On March 8, International Women’s Day, Meri Awaaz will be held at Simon Fraser Surrey. This important event seeks to address the epidemic of domestic violence through dialogue, discussion, and empowerment of women, and VIBC is honoured to be partnering with Meri Awaaz to invite you to attend. We are also pleased to post this powerful blog by Nilum Panesar, questioning our continuing silence in the face of devastating domestic violence experienced by women in our community every day. —VIBC
Why Are We Still Silent?
By Nilum Panesar
While revealing the Violence Free BC Strategy, Christy Clark powerfully acknowledged that “violence against women is not a women’s issue but an issue for all of [us] in British Columbia.”
This initiative and these words are significant for two reasons. First, domestic abuse warrants space in the political sphere and further suggests the immediate importance of addressing the issue. Second, by acknowledging the need to address domestic violence on a larger scale, we urgently need to ask ourselves how we can respond on an individual level as well.
What is our role as individuals in addressing domestic violence? I believe a large part of it involves changing our perspective on silence.
There appears to be an unspoken agreement on remaining silent where domestic violence is concerned. We speak in hushed voices of the poor woman who is abused by her husband, and the impact on her children, but never further our discussion outside our own houses.
The woman speaks to her friends in secret of her perilous situation at home, but ultimately that is as far as it goes—her tears and whispered words are left to die and she is drawn back to the cohesion of the nuclear family unit, no matter how broken it is.
A recent study found that only 22% of domestic abuse cases are reported in BC (Brennan, 2011). Among the most common reasons for not reporting include the assumption that it is simply a private family matter or too trivial to merit police involvement. However, over 45% of the cases resulted in physical injury. We continually perceive domestic abuse as “not important enough,” making it ok to us to tell ourselves it’s alright to remain silent.
Why are we still silent?
For many of the reasons I have touched upon above, domestic abuse victims may be paralyzed by their fear, causing them to think leaving will exacerbate instead of relieve the violence at home. There is also the presumed need for a child to have both parents with them, their family intact. Of course there is also love, which sadly does not always dissipate with patterns of abuse and makes it hard to leave.
A large factor is shame—shame of failure at creating a successful family, shame of what others might think, shame of the dreaded divorced or separated labels. Shame carries a cultural connotation as well; the collectivist South Asian culture fears shame not only for their immediate family, but for their larger community and culture.
Perhaps we even think silence equates non-existence. But just because we don’t talk about something, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
Silence does not solve any problems. Silence simply strains our relationships with our families, our friends, and within our community. The more we comply with the unspoken laws dictating our behaviour the more we allow domestic violence to continue. One of the simplest steps we can all take is to acknowledge that domestic violence exists, and that it is a problem.
I would like to raise a call to action for both men and women to break the silence. As individuals, I believe we can take an important revolutionary step by openly talking about domestic violence and admonishing acts of domestic violence. Only by shifting our perspective on silence from hushed consent to intense reproach can we collectively change our culture of domestic violence.
If we are to genuinely address male violence against women, we must come together as a community to demand action, we must challenge attitudes and institutions that normalize and justify violence, and we must work together to build a society that has zero tolerance for gender-based violence and inequality. It starts with you.
Join us for Meri Awaaz on March 8, 2015 at Simon Fraser University Surrey for an important dialogue on International Women's Day. The purpose of the event is to work collaboratively with local women’s groups and organizations to produce a public engagement workshop/symposium on International Women’s Day that aids in awareness, focused dialogue, and empowerment on the topic of abuse and South Asian women.
Meri Awaaz Mission
- To identify the ways in which culture shapes women’s responses to gender-based violence and their ability to find safety and security for themselves and their children;
- To examine how South Asian women negotiate rights for themselves and their children when seeking services and support related to gender-based violence;
- To work with community stakeholders to find collaborative solutions to help South Asian women.
Please note that partial proceeds from the event will go to the Surrey Women’s Centre: http://surreywomenscentre.ca/
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