This special issue about race, honour, culture, and violence against women in South Asian Canadian communities is proffered as an entry point to a wider, multilayered discussion about race, culture, gender, and violence. It hopes to intensify a debate on gendered violence that could tie in with analysis and commentary on individual killings in family-related sites, murders of racialized women and girls in public sites, and other forms of violence against women and girls in society. We encourage readers to consider how to understand the landscape that South Asian Canadian women and girls are confronting, while also asking critical questions about the wider settler colonial system in which we all participate as we fight gender-based violence.
This article challenges public and private constructions of honour-related violence as they impact second-generation South Asian women and girls in Canada. While much has been written about the victims of honour killings, including high profile cases of young women killed by their families in Canada, considerably less attention and space has been given to second-generation South Asian Canadian women and girl’s stories of survivance and resistance against honour-based violence (HBV). This paper moves towards storying processes of grieving and of witnessing public stories of HBV, and documents a collective writing process I undertook in collaboration with survivors of HBV. We shared narratives of grief and pain, and the power of collective storywork. The paper includes two letters that speak to the context in which second-generation South Asian women are embodying resistance and reclamation, and witnessing stories of grief, loss, love, and acceptance.
The violence, scale, and power of anti-Muslim narratives circulated on the internet and elsewhere continue to have considerable impact on feminist anti-violence initiatives. I examine contemporary responses to “honour killings” with particular reference to the Palestinian, Indian, and North American contexts, reflecting on how anti-violence advocates negotiate the terrain of culture in the case of honour killings. I ask whether the focus on culture has an impact on how courts and society view violence committed by Muslim men (and sometimes women) against Muslim women and girls. I suggest that cultural details contribute little to an enhanced legal understanding of the crime simply because this is not their primary purpose. Instead, the cultural details are part of a pedagogy that conveys a message of the racial and cultural superiority of the dominant society and a corresponding inferiority of Muslim cultures. We should therefore always talk culture with the greatest of restraint lest the racism that accompanies culture talk inhibit our understanding of the violence and limit our capacity to respond to it.
While I strongly endorse anti-imperialist feminist attempts to uphold devout Muslim women’s gendered agency, I am concerned that these arguments fail to disrupt the intransigent association of freedom, particularly individual freedom, with secularism, and communitarian restraint with Islam. It is not surprising, therefore, that victim-subjects of honor-related violence, whether in a secular state such as Canada or an Islamic state like Pakistan, are discursively installed within the universal secular sphere and reevicted from the religious and cultural community. I propose the notion of transgressive piety rather than the dichotomy of secular society versus pious community within which to problematize gendered Muslim subjects. The transgression of ritualistic and institutionalized practices is associated with practices termed Sufism. Muslim feminists may use the idea of transgressive piety to offer faith-based support to those gendered subjects whose transgressive acts, appearance, or practices define them as legitimate targets of family, community, or state-based violence. In so doing, we may also challenge doctrinaire and narrow definitions of the Muslim Ummah, the all-encompassing and transcendent community of Muslims.
Since 2015, in Canada, political discourse on “honour”-based violence has shifted away from highly problematic understandings of “culture” as the cause of violence among racialized, Muslim, and immigrant communities. Instead, talk of culture has dropped out of the equation altogether in favour of more structural definitions of gender-based violence (GBV). In this article, we ask what gets lost when culture is not taken into account when talking about or trying to understand forms of GBV. Drawing from theoretical conceptualizations of culture — defined as “situated practices of meaning-making” that shape all experiences of violence, and societal responses to violence — we argue for a multiscalar approach to culture. To illustrate this framework, we first offer a critical analysis of Aruna Papp’s 2012 memoir Unworthy Creature as an exemplar of stigmatizing uses of culture and a key text promoted by the Conservative federal government at the time. We then turn to interviews we conducted with service providers serving South Asian survivors of GBV in Toronto from 2011 to 2013. Our analysis illustrates how to talk about culture as a key ingredient shaping multiscalar violence, regardless of whether that violence occurs in majority or minority communities. We conclude with three policy implications for addressing HBV moving forward.
Police understandings of honour-based crimes (HBCs) and forced marriages (FMs) vary in terms of an individual officer’s level of expertise, knowledge, and experience in handling such situations. This study applied constructivist grounded theory approaches to analyze individual interviews with 32 police officers and 14 civilians in police agencies operating in urban and rural settings in Alberta, Canada. Specifically, this paper seeks to answer how police officers and civilians who work in police agencies experience, make sense of, and understand HBCs. Participants received a hypothetical vignette about a young woman who had reached out to the police. The vignette illustrated various forms of abuse by the woman’s father, the involvement of other actors (mother, brother, family friend) and the culmination in an FM. After reading the vignette, participants were asked to respond to six questions. Analysis revealed that both police and civilians recognized the need in the vignette scenario for intervention, while experiencing uncertainty about how to respond. The findings showed that not everyone in policing would be able to identify reliably the need for police intervention, and that investigations could proceed differently depending on the investigator’s level of knowledge and awareness of HBCs and FMs. Police have achieved some successful interventions, but still lack sufficient guidance on how to respond to these crimes. Clear, appropriate policies regarding which cases need to be directed to specialized domestic violence units for follow-up are needed. A significant finding points to the importance of considering cultural sensitivity discourses as well as the impact of cultural and racist stereotypes when responding to situations like the one outlined in the vignette.
The introduction of Bill S-7, the Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act, in 2015 garnered major critical attention across Canada. Amid an already tense climate of anti-immigrant sentiment in the post-9/11 era, the title chosen for the bill by the Conservative-led government catalyzed xenophobia, perpetuated the “us versus them” rhetoric, and culturalized violence. While originally touted as an opportunity to enhance protection for girls and women against the “foreign” horrors of polygamy, early and forced marriage, and “honour”-based killings, Bill S-7 instead fanned the flames of xenophobia on a mass level, failed to protect women, and, in fact, created higher risk of harms for women who are victims of gender- or family-based violence. In this commentary, we provide an overview of Bill S-7, the amendments to legislation made as a result of its passing, and some of its many problematic elements. We address the barriers to disclosing violence in racialized communities and subsequently provide suggestions on how to effectively address gender- and family-based violence in Canada in an effort to support survivors and prevent further harm.
The purpose of this article is to explore the pedagogical challenges of teaching university-level, feminist, anti-racist courses that examine how Eurocentric patriarchal practices of male violence against women within Canadian society are normalized and obscured through the concept of honour killing. I argue that the normalization of Western structures and practices of patriarchy reproduces racism, sexism, and classism by focusing attention on the “Otherness” of non-Western forms of patriarchy. Honour killings are rendered as distinct from other forms of male violence against women on the basis that they are seen solely as a product of non-Western cultures and religions and not as part of a spectrum of forms of male violence against women practised by all patriarchal societies in Western and non-Western countries.
Anciens numéros de International Journal of Child, Youth and Family Studies