Tuesday, 7 February 2012

the framing is damaging

[i wrote this post early last week, but ended up with a severe infection that meant i've been offline for several days. re comments: i'm leaving them open for now, but because i'm still not well, may turn them off because i don't have energy to deal with them. but please recognise that this is not an easy topic for me and my reaction to certain comments may not always be pleasant.]

it starts off with the story about a yound woman forced into marriage with threats of deportation and a bunch of lies, imprisoned in her husband's house for two months, and receiving death threats from her father. all of which is awful. this is a newsworthy story, it's important issues around forced marriage are brought to light, and the dominion post was the first to bring this particular story to light.

now there are issues around the framing of this story. it's presented as a pakistani story, when in effect it's a nz one. the issue isn't so much one of culture as it is of power and control. in other words, as was eloquently pointed out by a commentor on facebook (not me), the key factor is the desire to have power and control over the lives of women. the methods to exert such power and control may vary - but often not as much as you think. for example, threats of deportation and the withholding of passports is also a tool used by white men, as are death threats.

i found this comment at the end of the dom post article really troubling:

"It is not to say that the entire community acts this way, there will always be exceptions to the rule, but on the whole, women are given their place in society and in the family and as long as they adhere to that, they're fine.

"The minute they don't they face great odds to succeed or are deemed to have brought dishonour and shame to their families/communities and are ostracised or, in the worst case scenario, killed."

see, the exception to the rule is apparently the muslim families who don't force women into marriage, according to priyanca radhakrishnan (and yes this is the same priyanca whose experiences i shared on this blog and also asked the standard to do the same). or perhaps she means the whole ostracisation/dishonour thing. it's a little hard to tell.

but you know what? my experience is something quite different. yes, of course domestic violence exists in the muslim community. it exists in all communities. it's an issue that needs to be raised and discussed, which is one of the reasons why i dragged my sorry butt across the country - with a very capable partner - doing workshops with muslim women, the last of which was in auckland almost 2 weeks ago.

but i reject the notion that it is inherently more of a problem in muslim communities than in other communities. and i reject the notion that the vast majority of muslim women live in conditions as described by priyanca above, or that she has any right to generalise like that about women's lives based on the fact that her organisation gets to see the worst of society rather than the best of it. if we were to extrapolate nz women's living conditions from the state of our refuges, then i'm sure we could draw similar conclusions about nz culture. in fact, here's a canadian piece that makes some similar points (hattip to facebook).

the fact is nz has a huge issue with violence across the board, but that doesn't mean that, bar a few exceptions, nz women are subjugated. we should never diminish the importance of dealing with domestic violence and finding solutions. but i don't believe that we will find those solutions by generalising this way about a whole culture. as was really well pointed out on facebook (again, not me), this kind of framing helps to reinforce the stereotype of brown women as backwards and oppressed.

having to live with that stereotype is really restricting, and is almost certainly a factor in this: the double disadvantage that ethnic minority women face in attaining leadership roles. it can also lead to disadvantages in the health system as women of colour as seen as less capable, and their words are not taken as seriously (yes, i have concrete examples of this). it can lead difficulties in even getting a job. reinforcing that particular stereotype has costs.

i have raised this issue regarding shakti before. it's not a new concern for me, and i'm not partciularly interested in making personal attacks. it's an issue of concern that needs to be raised, because it not only affects the lives of all women of colour, it also affects the accessability of the service for women who need help.

well, following up on the dom post article was this one from the herald, which quotes the executive director of unicef. he felt the need to refer to this comment:

"It is an outrage that, under the cloak of respect for the culture and traditions of certain communities, there are authorities which tolerate forced marriages although they violate the fundamental rights of each and every victim.'

now i don't know about other countries, but there is no-one here in nz that i am aware of who is using the cloak of respect to tolerate forced marriage. if mr mckinlay believes that kind of thing is happening here, then i would ask him to name and shame any such people, because i'd be as much p*ssed off with them as the next person and would like to see them outed.

and if he knows that it is not true of nz, that neither the authorities nor any community leaders or community organisations are asking for forced marriages to be treated with respect, then he should plainly say so. but if he did say so, then that whole quote would actually be meaningless in a nz context and he wouldn't have need to point to it at all. leaving it as it is strongly gives the impression that there are people here who are pleading special treatment for this particular crime.

this is the point where i lost my cool in the facebook discussion, and i don't apologise for it at all. it's tiring and incredibly frustrating to have to continuously deal with this kind of framing, whether it's from an employee of the UN or from an organisation run by brown women for brown women. regardless of the fact that both organisations do incredibly good work, neither of them are above criticism.

as regards the actual issue around legislative change, i know i've done a post on this previously, discussin how existing nz law could be used to deal with these issues. the problem seems to be more with getting those laws working properly in the context of dowries and forced marriages. unfortunately i can't find that post at the moment, but if i do, i'll put up the link.

1 comment:

Lucy said...

I was particularly glad to see that Canadian piece you linked to - the deaths of those four women have been getting a great deal of coverage on American TV, but it's constantly framed as separate from domestic violence, despite the fact that the women in question had gone to authorities about the domestic violence they were suffering and been ignored, before their murders. It's a very familiar story, but it's othered in a really disquieting way. I'm glad to see *someone* calling that.

(The way the media has focused on the teenage girls who were murdered and practically ignored their murdered stepmother is creepy too. What, it's only interesting if cute young Westernised women are victims?)