BY NIDHA KHAN
Please note: This article deals with sexual harassment and assault.
#MeToo is undeniably opening the door for women to share their personal stories of sexual harassment and assault. But is it only doing so for a select group of women?
Mengzhu Fu, national youth coordinator for Shakti, an organisation for Asian, African, and Middle Eastern women, believes that “to say #MeToo, I’ve also been sexually assaulted and harassed, is difficult for anyone. But for migrant women of colour, speaking up and disclosing violence is often more complex than for mainstream women or Hollywood actresses”.
She’s recently launched #MigrantToo which aims to include migrant women’s experiences into the growing conversation on sexual violence. In particular, drawing attention to the ‘double silencing’ that migrant women face from both mainstream and immigrant communities.
Fu explains that silencing from mainstream, Pākehā, communities “rests on the context of racism and xenophobia, whereby non-white immigrant cultures are already seen as more violent and patriarchal than Pākehā cultures. If disclosures of sexual violence arise, it can be used for racist agendas that paint all men in our communities as perpetrators and women as victims”.
This is despite the fact that sexual violence is not exclusive to a particular religious or ethnic group. It is not a ‘Muslim’ issue. It is not an ‘Arab’, ‘Desi’, or ‘African’, issue. “Cross-culturally, rape culture can exist in any community, but the responses to sexual violence and the form it takes might be culturally specific.”
Within immigrant communities, survivors can be silenced through the normative ways people talk about ‘shame’ or maintaining the women and family’s ‘honour’. “It can include things like maintaining virginity before marriage, not dating or interacting with boys. Young women can be disbelieved and told not to cause trouble, especially if the perpetrator is a relative, or being forced to marry the rapist”.
Shakti provides culturally and linguistically appropriate services to women from ethnic minority groups and their biggest challenge is gaining access to funding and resources. They work in the domestic violence sector and over 70% of their clients have experienced sexual violence*. Yet, the organisation receives no specific funding for sexual violence and their Wellington refuge has not received contracted government funding even after 5 years of advocacy and almost a year of negotiation with the new government. Shakti has claimed that this “inadequate allocation of resources by government departments and keeping NGOs working in this sector constantly poor and overworked……is deliberate exploitation by the government of the NGO sector, which is largely feminised”. In other words, it’s part of the institutional discrimination and marginalization of migrant and refugee NGOs.
According to Fu, culturally and linguistically appropriate services are not high on the government’s agenda because of “this assumption that a one-size-fits-all model can work and that model is almost always a Pākehā/Euro-centric model”. It’s this idea that if we have mainstream refuges, why can’t migrant women just use those? But, Fu says there a need for “the option of being supported by people who have lived understandings of your culture and are trained in dealing with sexual violence….We know that when we get over 250 referrals from the police each year that it’s not sufficient. Migrant and refugee women should have the right to access services that are culturally appropriate and this is backed up by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women recommendations from the UN which was released in July this year.”
*An estimate provided by a Shakti senior counsellor
If you or someone you know are in immediate danger, call the police on 111. You can call 111 from your cellphone even if you have no credit. If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, raped, or abused, there is help available. Find a sexual assault support centre near you.
Other organisations include:
Shakti: Contact 0800 SHAKTI crisis line number for support
Lifeline: 0800 543 354
Youthline: 0800 376 633 (24/7) or free text 234 (8am-12am), or email [email protected]
Depression Helpline: 0800 111 757 (24/7)
What’s Up: online chat (7pm-10pm) or 0800 WHATSUP / 0800 9428 787 children’s helpline (1pm-10pm weekdays, 3pm-10pm weekends)
Kidsline (ages 5-18): 0800 543 754 (24/7)
Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155