Reflections from the SAALT Summit

R.S. A Sakhi Advocate shares her thoughts on the 2011 advocacy Summit held by South Asian Americans Leading Together

 

In early April, I attended a national conference put together by South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) an advocacy organization committed

to elevating the voices and perspectives of South Asian individuals and organizations to build a more just and inclusive society in the United States.

The Summit held during the first week of April brought together a wide range of South Asian organizations from around the country,

providing an opportunity for all to raise issues concerning South Asian communities, and collectively strategize for solutions and future collaborations.

Attending the SAALT summit really got me thinking about the broader implications of the work I do everyday at Sakhi.

As an advocate at a grassroots, community based organization; the Summit helped me draw connections between my day-to-day work and broader social justice work.

One of the panels I titled ‘Connecting the Local to the Global: From South Asia and the Middle East to the Border and Our Backyards’ articulated the importance of the need for local grassroots organizations (specifically those working with immigrant populations) to integrate local community-specific visions in a broader context. One of the panelists,Hansdeep Singh from United Sikhs explained how discriminatorynational laws and negative public attitudes can affect an individual and a community’s psyche, how it increases an individual sense of alienation,reduces job prospects, impacts a community’s standard of living and education and leads to an increase in violence against women.

In context of the work I do everyday to combat domestic violence, I understood how important it is to address the roots of violence from the‘bottom up’ and at ‘top down’ at once. For example, by building connections with home countries and educating women about their rights even before they arrive in this country as new immigrants,

we can do preventive work, and by working towards improving immigration and national policies that affect the daily life of immigrants, we can ensure that survivors of violence can have access to their human rights. Harsh immigration laws reduce women’s choices and impedes (especially immigrant women) from finding alternatives,

leaving abusive relationships if they choose to and establishing independence from their partners.

Further, mainstream non-governmental and governmental agencies such as the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) and various law enforcement organizations lack a nuanced understanding of the impediments immigrant women face. For example, violence against women in the South Asian context is manifested in various forms including child marriage, polygamy, dowry, female infanticide, marital rape, depriving women of basic education and other such human rights violations. In such experiences, it is imperative that mainstream service agencies understand the abuse in this context. For this to happen there needs to be a lot more cultural sensitivity in both in organizations/social service units both in the US and the home country.

Other important points brought out during the conference included the importance of community interaction and dialogue. Another SAALT panel titled ‘Transnational Issues and the South Asian Community’ featured government representatives from South Asian consulates and provided a great avenue for dialogue between organizations and home governments on the above issues and ways to address them.

Tiloma Jayasinghe, Sakhi’s Executive Director spoke on this panel and made a very important point. She asserted the criticality of dialogue between community organizations and broader global entities like the UN for truly bringing about women’s empowerment. Initiating dialogue of this kind creates a nurturing setting necessary for all women to actively participate in the mainstream development process.

As an advocate assisting women who have experienced violence in their lives, I really appreciated the opportunity to discuss the complexities of my cases with other advocates from around the country. For example at Sakhi, I see many cases in which abusive husbands threaten their wives by refusing to help convert a conditional green card to one that would give her permanent status. In having discussions with my counterparts in other organizations, I was informed (and disheartened) to hear the further limited choices that H-4 visa spouses have in this country. In these scenarios, the ‘dependent’ clause within the H-4 visa severely debilitates and restricts a woman’s right to move around freely and establish independence from her husband. For example, a woman with an H-4 dependent visa often needs her husband’s accompaniment and support to acquire a driver’s license, open bank accounts and more.

SAALT’s Summit offered me the opportunity to have a broader understanding of how immigration status and its related nuances can adversely impact the choices that a survivor of domestic violence can avail of.

I thank and applaud SAALT for its work to create a platform for individuals and organizations to come together and share valuable insights with agencies that may have varied focuses, but have a common goal fo social justice and equal opportunity for all.

  • Learn more about SAALT and its work