Islamic Relief Canada launches report on “honour violence” among Canadian Muslims

The year 2018 was considered by many to be the “Year of the Woman”. The world spent much of 2018 reflecting on and learning about the many breakthroughs by women around the world, especially those making their way into positions of power and influence. Unfortunately, despite this promising trend, women across the world continue to be subjected to gender-based violence (GBV), and much of the support that is available to them is often not effective.

Islamic Relief Canada recently published a report which explores GBV and so-called “honour violence” among Canadian Muslim communities. The report is based on existing research, a survey of the Muslim organizations offering culturally-sensitive support to Muslim women who face abuse, and extensive interviews with the professionals who provide these services.

The report is titled Dishonourable Violence: Changing the Narratives on Honour and Shame Among Canadian Muslim Communities and is freely available online.

The team of researchers and experts who compiled the report hope that it will initiate important conversations both inside the Muslim community and Canadian society at large about how we can work together to support women of particular backgrounds and walks of life. This respect for diversity, after all, is what Canada is known and admired for globally.

An important part of this process, as the title of the report suggests, is shifting the narrative from one that is built on misconceptions about “honour” and “shame” to one which emphasizes the positive role of these concepts in the Islamic tradition and in Muslim communities.

With this in mind, the report begins by providing the general context of the prevalence of GBV around the world, but more specifically in Canada — where, for example, women reported more than 1.2 million incidents of abuse in 2014, representing 56% of all violent incidents — and in the experiences of Canadian Muslim women in particular.

The report then outlines, in detail, the challenges faced by Canadian Muslim women as they try to escape gender-based violence, such as their male partners’ own experiences of trauma related to conflict and/or Islamophobia, the influence of the collectivist cultures they belong to, and the place of “family honour” as a crucial personal value in their lives.

Following this, the report provides important clarifications tied to GBV in the Muslim community, particularly that Islamic scriptures do not condone “wife-beating” or gender-based violence in any form, and that abuse can take many different forms, all of them unacceptable.

The rest of the report is dedicated to describing some of the Muslim-oriented organizations that are making an effort to provide counselling, housing, advocacy and other forms of support to Muslim survivors of GBV in Canada. This includes excerpts of interviews with the workers and their insights on the challenges and opportunities in this space, a discussion on the importance of engaging men and boys (and especially imams), and recommendations for moving forward.

Some of the recommendations include greater collaboration between the many Muslim-oriented organizations in this space, a call for the government to provide work more closely with these culturally-sensitive efforts, the presence of female counsellors in mosques, and further research.

Every woman who is unable to achieve her full potential due to gender-based violence is a loss for all Canadians and for our world. This is why we at Islamic Relief Canada are committed to doing our part to end gender-based violence and empower women in every aspect of our work. The “Year of the Woman” should not be a special occasion — it should be the norm, every year, everywhere.

To see the full report, click here.