, explaining how the country came to be what it is now.
Pejvack’s explanations are nuanced and politically knowledgeable. Her book is incredibly timely and relevant in the context of the present turmoil in the Middle East.
Call to action
Each of Pejvack’s characters is an activist in her own right.
Ragusa, a Croat, married a Serb – something inconceivable during tense times in which Croatian and Serbian populations were at war.
Payvand, an Iranian revolutionary, had to see her comrades die and experience the disappointment of witnessing the onset of what she calls an ignorant revolution.
From the portrait of violence Pejvack presents comes a call for revolution. Formerly a writer and poet for an underground activist publication in Iran, Pejvack writes in a way that is every bit poetic as it is political and invites people to care, to take action, and to participate in her revolution.
The call for unity regardless of nationality and other differences is one of the most beautiful premises this book proposes. This work is a must-read for inspired young citizens of the world, as Pejvack appeals to those who are trying to make a difference and are in need of some accessible guidance on how to contribute positively to the world.
Maria Assaf is a Colombian-Canadian freelance reporter who writes for Latin American, Filipino and other immigrant publications in Canada, including New Canadian Media. She completed her bachelor's degree in journalism at Ryerson University and is currently pursuing a master's degree in development and emergency practice at Oxford Brookes University, where she is researching refugee freedom of expression.
This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org
by Beatrice Paez in Toronto
Asking seniors subtle questions about their daily routines opens up dialogue – and can point to signs of elder abuse, which rarely reveals itself in obvious ways.
Nirpal Bhangoo-Sekhon often asks seniors she meets about what they’ve been eating, who handles their finances and if their basic needs are being met. It is her job as case manager of the Punjabi Community Health Services (PCHS) to be curious.
“Unfortunately, if we don't ask those questions, we wouldn't know what's happening,” she says. “It gives you a better picture of what goes on at home.”
In a 2009 report, Statistics Canada found that two-thirds of seniors who experienced family violence – physical force or threats – didn't sustain injuries. Seniors most at risk, based on reports to the police, are between 65 and 74.
During her one-on-one meetings with seniors, Bhangoo-Sekhon will also illustrate scenarios to raise awareness of how common an issue elder abuse is. Holding such conversations regularly helps ease reservations about breaking their silence, which can take months, if not longer, she says.
Reluctance to speak up
While elder abuse cuts across different cultural groups, they may contend with different obstacles.
Language barriers and distrust in the police – mostly worries about being deported – aren't the only concerns stacked heavily against the decision to come forward, says Kripa Sekhar, the executive director of the South Asian Women's Centre (SAWC) in Toronto.
There's the perception that speaking out would fracture family ties and bring shame on the community.
“I don't think they want to be seen as a community that's going to expose their families or seen as betraying their families," says Sekhar. "They've almost accepted that ‘this is what's meant for me.’”
Burial customs can also play a role in the struggle to come forward for seniors of certain faiths.
With funeral rites traditionally being the responsibility of the son or a male family member, some express concern that their spiritual needs will not be looked after if they speak out, says Sekhar. “They're not worried about today. They're worried about the afterlife. It's hard to understand that – you're struggling in this life, but it's such a part of who they are.”
Abuse isn't limited to physical violence; it can extend to the withholding of financial resources, verbal threats and isolation from the household, she explains.
Statistical profiles on elder abuse as it relates to the South Asian community aren't traced by front-line agencies such as the police and social services. Statistics Canada instead analyzes the prevalence of family violence along gender lines, while acknowledging that cultural groups have different attitudes about what constitutes abuse.
Possibilities for intervention
The immediate response to cases of physical abuse might be to find alternative housing, but in other instances, intervention through education is crucial, says Bhangoo-Sekhon.
"If we can go in and educate the families – that, in the end, would be much more helpful and useful for the community than just pulling seniors out [of the home] and placing them in shelters," she says.
Finding subsidized housing or placing elders in shelters isn't always the most feasible solution in cases of neglect or isolation, particularly if they're not used to living independently and are in need of a personal support worker, she says.
PCHS has a caregiver support program, an extension of its efforts to address elder abuse, which is offered to those who are caring for family members. It is intended to relieve the strain of household demands. The program attempts to engender a culture of empathy, recognizing that the caregiver may be stressed, while getting him or her to understand the vulnerabilities that seniors face.
"We help them understand the aging process," says Bhangoo-Sekhon, adding that changes in a senior's behaviour may create friction within the family if it's not recognized as a health issue.
"[It's to help] them understand what's happening to their body, their brain, and that's out of their control."
Networks for seniors living alone
SAWC, through its community network, tries to locate housing for seniors so they can live independently, but finding affordable housing can take an average of seven years, according to the Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association. Thirty per cent of seniors make up the wait list, as cited by the Toronto Star from the organization's 2015 report.
Sekhar communicates regularly with seniors who live independently and tries to ensure that their landlords are responsive to building safety issues. "Many say they do that, but their concerns aren't always attended to," she says.
SAWC holds a seniors’ workshop every Thursday where they can gather to discuss health and safety issues, along with abuse. It's a support network for seniors who live on their own, where they feel comfortable conversing in their mother tongue, says Sekhar.
