In a 1999 national survey of Canadian women’s experience of domestic violence, several disturbing patterns came to light; they included the fact that the highest prevalence of domestic violence against women was found in the homes of immigrants from developing countries.
Problematically, the ideology of multiculturalism, even amongst the most well-meaning advocates for female equality, tends to preclude any discussion of cultural values and traditions
that project a “colonialist” mentality or that may lead to a perceived “racialization” of an entire ethnic community.
This is a mistake for the following reasons:
• “Honour killings” are carried out in order to cleanse the family name and restore the family honour. Unlike Western domestic violence, typically perpetrated bilaterally by one intimate partner on another, honour violence is perpetrated unilaterally within the family: against girls and women by male relatives—such as fathers, fathers-in-law, brothers, brothers-in-law, husbands and occasionally sons—often with the complicity of older females.
• “Honour killing” is an ancient cultural practice in which men murder female relatives in the name of family “honour” for forced or suspected sexual activity outside the marriage, even when the woman were victims of rape. Yotam Feldner, a researcher at the Middle East Media Research Institute describes an honour killing as one in which a man who refrains from “washing shame with blood is a coward who is not worth living, much less a man.”
• For example, in 1999, Farah Khan, five, was killed by her father and stepmother after the father claimed the child was not his, claiming this was deeply shaming and the killing was necessary to redeem his honour. In 2003, Amandeep Singh Atwal, 17, was stabbed to death by her father, because she wanted to date a non-Sikh classmate. In 2006, Khatera Sadiqi and her 23-year-old boyfriend, Feroz Mangal, were killed by her brother. In 2009, Amandeep Kaur Dhillion, who was driven by her father-in-law to and from the family-owned and run grocery store, where she worked long hours, was killed by him when she threatened to leave his son.
• Since 2002, the murders of 12 women were identified as honour killings; three other murders identified as domestic violence also have the hallmarks of an honour killing.
• While violence against women is deplored in general in Canada, few researchers appreciate the many distinctions between historically observed Western patterns of abuse of women by men (and abuse of men by women) and newer, culturally driven abuse of girls and women by both men and women (with virtually no abuse of men by women in such culturally induced situations).
• Amongst other differences, Western abuse is statistically infrequent, stems from psychological dysfunction around intimate relations between individual adults and is considered a cultural aberration by kinship groups and society in general. In contrast, culturally driven violence is statistically frequent, stems from culturally approved codes around collective family honour and shame, is condoned and even facilitated by kinship groups and the community.
For example, Aqsa Parvez, 16, recently in headlines and who was killed in 2007 by her father and her brother (convicted of the crime in June this year), lived in a Mississauga household with 12 adults and who all condoned the abuse of this girl. In fact, the mother is quoted as saying
she thought the father would only break her arms and legs, not kill her. In another example, in 2006, Ottawa’s Khatera Sadiqi and her boyfriend, Feroz Mangal, 23, were killed by her brother.
A growing body of research confirms that in patriarchal societies that are comprised of the self-appointed and more “authentic” non-Westernized bulk of the South Asian community, where honour/shame codes are rife (and even when legally proscribed), men are found to exercise rigid control over women. The result is a higher incidence of violence against women as compared with the mainstream Western host communities.
Many immigrants chose Canada because the foundation of this country is built on values of security, freedom and respect for all. Yet, there are thousands of women in Canada whose rights are not respected, who are neither free nor secure, because they dare not challenge their oppressors. For them, Section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees men and women equal rights to life, liberty and security of the person, are mere words on a page in a book that remains closed to them.