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Atiya shows her local love by helping Humaira and other women experiencing domestic violence connect to community supports.

HER decision to take action...

Humaria

It’s a challenge to navigate the system as a victim. There are several barriers women in the South Asian community face: the lack of information, the lack of awareness that help is out there and understanding that it is okay to reach out. I’m currently separated from my husband and in the process of getting a divorce, but when I was experiencing domestic violence, my biggest challenge was not getting immediate community support. It was so difficult to escape the violence I was experiencing—and that my two children were witnessing—because I felt like I had no one to turn to.

In our culture, the issue of domestic violence is very personal. It is seen as a failure on the part of a family and is shrouded deeply in the stigma of shame. It remains taboo for us to ask for help, because it’s seen as a personal failure. We’re not encouraged to step out of the boundaries that have been created by our culture.

But the key to fighting these cultural stigmas and barriers is awareness. I have been working with a United Way-funded organization for five years. It provides a safe space for these women to come and reach out for help. We work in a community that’s very ethnically diverse. The majority of people there are first-generation immigrants, so they’re still in the settling phase. We use a very strong cultural lens in the work that we do, because we understand where these women are coming from and some of the barriers they face.

We encourage them to seek help and we give reassurance. Reassuring survivors is one of the most important parts of our work: Domestic violence is not their fault. It can happen to anyone. It can happen in any culture.

Having navigated the system as someone who was a victim, it’s been a very fulfilling experience for me to volunteer in this field. Now, I’m able to give my voice to those that might not be as confident to reach out for help. There is life after leaving a marriage. You will thrive and you will survive. And it’s okay to reach out for help.

- ATIYA
United Way volunteer

 

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CHANGED HER LIFE

Atiya

I gave up a lot to be where I am today. It’s not easy for a South Asian woman to leave a marriage. Many times, women won’t come out of a domestic abuse situation because they don’t want to feel ostracized or cut off from the rest of their community. Even now, divorce is a huge taboo in our communities. Divorced women are not treated with the same respect as married women—they are constantly being judged.

When I came to Canada from Saudi Arabia, I had no idea about the country and how the system worked. I was experiencing domestic violence, but leaving my marriage was hard because I didn’t know the language and I was experiencing culture shock. When I did leave, I had to go to a shelter because I didn’t have community support. But when I got there and started getting in touch with various professionals, I began to feel more familiar with Canadian culture and the system here.

Now, I use that knowledge to support my community. It feels great to be able to help women who are going through the same situation I went through a few years ago. When you’re experiencing domestic abuse, you need that one person who can actually empathize with you, who knows your struggles and can show you the bigger picture. Now, I’m in a position where I can help and guide other women. I often get calls in the middle of the night from women who don’t know where to go for help. Being a survivor, I can provide that support.

Today, when I talk about domestic abuse in our community, I’m not hesitant to bring up the dark aspects of it, or the issues that we rarely talk about. I know now that I have support of the United Way-funded group I work with. We develop resources that help people in the South Asian community to recognize domestic violence and show them where to turn. And we work to change the perception of domestic violence in our community. I know that even though I am a single mother of two girls, organizations like United Way will support me.

Volunteering has made me very strong over the years. I’ve changed as a person. The voices of women like me have power now. We can reach out to people. We can make our community a better place to live.

- HUMAIRA
United Way program participant

 

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