Sunday, 6 December 2015

Domestic violence against women in the context of migration and minoritization (6 December 2015)

Punita Chowbey

‘The day I got here it was evening, but the second day he showed me around his house, where everything was, the kitchen, and bathroom. The first thing he said to me you don't need to worry about me, you don't need to know my whereabouts, when I come and when I go. I only got married because of my parents - so you can just look after them. I use to enjoy wearing nail polish and he said to me, my parents don’t like it so take it off.' (Fatima (a fictitious name), research participant, South Asian Women's experience of domestic abuse, Minhas et al. 2002)

Fatima had left behind everything familiar her family, friends and surroundings and followed her husband to the UK, whom her parents trusted to look after their daughter. However, the trust was soon broken. When violence became unbearable, Fatima ended up in a refuge in the North of England. Many women like Fatima who are first generation migrants are vulnerable and isolated in an unfamiliar and hostile environment. Though domestic violence is pervasive globally and in all ethnicities, it differs in its form, content and severity depending on women's location in the socioeconomic, racial, and sometimes legal hierarchies.  Thus, experience of domestic violence is not homogenous and need to be seen against various intersecting axes of inequalities such as race, class, and migration; these need diligent theoretical and empirical investigation (Burman et al. 2004, Reavey et al. 2006, Chantler 2006).

While the incidence of domestic violence is not higher among migrant populations as compared to the white majority, minority ethnic women's experiences of domestic violence are often exacerbated due to poverty and social isolation (Anitha et al. 2008, Minhas et al. 2002). They are more likely to experience higher rates of unemployment and have lower levels of individual income (for a UK scenario on ethnic minority women's poverty, see Nandi and Platt 2010).  Lack of access to and control over resources, lead to financial dependence on the very perpetrators they seek to escape from (Minhas et al. 2002; Hague et al. 2006). Seeking support from the woman's natal family is usually avoided due to shame, fear of disapproval and distance (Haguet et al. 2006).

The above situation is further aggravated by systemic barriers to accessing support (Hague et al. 2006, Anitha et al. 2008).  Many migrant women lack English language skills and the ability to navigate services, rendering them invisible and isolated.  Fear of racism in mainstream services or anxieties about confidentiality in culturally specific services can further prevent them from seeking support (Burman et al. 2004, Hague et al. 2006).  In some cases, for example where identification documents are in the control of husband or in-laws or where the woman is subject to a 'No Recourse to Public Funds' (NRPF) stamp (in case of UK),   women feel unable to seek formal support (Anitha et al. 2008).  Although UK immigration law offers a 'domestic violence exemption', many women are not aware of their rights and the uptake of these services is very low (Hague et al. 2006).

Work around domestic violence has either disregarded minoritized women's experiences of violence on 'cultural' grounds, 'a homogenised absence'  or has put a spotlight on them and brought them and their community under scrutiny,  'a pathologised presence' (Burman et al. 2004, Chantler 2006 ). Those women who seek to engage with services against the above-mentioned odds report mixed experiences (Anitha et al. 2008).  A  UK study found positive experiences with specialist domestic violence services, Law centres and Citizen's Advice Bureau but dissatisfaction with health professionals, police and social services (Anitha et al. 2008). Another study revealed health professionals' failure to pick up on signs of violence due to assumptions related to culture and clothing (Minhas et al. 2002). Such 'cultural framing of violence' can pathologise and obscure the real issues of intersecting gender, class and racial inequalities in which domestic violence is embedded (Menjívar 2002, Burman et al. 2004).

Health professionals need to understand and engage with both specific and common forms of violence in context of migration and minoritizaion and respond appropriately rather than making assumptions about 'culture' (Burman 2004).   A multi-sectoral approach to bring out sustainable changes in wider social, political and legal structures including immigration policies is  needed to address migrant and minoritized women's needs (Michau et al. 2015, Anitha et al. 2008, WHO 2013).

Burman, E., Smailes, S. L., & Chantler, K. (2004). ‘Culture’as a barrier to service provision and delivery: domestic violence services for minoritized women. Critical social policy, 24(3), 332-357.

Chantler, K. (2006). Independence, dependency and interdependence: struggles and resistances of minoritized women within and on leaving violent relationships. Feminist Review, 27-49.

CPS (2011 ) accessed on 02 Dec 2015, available at:

Hague, G., Gangoli, G., Joseph, H.  & Alphonse, M. (2006) Domestic Violence, Marriage and Immigration If you are immigrating into the UK to marry, what you might need to know,  University of Mumbai, India  and University of Bristol, UK

Menjívar, C., & Salcido, O. (2002). Immigrant women and domestic violence common experiences in different countries. Gender & society, 16(6), 898-920.

Michau, L., Horn, J., Bank, A., Dutt, M., & Zimmerman, C. (2015). Prevention of violence against women and girls: lessons from practice. The Lancet, 385(9978), 1672-1684.

Minhas, N., Hollows, A., and Kerr  (2002) South Asian Women's Experience of Domestic Abuse: Pillar of Support. Sheffield Hallam University, Survey and Statistical Research Centre

Nandi, A., & Platt, L. (2010) Ethnic Minority Women’s Poverty and Economic Well Being, Government Equalities Office (GEO)

Reavey, P., Ahmed, B., & Majumdar, A. (2006). ‘How can we help when she won't tell us what's wrong?’Professionals working with South Asian women who have experienced sexual abuse. Journal of community & applied social psychology, 16(3), 171-188.

World Health Organization (WHO). (2013). Global and regional estimates of violence against women: prevalence and health effects of intimate partner violence and non-partner sexual violence. World Health Organization.

Author profile

Punita Chowbey is a Research Fellow at the Sheffield Hallam University. Her mainly sociological research interests and experience fall into the following themes: Household economies, household food consumption, and healthy eating, families and marital relationships, parenting, ethnic inequalities in health, and race/ethnicity.  Punita’s research focusses on the South Asian population in the UK and in South Asia.

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