...There is a war on women. And it is so good that that violence is being named. Violence against women. That is what it is, and it's wonderful to see a workshop that actually calls it that, because there are so many conferences, so many workshops which are organized, which call it 'family violence,' 'domestic violence,' and it is really wonderful to see that it is being named for what it is.
Now, I think the issue of violence is very, very difficult to deal with in our communities, because we live in a racist society which just jumps on any issues and problems that we have in the community, and uses that as yet another sign of our backwardness. So it's quite common when we're talking about violence in the South Asian community, to have women, white women, feminists even, who are committed to doing work in this area, explain it away in the name of sort of Third World machoism, Third World culture..."See, you are from a backward culture. See, your men are worse are than our white men here."... So you're constantly walking this sort of tightrope and hoping that you don't fall and drown on either side. Because when it comes to work against racism, it is with these men that you're fighting. It's not this white women's movement who's going to be there to support you in any way in this struggle against racism.
At the beginning of this year, a South Asian woman's body was found dumped off a highway in BC. She had been murdered and by the time they found her body, half the face had been eaten away. There was no one who was willing to come forward and claim this woman as our own. There wasn't any organization that was strong enough to step up and say, "This woman was one of us." There was no women's organization that was strong enough to stand up and say, "No, she was a sister." This is the kind of fate that women are meeting, and we need to organize. What we need really desperately is a national women's organization, where we can come together, where we can break this marginalization, where we can break this silence on this issue, come together, and look at how women are coping with this in different parts of the country.
We live in a racist society...it uses [the issue of violence against women] as yet another sign of our backwardness.
People ask, "Why do you want to have a South Asian Women's Community Centre?" We had to explain that there are basic needs of women that we had to attend to. We needed to bring the women out of their isolation in the homes to the Centre, [which is located in Montreal], to feel at home talking languages that we are familiar with. We do this. We also bring them out to go to English and French classes, so that they can also participate in the life over here. And we run many referral services, such as health and legal advice, treating abuse and problems that arise through immigration.Then we provide translation services, and we support the network for battered women. Apart from that, we come together at potluck lunches every last Friday of the month. At these we have information sessions that are built into our needs. I've also left our magazine, Shakti, and a pamplet that describes in more detail the work that is done by SAWCC, on the table outside.
We, the women of the Centre, we wanted to express ourselves [in a play]. We didn't want anyone to write it or interpret it for us or act it out for us. We wanted the women from the Centre to participate in the play. We didn't want to have people from outside, or amateur professionals, or anything like that, and we found that a lot of women, many women, were very, very shy to come out and act. But I think that once you overcome that shyness, it's okay. The greater problem is that women are seen as people who have homes, commitment to children, commitment to husbands, and it was very, very difficult. It was like drawing teeth, to get us all together in time to practise. A lot of women could not participate in our practices because they had to go home and see to the children, and see to the meals, and if the husband calls up from work and says, "I'm working late," that was it, they could not attend rehearsals, they had to be there. I find that performance for women is a very difficult thing to accomplish.