Monday, 30 January 2012

Honor killings: We can do better

In a parking lot exactly two blocks from my house, a beautiful young woman sat holding hands with her loving boyfriend.

It was 2 a.m. and the pair had been tooling around Ottawa, enjoying its wonderful gifts and they stopped for just a moment to steal a kiss.

In their final hours of life, there was joy, love and happiness.

Their future plans were shattered forever when the girl's brother drove up and shot them both dead as part of a family-sanctioned honor killing.

Like an old-fashioned western, a common theme was played out: the boy was no good for the sister. A wrong had to be made right. Two lives were wasted because of some kind of misguided patriarchal principle.

Women come to this country to escape this kind of barbarism.

They pack up, leave everything and start up with new dreams for their daughters.

Unfortunately, for many women, there is no escaping their native culture and values. Within their families, as we saw during the Shafia trial, they are abused, tortured and threatened. And some are eventually killed in this manner.

It's not just the threat of honor killings that women worry about.

There are hundreds of young girls, born in Canada, who are sent home over school holidays to participate in genital mutilation ceremonies, to ensure that they will never enjoy the pleasure of their sexuality. According to experts, genital mutilation is also being performed in doctors' offices in Canada, although it is illegal.

There are also many, many kinds of subtle abuses that take place.

Women are discouraged from learning the language and interacting with other Canadian women. We see them everywhere, isolated, like shadows, their faces covered so no one can see their screaming pain. There are no support groups for these women, there is no possible way for them to escape their cultural prison.

We passively watch them at bus stops, in grocery stores and walking their children to school.

We're Canadian, after all.

Don't want to interfere.

Don't want to get involved.

The Shafia case may have been the first glimpse we have had into a sinister world where women and girls are soundly oppressed. It is shocking to realize that, even though the beautiful and spirited Shafia girls tried to tell authorities about their impossible living arrangement, nothing was done to help them.

Wouldn't want to offend Mr. Shafia, would we?

He is an economic immigrant. A success by Canadian standards.

He's just a monster at home, that's all.

In Canada, we talk a good game about equality and common values, about the rights of women and girls, and yet we passively allow women from other cultures to be killed and wounded, with their spirits cut from their bodies.

If Prime Minister Harper had any guts, he would focus some of his government's attention on finding ways to "out" these families and to give the girls and women in them some chance of success and happiness.

Perhaps he could spend some of his law and order money on domestic violence, which, unlike street violence, continues to be on the rise. It's invisible, only until a toe tag tells the real tale.

I fear change will not happen.

Lessons will not be learned.

The government will do what it does with our aboriginal people. It will do what it does about violence against street workers.

It will just sweep it under the carpet, and brag to the world about what a wonderful country we live in.

O Canada.

We can do better.

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