"Housing for seniors should be guaranteed," says Sekhar. "They need enough funding to live in dignity."
by Diba Hareer in Ottawa
Lack of language skills, community support and cultural constraints prevent many immigrant and ethnic women from fleeing abusive relationships and seeking help.
The most recent figures from Statistics Canada show that one quarter of all violent crimes are domestic in nature and in nearly seven out of 10 cases women and girls are the victims.
Although there are no specific numbers for the demographic, shelters in urban centres say they are seeing a growing number of immigrant/ethnic women using their services and fear many others aren’t seeking help because of cultural barriers.
Elmas, whose name has been changed to protect her identity, is an 18-year-old, born and raised in Canada by immigrant parents. She was abused by her parents who, she says, sought to control every aspect of her life, imposing what she calls the lifestyle of a ‘traditional Middle Eastern woman’ on her.
She currently lives in a women’s shelter and is concerned her parents might find her.
Elmas says that she fled her parents’ home after they tried to force her into an arranged marriage, which she refused.
Even though she was raised in a Middle Eastern culture at home, she valued her Canadian identity and wanted to be in charge of her own life. She says that’s what led to her parents abusing her.
“My parents act as [if] they’re dictators in the house, whatever they say must happen ... They have anger issues,” she explains.
Elmas says her parents worried they would become the “laughing stock” of their social circle and that they valued their image in the community above her welfare and happiness.
Although they did not like being married to each other, Elmas says they chose to continue the relationship because divorce was considered taboo. Elmas desired to choose her partner herself, rather than be pushed by a culture she could not understand.
Elmas explains her parents constantly yelled at her and subjected her to harsh criticism. They began controlling her contact with her friends and restricted her social get-togethers.
“It was getting to an extent where I wasn’t having a choice in anything.”
A common story
Elmas’ story is one that staff at women’s shelters often hear from immigrant and ethnic women.
Keri Lewis, the executive director of Nelson House in Ottawa, says more than half of the women staying at the shelter are immigrants and/or ethnic women. Lewis says the immigrant women specifically that she sees are often quite isolated due to language barriers.
The trend is similar in Toronto. About 55 per cent of the women staying at Sandgate Women’s Shelter in York region are immigrants and/or ethnic women, according to Jehan Chaudhry, Sandgate’s executive director. Of that number, 35 per cent are of Middle Eastern descent.
The types of cases both shelters handle are similar and include women fleeing physical and emotional abuse, forced or arranged marriages, and honour-based crimes.
According to Chaudhry, the women who most often don’t seek help are the ones who don’t speak English or French and aren’t aware of the services offered by shelters.
Another factor barring women from running to safety is their concern about the impact of being separated from their children. Sometimes a woman who tries to leave her husband gets pressured by her community to stay.
Economic dependency and fear of further victimization are other factors that force immigrant women to stay in abusive relationships.
Priya Kharat, a counsellor at the Students’ Union Wellness Centre at the University of Calgary, found in her research that new immigrant women compare Canadian law enforcement with law enforcement in their native countries, which are often corrupt and unfair, so they fear seeking help.
Difficult to leave
Elmas had many second thoughts about running away.
“I felt that it wasn’t right for me to leave if I didn’t give them a full chance,” she says. But her parents didn’t change their approach. They continued to emotionally and physically abuse her, and often would inflict the same pain on her younger siblings.
“It was against my religion,” says Elmas, who is Muslim. “What they were doing was wrong, no matter what they said, I knew it was wrong.”
The day she left is seared into her memory. She remembers feeling nervous and nauseous. “But I knew it was the direction that I had to go on,” she explains.
Elmas had a friend who helped her leave home and find a shelter and a lawyer – support many women do not have. According to Chaudhry, one of the main challenges abused immigrant women face is not knowing how to navigate the Canadian system.
Chaudhry says that’s why it’s important for shelter staff to provide facilities for women based on their specific cultural and language needs.
Sandgate has Arabic and Farsi interpreters, a room designated for prayers and halal food options, for example.
Now that she is at a shelter, Elmas says she feels safe. Her goal is to enrol in university once more and pursue her dream of becoming a nurse.
Her advice for women and girls going through a similar experience is not to run unless they are committed to following through.
“You’ll end up wanting to go back and if you go back, it’ll be even worse than before.”
Alleged abuse of eight temporary foreign workers THE human trafficking case involving Varinder Sidhu, 49, and Ravinder Sidhu, 46, of Red Deer, Alberta, was on Tuesday adjourned to June 30 as the defence counsel for the married couple asked Red Deer Provincial Court Judge James Glass for more time to review the lengthy […]
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The Philippine Reporter
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Asian Pacific Post
Prime Minister David Cameron has promised Britain's Tamil community he will push for an international probe into alleged war crimes and human rights abuses when he attends a Commonwealth summit in Sri Lanka.He also set out plans to visit the north of the island to meet those caught up in the bloody 2009 suppression of the Tamil Tigers' independence battle. International rights groups have said up to 40,000 civilians may have been killed in the final offensive against Tamil Tiger rebels, a charge denied by Colombo.
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