Violence against Racialized Women
Aboriginal women and female domestic workers from countries outside Canada are more likely to experience physical and sexual violence than other women in Canada (Kuokkanen 219). Many women who are employed as domestic workers came to Canada to escape domestic abuse or violence in their own countries. Oftentimes, these women are then abused by the Immigration system when they apply for permanent residency status. Aboriginal women are more likely to experience sexual and physical assault as well. Police investigators seem less willing to investigate cases of assault against Aboriginal women than they are cases reported by Caucasian females. The deaths of 100's of women over the course of 20 years went largely uninvestigated due to the ethnicity of the women and the location from which the women disappeared. Women who are perceived as poor, drug addicts, or prostitutes are routinely ignored when they attempt to report crimes against their persons (Pratt 1052). As the poorest and most disenfranchised segment of society, indigenous women are at the receiving end of not only physical or sexual violence, but also structural, political and economic violence all of which reinforce and reproduce one another(Kuokkanen 220).
Violence against women is more than physical. It is the consistent marginalization of their concerns. The immigration system asks women seeking asylum based on domestic violence or abuse in their home countries to prove that their lives are in danger when they seek asylum in Canada. They ask women to detail the abuses they have suffered at the hands of the men in their lives, and then deny or approve asylum based on whether immigration feels that their country of origin adequately addresses issues of domestic abuse. Women have been denied asylum because the courts have felt that they have sufficient resources in their home country to leave the abuser (Razack 104-106).
Women of Middle Eastern descent often face marginalization due to their religious beliefs. Nada, a women who refused to wear the hajib, was initially denied asylum, even though there was evidence that she suffered physical abuse at the hands of the men in her country and that her life was at risk. The court found that laws in Middle Eastern countries that required women to wear a veil were not violating the women's rights. It was only through public uproar that the ruling was changed, and Nada was allowed to remain in Canada (Razack 119).
In the cases involving missing women, the police were reluctant to investigate the reports, preferring to assume that the women were transient and had left the area. This belief is common with regard to the aboriginal women; police wanted to believe that the women had returned to their camp. In reality, 69 women went missing over the course of 20 years, and when the police finally decided to investigate, they found a pig farmer with the remains of 31 murdered women on his property (Pratt 1052; Pietsch 137). The Native Women’s Association in Canada estimates that approximately 500 Aboriginal women have gone missing in Canada in the past 20 years. This estimate is echoed in government statistics from 1996, according to which Aboriginal women between the ages of 25 and 44 are 5 times more likely than other women of the same age to die as a result of violence (Indian and Northern Affairs Canada 1996). This is not unique to Canada. For example in Ciudad Jua´rez and Chihuahua, Mexico, approximately 400 women have been violently murdered since 1993. Many of these women are indigenous and poor women (Kuokkanen 219).
Another issue concerning violence against women is the trafficking of women as domestic help or forcing them to work as sex workers. Women are brought to Canada and put to work in order to pay off the debt owed the trafficker for getting them out of their home country. When Vancouver and Toronto began a crackdown on sex workers operating illegally, they began to become aware of the number of women from poverty stricken Eastern European and Asian countries operating as sex workers. These women were held hostage by the "brokers in bodies" that had brought them to Canada and forced them to work to pay for their trip (Lepp 91). Rather than identify and arrest the traffickers themselves, it appears as if Canadian police are rounding up the sex workers themselves, and returning them to their home countries. The women are thus twice victimized; once by the trafficker, and again by Canadian officials who have no mechanisms in place to address the needs of these women (Lepp 95). Even after deportation, the women remain in debt bondage to the traffickers and are sometimes smuggled back into the country in order to earn enough to repay their debt.
Violence against racialized women in Canada is an ongoing concern. Canadian authorities seem to be responsive only when an issue receives extensive media coverage. Canada prides itself on being a place of welcome for refugees, and for having a society that is rich in diversity. In order for Canada to continue to maintain this reputation, laws that are sensitive to the needs of women from diverse backgrounds need to passed. Authorities need to address the concerns of all women, not just Caucasian women or those who possess wealth. It is imperative that the concerns of domestic workers and aboriginal women be considered when passing laws, training police officers and government officials, and when evaluating legal disputes. When sex workers are apprehended in sting operations, police and immigration officials need to exercise sensitivity to the plights of these women, and attempt to locate the trafficker, rather than automatically deport them. Only then will Canada truly be the place of welcome that is envisions itself to be.
Kuokkanen, Rauna. "Globalization as Racialized, Sexualized Violence: The Case of Indigenous Women." International Feminist Journal of Politics 10.2 (2008): 216-33. Print.
Lepp, Annalee. "Trafficking in Women and the Feminization of Migration." Canadian Women's Studies 21/22.4/1 : 90-9. Print.
Pietsch, Nicole. ""I'm Not that Kind of Girl": White Femininity, the Other, and the Legal/Social Sanctioning of Sexual Violence Against Racialized Women." Canadian Woman Studies 28.1 (2009): 136-40. Print.
Pratt, Geraldine. "Abandoned Women and Spaces of the Exception." Antipode (2005): 1052-78. Print.
Razack, Sherene H. "Policing the Borders of Nation: The Imperial Gaze in Gender Persecution Cases." Looking White People in the Eye: Gender, Race and Culture in Courtrooms and Classrooms. Ed. S. H. Razack. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998. 88-129. Print.