Immigrant women’s rights are compromised in Canada too

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Pradip Rodrigues

When Rahaf al-Qunun the 18-year-old Saudi teenage girl who fled her abusive family chose to seek refuge in Canada millions across the globe cheered. At Toronto’s Pearson International Airport, she was met by Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland who described her as a “brave new Canadian.”

This gesture presented our PM Justin Trudeau with yet another opportunity to re-affirm Canada’s credentials and commitment to the welfare of women. He also added it was important “to stand up for human rights, to stand up for women’s rights around the world.”

Most Canadians who believe that such atrocities against women are perpetrated by pathetic men in distant lands must have preened with pride on seeing the newest brave Canadian set foot on our soil. But thousands of Canadian women facing similar ordeals must be envying her.

As Rahaf al-Qunun who is adept as social media gets down to learning more about Canada her adopted homeland and meets Canadian women online, she might encounter young women just like her who are facing persecution and harassment at the hands of their own families right here in Canada.

She will read about the very real problems faced by thousands of Canadian women ranging from physical, sexual, mental, emotional and financial abuse. Many first-generation Canadian parents will go to any lengths to ensure their children follow the traditions and ‘rules’. Their ways often clash with their Canadian-born children who like Ms. Rahaf al-Qunun yearn for freedom to make their own decisions and choices.

While such cases abound in many families regardless of race, color or creed, it is worth noting that a clash of cultural and social norms within several immigrant groups end up leaving women scarred and emotionally abused.

Ms. al-Qunun will come across cases of “honour killings” in Canada. One widely publicized case was the “honour killing” of Jaswinder Kaur “Jassi” Sidhu whose family arranged for her slaying in Punjab in 2000 for marrying a lower caste person against their will.

She may also come across the horrific case of Aqsa Parvez, the 16-year-old whose father and brother killed her all because she wanted to wear western clothes and get a part-time job like her Canadian peers. In other words, she was killed for wanting to be Canadian.

Then of course by now her interest in this abuse happening in her new homeland will have been piqued and it won’t be long before she stumbles upon the case of Muhammad Shafia, his second wife, Tooba Muhammad Yahya, and their son, Hamed Shafia, who was accused of killing Shafia’s first wife and three daughters, who were found in a vehicle submerged in a canal in Kingston, Ontario comes up on her internet search.

Ms. al-Qunun will probably relate to such a situation having just escaped one herself. She will be horrified to know that there are a good number of families in Canada who do not approve of her ‘conduct’ and believe she has brought dishonour to her family by running away and being a rebel. It is more than likely that a good portion of new Canadian families will be feeling sorry for Ms. al-Qunun’s family and feeling nothing but anger and hatred for her. There are many who must privately be denouncing her behavior and hope that none of their daughters ever turn out like her.
Some reports suggest that there have been at least 13 honour killings in Canada since 2002 and hundreds of cases where women are mentally tortured and forced to make decisions against their will.

Whenever the media highlights such stories, the reaction of many Canadians has been mostly muted. When such cases occur the silence from politicians is deafening and progressive women groups will be conspicuous by their silence. This is because any statement put out by these groups that are mostly Caucasian dominated could be construed as being racist or insensitive. Such issues they reckon is best tackled by the community which explains why these issues are buried like so many bodies and secrets.

Our politicians are more likely to shame other countries that fail to live up to their commitment to human rights and exhort them to uphold the rights of women than they are to deal with similar issues in our own immigrant communities. When immigrant groups right here in Canada sometimes hold on to beliefs, traditions and practices that go against Canadian values and women’s rights, there is a tendency to look the other way or consider it an aberration. There is a culture of silence both from within the community and outside.

Take for example the major issue of female feticide in places like Brampton and Mississauga as well as in a few other immigrant communities. Aborting female fetuses happens and often South Asian women are pressurized into going along with the wishes of the family. So prevalent is this practice that stats reveal there are 904 girls to 1,000 boys in Mississauga, and 864 girls to 1,000 boys in Brampton. The average in Canada is 105 boys to 100 girls. Health care professionals know this is an issue and often flag concerns, but the issue dies quickly.

Have you heard any politician raise this as an issue? No. After all they conclude it is okay for parents not to want female children and abort them before they see the light of day!

What about the issue of battered women in many immigrant communities? Beating up wives happens and is rarely reported as doing so would bring shame on the community. Talk to some front-line social workers in Peel and they will off the record tell you about the physical and mental torture endured by many new Canadian women.

I know of one case right here in the neighborhood I live in where a 16-year-old girl cannot leave her room when her brothers have friends over unless she is covered from head to toe. Her brothers keep tabs on her and she is rumored to have had some mental issues in the past. Her story sounds remarkable similar to that of Ms. al-Qunun.

Sadly, she and thousands of others in her predicament cannot flee and apply for refugee status in another country. If even one of them did, it would highlight the issue happening right here in Canada. -CINEWS

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