Community Collaborations

Sakhi visits the Administration of Children’s Services to discuss the importance of cultural sensitivity in social service work

Reported by Alika Mathur, and Sethu Nair, of Sakhi’s Outreach Team.

On November 12, 2010, Sakhi was invited by the Administration of Children’s Services (ACS) to provide training on how to better serve the agency’s South Asian clients.  Facilitated by Danesia De La Rosa, ACS’s Domestic Violence Consultant and R.S., Sakhi’s Domestic Violence Program Advocate, the roundtable workshop and discussion focused on the unique facets of various South Asian cultures that influence inter-personal and community relationships and highlighted the importance of contextualizing individual experiences.

ACS is an agency dedicated to preventing child abuse and neglect, and creating secure and safe environments for children to grow up in. It is also one of the only children’s services agencies in the United States that has a strategic plan dedicated solely to domestic violence. As part of its commitment to ensure that children and families who are affected by domestic violence receive the most appropriate intervention and services, ACS works collaboratively with domestic violence service providers throughout New York City.

According to Ms. De La Rosa, ACS often received calls from South Asian women reporting violent homes and child abuse.

“As we hear the details of each particular case, it becomes evident to us that many of the women who call are themselves being yelled at, hit and psychologically manipulated. However, many of these women are not ready to talk about their personal experiences. As social workers, we are so immersed in the language of rights and empowerment that often we fail to understand why a woman would blatantly refuse to accept that she is being mistreated and hurt.”

As a social worker who speaks to South Asian women living with domestic violence, R.S. provided critical insight about why some women may not be ready to talk their experiences of violence.

“Among the major obstacles to seeking help are informational, cultural and linguistic barriers.  Some women don’t know how to express themselves in English.  Others do not have the awareness of what their rights are. However, what is most prevalent and harder to identify is the cultural subtext, the many reasons women don’t speak up.”

Many of the ACS social workers who participated in the discussion expressed their understanding of South Asian culture. Terms such as “arranged marriage” and “dowry” were immediately thrown around and mistakenly alluded to as the cause of inter-personal violence in the South Asian community.

By highlighting the similarities in the experiences of women worldwide, Sakhi staff R.S. and Sethu Nair, Community Outreach and Media Advocate fostered discussion on the ways societal oppression and socially constructed norms shape a community’s consciousness on the roles of women.  Soon, the participating ACS staff- all of whom were women of various ethnic backgrounds began to tap into their own experiences and cultures.

Once this personal connection was made, R.S. explained that, when practiced without factoring in a woman’s fundamental right to choose the partner she wants to be with, and when nestled in the understanding that women are the property of their families, arranged marriage and dowry exchange perpetuates the oppression of women. Additionally, as these ideas are instilled in the minds of young girls, many girls grow to believe that they don’t have the rights they are stripped of.

Apart from arranged marriages, Sakhi staff also discussed the way women are denied sexual and reproductive freedoms in order to uphold the “honor” of their families, the estrangement women are forced to feel from their own parents and siblings, and the physical violence women experience by in-laws.

The conversations focused primarily on the lived experiences of first generation immigrant South Asian Women, as many of the calls ACS and Sakhi receive are from this demographic. However, Sethu Nair clarified the importance of understanding that domestic violence is not a problem of a particular group of people.

“Domestic violence is not a culturally specific problem, and it is dangerous to classify it as the problem of a particular class or demographic.  Women around the world and belonging to different groups, sects and classes all undergo this unacceptable form of violence.”

Community collaborations and workshops of this nature are imperative to the work of social justice and social service organizations dedicated to the well being of society. As R.S. points out,

“It is crucial for us as service providers to understand the cultural paradigms that influence the experiences of domestic violence of women in any culture. The more agencies like ACS other service providers are trained on cultural sensitivity, the better off we will be in our work to prevent child abuse and neglect and end violence against women.