Last month women around the world celebrated gains they have made in the quest for equality. At an annual International Women’s Day conference at the University of Minnesota it was evident that there is still a lot more work left to balance the scales. (See story here). One of the biggest crimes against women is violence at the hands of their significant others.
The risk of domestic violence knows no boundaries, age, race or economic status. However, a report by the Advocates for Human Rights, an the internationally recognized organization based in Minnesota, indicates that immigrant women are more at risk of violence and are less likely to seek help from government or non-profit organizations. The barriers to seeking legal redress are mostly economic and little knowledge of the law.
One woman, who left her husband a few years ago, has been ostracized by her community. Before she left him, she suffered at the hands of her children’s father. She lost many jobs because there were times she was bruised so badly that she was ashamed to be seen in this state by her coworkers.
After one of many brutal beatings by her husband, she met a woman – a social worker – at a grocery store who after seeing her bruises offered to get her out. On seeing her hesitance, the social worker gave out her business card.
She was afraid of telling her story to anyone least of making a police report, as her illegal status hinged on his legal one. He held it over her head, and she feared deportation. She also feared that her children would be herded into a deportation jail by the government.
We have heard one time too many that our women have become “Americanized” or corrupted by the American system because they have stood up against their abusive partners. Our sense of community as immigrants is very strong as it allows us to navigate the new country together. For this woman, her successful divorce from her abusive husband led the men in her community to keep their wives away from her, as she would “corrupt” them with her ideas of empowerment.
There is the Violence Against Women Act of 1994, a federal immigration law that provides immigration relief to victims of domestic violence. But, unfortunately, this reprieve is only available to married women (civil marriage), and does not include fiancees or girlfriends. There are several agencies in Minnesota that work with battered immigrant women, these include: Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women, the Battered, Women’s Justice Project, and the Battered Women s Legal Advocacy Project.
It is our duty then to advocate for women’s rights as we do for human rights everyday of the year. Our immigrant community must stand up to call for the end of the abuse our women go through.