Harmful Cultural Practices

Violence against women can be perpetrated through a variety of means. It can manifest itself through physical, emotional, mental, or financial abuses that aim to reduce the status of women within their household and societies. A number of harmful cultural practices exist that inflict damage upon the wellbeing of women, spanning from ‘dowry’, honour based violence, forced marriages, son preference and female feticide. These practices are rooted in traditional values that have no place in our society and are perpetuated by unjustified cultural biases that must be corrected through the collaborative work of our communities. Inequalities between men and women, deeply rooted in misled values makes women vulnerable to having their rights violated, exacerbating their dependency as a result of old patriarchal attitudes that favor men.

Practices such as son preference, female abortion, exchange of dowry and forced marriage all undermine the value of women and can lead to extreme cases of violence such as what are referred to as “honour killings”. The ICWA argues that there is a link between the women shortage and human trafficking. Women are being trafficked as brides or sex workers into places where there is a major shortage of women and research indicates that sex-selective abortions are taking place in places like British Columbia and Ontario to satisfy some families desire to have a boy.

Although, violence against women transcends age, nationality, race and religion, immigrant women face factors that make them increasingly vulnerable to violence and discrimination. Some factors include economic dependence, rigidly defined traditional gender roles and language barriers and lack of social safety net which prevents them from seeking help when violence or family breakdown occurs.1 For many women coming to Canada and adapting to different social norms can threaten her life. Rigid gender roles and traditional values based in patriarchy and historically unequal power relations still impact women in their new country of residence. There is a disturbing trend in immigrant communities of silencing women and keeping them in their so called place with violence.

The ICWA emphasizes the need for men to play a more integral role in bringing an end to harmful cultural practices that subject women to preventable abuses. ICWA has been conducting community consultations with men from the South Asian community to develop strategies that challenge rigid definition of masculinity that perpetuate unequal power relations among men and women as well as reflect on harmful social norms that have gone unquestioned. Any initiative to reduce violence against women must involve supportive men as many harmful cultural practices are sustained by traditional definitions of manhood connected with dominance and male honor. Some traditional gender roles imply that women are property of men and therefore men have a duty “to keep their women in line”. Practices such as honor killing of wives, dowry related violence and forced marriage are often perpetuated directly by men, while other practices such as sex selective abortion and early marriage of girl children are perpetuated with men’s involvement and complicity.1 Hence, it is important to involve men in the discussions and steps taken towards establishing greater parity between the status of women and men.

In some countries, such as India, Pakistan and some parts of the Middle East there is serious taboo on the topic of gender based violence, in any form. Often people are not compelled to intervene, nor is the state authorities because of the idea that activities that happen in the home are private and not of public concern. The silence surrounding the topic of violence against women perpetuates the behavior. Through the work conducted by the ICWA alongside other community organizations, we hope to create an open and safe environment for discussion of these pressing issues. Through this concerted effort, an in depth examination of why harmful cultural practices continue to occur can be undertaken, allowing for the necessary progressive steps to be taken in order to eliminate violence against women.

1. Flood, Micheal. Harmful Traditional and Cultural Practices Related to Violence Against Women and Successful Strategies to Eliminate Such Practices-Working with Men , 2006. Print.