Violence Against Women: Race Matters

Gender-based violence can affect anyone, regardless of race, age, gender, religion or sexuality. Although most Canadians acknowledge that women are more likely to experience gender based violence (GBV), many might not understand the impact of race on violence against women and sexual assault. In 2018, police-reported data showed that the homicide rate for indigenous women and girls in Canada was nearly seven times higher than amongst non-indigenous women and girls. Although there are circumstances and challenges that are specific to each racialized community, generally issues of poverty and structural racism are to blame for the greater impacts of GBV on racialized individuals.  

2020/2021 Syndemic: COVID-19, GBV, Racism

The simultaneous pandemics of GBV and systemic racism have yet to receive the same global response as the COVID-19 pandemic despite existing longer. Experts coined the aggregates of COVID-19, gender-based violence, and racism, the 2020/2021 Syndemic, which placed the wellbeing of racialized women at disproportionate risk. Framing these world crises as a Syndemic announces the severity of the issue to the public and begs policy makers to take this issue as seriously as the Coronavirus. The Syndemic puts into perspective the consequences of intersectional marginalization and reminds the public that the risk of violence against women intensifies as marginalized identities of an individual intersect and overlap.

Gender-Based Violence Isn't Picky, It's Intersectional

Intersectionality is essential to understand the severity of GBV in racialized communities. The level at which a woman is at risk depends on the stratification of her socio-economic status, religion, sexual orientation, migration status, disability, and ethnicity. The intersection of gender and these identity markers contribute to the unique experiences of women facing GBV. By looking at GBV through this intersectional lens, Shelter Movers can recognize how violence impacts women of different races.

In Toronto, 62% of people living in poverty identify with a racial group. Knowing this gives a better idea of why gender-based violence predominantly affects racialized communities. It is widely understood that economic precarity is a breeding ground for GBV at home because it produces psychological, social, and household distress. During the pandemic, economic instability, distress of all kinds, and social isolation have never been more common. 

Since women are more likely to fall into precarious work, accept lower wage jobs, and do unpaid care work at home, they are more likely to suffer economically without a spouse. This mean that poverty makes it difficult to leave a partner because they rely on them for security. 

Culturally, BIPOC women may also face these barriers when trying to escape: 

  • Cultural/ Religious beliefs restrain the survivor from leaving the relationship or involving outsiders.
  • Strong loyalty to race, family, or culture.
  • Distrust of law enforcement and health-care system due to history of discrimination and stigma. For example, the discourse and experience with police brutality can affect a racialized individual’s trust in public institutions that are supposed to protect them.
  • Fear that their experience will reflect on or confirm the stereotypes placed on their ethnicity or race.
  • Immigrants who don’t speak English or French have difficulties navigating through the system.
  • Mainstream services that do not consider cultural norms and practices risk isolating women from their communities and/or not serving their immediate needs

Due to intersectionality, we are able to examine the barriers racialized women experience, how that promotes cases of GBV and how it disables them from getting respectable help. Once these barriers are examined, proper solutions can be made to dispose of the Syndemic.

Case Study: Asian Hate and Pro-Misogyny Crimes

The United Nations reports that pandemics like COVID-19 not only exacerbate violence within the home, but workplace violence as well. For example, there has been an increased risk of racial and sexual harassment against women of East Asian ancestry. On March 16th, eight people – six of them Asian women – were killed at three Atlanta-area massage parlours by a gunman. The illicit massage parlour industry is built on hate crimes against Asian women. From recruitment, some women are deceived into the industry with promises of great pay. Some massage parlours are fronts for prostitution, and many women working there are being exploited. Not all of these women are willing to provide sex to their clients, but when they refuse they are often attacked by their white male customers.

It seems North America has a deep issue with reporting. If more BIPOC women felt comfortable with the health care and judicial system in a way where cultural insensitivity, stereotypes, name-calling and inferior quality of care was eradicated than more women would get the help they need and we would be able to get rid of the Syndemic hands on. 

Race matters in the discussion of GBV, but it is important to not stop at race and consider how disabled, gay, trans, and immigrant defining folk experience GBV. Due to intersectionality, GBV is a nuanced issue that requires a nuanced solution. We can work towards solving it by considering how the intersection of sexism and racism impact women of colour. It is important to understand how societal and cultural barriers prevent women of colour from reporting an assault or from seeking help – and work to reduce those barriers.

We can do so by donating to and promoting organizations that support women of colour. Or continuing the discourse on GBV in racialized communities amongst peers and family. Or supporting Shelter Movers, who continues to support all survivors of gender-based violence across Canada, by donating or volunteering your time. 

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