Today's National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence against Women and the 'days of action' following the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women are an opportunity for South Asians in Canada to reflect on violence against women. Over the years there have been several tragic cases of violence against women in the South Asian community that have been well documented by media. Responses within the community to these tragedies were swift.
Outrage and grief were manifest in prayers, radio call-in shows, public forums and strangers attending funerals. Some in the community felt that ethnicity and culture were being unfairly blamed when these crimes were reported in the media. Their defenses included: violence occurs against women in every community; these are the actions of a person not a community and others pointed how these acts were clearly condemned by the Sikh faith. The common thread in all these responses...we are appalled by these heinous acts and those who committed them.
Yet the questions remains: are there social practices or widely held beliefs within the community that potentially increase the vulnerability of women to becoming victims of violence?
This sort of reflection is more difficult as it requires an entire community to think and question rather than blame the individuals involved. It is essential that in the face of such horrific consequences every possible risk/contributing factor should be explored before it is ruled out.
What kind of messages are young girls and boys receiving about whether their safety in relationships is valued are by their families and communities? Do we emphasize to our children (boys and girls) that their safety (physical and emotional) is paramount to their families and that if they feel threatened, we want them to reach out and ask for support because we will stand by them regardless of what others say?
What kind of messages are young men and women receiving about navigating the complicated web of extended family and its expectations? Are they watching role models cope with relationship stressors with silence, substance use, verbal and/or physical violence?
How do we respond when a woman within our family becomes a victim of violence? Do we ever conveniently distance ourselves from her plight by rationalizing that she too, has not done enough to prevent further violence or protect herself. Is that easier than distancing ourselves from her perpetrators who may be family or friends?
The causes of violence are complex and multi-factorial. Public discourse that takes place after incidents of gender violence reflects how important this issue is to the community. The question that we must ask ourselves is, are we doing all that we can to put an end to gender based violence?