From The National Post
Barbara Kay: Action on honour killings
Barbara Kay July 12, 2010 – 4:20 pm
Nathan Denette / National Post
Muhammad Shan Parvez, left, and Waqas Parvez — brothers of murderer teenager Aqsa Parvez — leave a Brampton, Ont., courthouse on Dec. 14, 2007.
The Minister for Status of Women, Rona Ambrose, gave a press conference today on “culturally-driven violence and so-called ‘honour crimes.’ ” The occasion prompting her remarks was the official release of a position paper on the growing problem of culturally driven violence in Canada’s immigrant communities by the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, the subject of my July 7th column.
The report, Culturally-Driven Violence Against Women: A growing problem in Canada’s immigrant communities, was written by Aruna Papp, a counsellor to immigrant men and women caught up in domestic conflicts. Ms Papp, an immigrant from India who herself suffered a great deal of culturally-related abuse, has emerged as an expert on South Asian cultural gender roles and honour/shame-related behaviours. Ms Papp has written about the subject of culturally-driven violence in the National Post.
Reflecting opinions expressed in the report, the minister endorsed Ms Papp’s most important points, emphasizing, with regard to honour killings, “These heinous acts cannot be justified by cultural relativism or excused under the guise of political correctness.”
This government has shown commendably strong leadership in acknowledging the troubling facts around the abuse of girls and women in certain immigrant communities, an acknowledgement that made its way into the 2009 guidebook for immigrants, Discover Canada: The Rights and Responsibilities of Citizenship. The guidebook does not shrink from unpleasant truths, stating that such barbaric cultural practices as honour killings and genital mutilation have no legitimate claims for tolerance in Canada.
For many years, as Ms. Ambrose agreed in a telephone interview after her conference, the problem was obscured by conflation of such acts under the heading of “domestic violence” or “domestic homicide.” But culturally-driven violence against girls and women, she recognizes, represents a “new dynamic,” one that is totally distinct from what we call “domestic violence.”
Domestic violence, or “Intimate Partner Violence (IPV),” as the latter name more precisely defines it, is a problem between two adults — both heterosexual and homosexual — who have difficulty dealing with intimacy issues and lash out at their partners. The violence may be initiated by either party, and carries no ideological implications. The problem is not cultural, but psychological in origin, and, however distressing to those who are its victims, is neither a collective problem nor the result of systemic misogynistic values in Canadian culture.
Honour-related abuse, on the other hand, is a collective problem, because it is based in cultural values adhered to by whole communities. Those abused, almost invariably female, and most often daughters (not a feature of western domestic violence), are the victims of a conspiracy, sanctioned and facilitated throughout a network of kinship collaboration.
Unlike IPV, honour crimes are meant to serve as a warning to other females. Where an IPV victim suffers no repercussions in seeking out resources for protection and guidance in liberating herself from an abusive situation, immigrant women are often afraid — and with good reason, as we saw in the case of teenaged Aqsa Parvez — to seek help. Brainwashed from birth into a self-sacrificing mindset, and with no allies within their kinship group, they typically submit to a system they find too complex and overwhelming to resist.
Minister Ambrose singled out for praise the work of the Punjabi Community Health Services in Mississauga, whose courageous director, Baldev Mutta, like the equally outspoken Aruna Papp, often finds himself in the crosshairs of South Asian religious leaders and pundits for his frank exposure of this form of cultural dysfunction.
Minister Ambrose made it clear that what she calls a “new and emerging challenge” is taken very seriously by the government: Many of the report’s 14 recommendations are already part of government policy. She cited such practices already in progress as interventions in the country of origin and again upon entry to make sure families understand Canada’s unequivocal commitment to values of gender equality and every family member’s individual right to decide her or his own life trajectory.
Leaders in the target communities — imams, other religious clerics, teachers, political players — must step up to the plate in rooting out retrograde cultural practices, and they will be encouraged in that direction. Ms. Ambrose says the important thing now is to make sure that the social service and law enforcement agents handling cases of cultural abuse have the education for this specific form of social work, and can deal with the “extensive family involvement” that tends to “insulate” girls and women from the outreach on offer.
In cultures where honour and shame are the driving force between the sexes and between parents and children, the happiness (at best) and even the very lives of girls and women are constantly at risk. Honour-shame abuse in Canada must end. Our first obligation is to acknowledge that it exists, our second is to acknowledge that it is culturally driven and not western “domestic violence,” and our third is to lend vocal support to this government’s moral clarity in combating it.