Supporting muslim women
Good Practice Guidelines for ‘Mainstream’ Sexual Violence Crisis Services - Working with Muslim Women (F. Begum, & A. Rahman 2016)
Essential Learning - What we need to know
- You need to know any stereotypes that you hold about the Muslim community and have a readiness to address these by accessing further education about the Muslim faith.
- Muslims in NZ come from 80 or more different cultures/nationalities. You need to know Islamic teachings and realise that they are not always applied uniformly as they are intertwined with culture. You will need to develop an awareness of the victim’s level of assimilation into the different cultures that they bring with them. For example a Muslim from India may have a different worldview than a Muslim woman from a Middle Eastern country.
- Religion (Islam) is not only a part of Muslim identity, it defines the way Muslims live - it is a system. Remember this alongside other ethnic cultural competence training you may have.
- Have an understanding of the Muslim ethos (underpinnings) that support women’s rights and do not accept sexual abuse and violence against women. Prophet Mohammed (PBUH), regarded by Muslims as their leader and the last Prophet of God, has himself condemned men hitting their wives and there is no account of him hitting any woman or child in his lifetime. In the last sermon by Prophet, he emphasised to men that “they must be kind to their women” and further stressed that “wives have rights over their husbands in addition to husbands having rights over wives; that wives are to be treated well, for they are their husbands' partners and committed helpers” (Faizi, 2001).
- Thus any form of domestic violence or ‘zulm’ (torture, injustice, tyranny, cruelty, deprivation) in marriage is a “clear violation of Islamic law”. Women have the right to equity, freedom and kindness and they also should have freedom from “fear of any human being, freedom from all oppression, the right to justice, freedom from defamation, and the right to peacefulness even during divorce” (Faizi, 2001). However, the interpretation and translation of Arabic words by many scholars has resulted in giving power to men to exercise violence in the name of religion. Aspects of obedience and “qawwamun” (protection, maintenance and safeguarding) have been misinterpreted leading to demands for women to be submissive, overpowered and to be put in a degraded category by abusive men (Faizi, 2001).
- Understand that many Muslim women can not easily leave an abusive partner. She is likely to greatly fear loss of the children and inability to provide for them. Many would not have managed or ever paid bills. There would be a need for significant upskilling in their care for their own lives.
- Understand the broader impact of sexual violence on not only the victim/survivor but also her wider whanau and community (related to shame and judgement).
- Immigration may also be an issue. For example, the wife may be a dependent of the principal applicant (mostly men in cases of families coming from other countries) which gives power into the man’s hand to decide the woman’s fate.
- Modesty about her body could make disclosure and medical examination very difficult.
- Muslim women are cautious of accessing mainstream services due to negative experiences associated with stereotyping and a lack of cultural understanding. There is a need for professionals working with Muslim women to understand the cultural context of the victim/survivor “knowing where we come from”.
- Low rates of disclosure of sexual violence – brings dishonour on them, their family and the Muslim community.
- Barriers to accessing health services include:
- “Insensitivity” to the modesty of many Muslim women, such as the hospital gown and the procedures that a woman has to go through (particularly following sexual abuse).
- “Lack of education, intimidation, and lack of exposure to the world”- Women hesitate to enquire and question consultants (as it is seen as questioning their capability) about the process and also may not take part in making informed decisions about their treatment, as they are unaware of their rights.
- Religious beliefs - Muslim women may believe that issues of abuse are from God and may accept the situation they are in. They may also believe that patience and enduring pain is the way to gain forgiveness.
Essential Practice - What we need to do
On the frontline
- Assess the extent the Muslim woman has assimilated into the western culture. Gauge her present situation - her education, employment, relationship, culture, ethnicity, amount of time she has stayed in New Zealand, to what extent are Islamic values important for her and so on.
- Do not engage with survivors or families about their religious beliefs, but prioritise connecting the survivor with other Muslim specific supports.
- Client choice and consent is essential before engaging with family.
- Assist new migrants and family of victims to stay in close relationship with the community as this may provide some cultural support.
- Many immigrant Muslim families don’t understand English and they don’t understand the context of the situation they are in, so there has to be people of their own language who can explain to them. Arrange interpreters if needed.
- Understand and validate the immense pressures she might be under to not make a complaint, whether the perpetrator is family or not – potential for escalating violence, shame and dishonour, perceived religious pressures, immigration pressures, potential loss of children and livelihood, lack of social support.
- Understand her need for modesty, and support her in negotiating ways to accommodate this in the process.
Crisis support services
Workforce development should be a priority to address the needs of Muslim victims/survivors. This should include a focus on recruiting young Muslim crisis support workers. Support from peers who the survivor can identify with are the best support. The focus on recruiting a skilled workforce who possess dual competency, that is, cultural and religious knowledge and specialist knowledge of sexual violence, is also highly recommended.
Prioritise staff training and education: Provide workshops in aspects of sensitivity training in cultural and religious needs, and cultural competency workshops provided by Muslims that are competent or have the skills to work with people - leaders who are aware of the social issues, social workers, or people who work with minorities and immigrants.
Sector and Community Development
- Development of Muslim for Muslim services:
- An organisation with competencies of both the New Zealand legal system and Islamic knowledge to act on behalf of the victim/survivor.
- Requires a lawyer who is informed of both the Shariah and New Zealand law.
- Counselling is very important- Muslim counsellors who know both the religion and the legal system.
- An ability to engage in ‘Mushwarah’ (consultation) in a way that is culturally appropriate.
- Knowing the ‘shariah’ (theology and jurisdprudence) of Islam and providing services like counselling.
- Need for an organisation which deals with the statutory organisations straight away, in a way which is informed by Islamic ethics and in which advocacy and support are provided by qualified professionals from the Muslim community. The organisation would provide support to the woman/girl and family and liaise with:
- Medical personnel
- Community leaders
- School and other relevant organisations.
- The development of consultative (panels) groups that can provide their cultural expertise on such matters. A need to develop panels in this country from various ethnic/religious groups who are given a short course on social work/counselling issues and who can be called on in cases of family violence or sexual violence or for consultation by Department of Corrections, where the panel can provide expertise in the specific cultural or religious aspects that need to be taken into account. Membership of such a panel would be a paid position, and could work at a national level servicing practitioners throughout the country, in a variety of fields – maybe even health and mental health.
- Development of appropriate resources, such as a database of contact people such as Imams or community leaders who can provide for spiritual needs.
- Workshops for new settlers (both refugees and migrants) as they may experience culture shock which can lead to them being more possessive and sceptical about the surroundings that their children are growing in. Help parents understand that their culture and religion is a part of their new identity of being a New Zealander, and that there are rights and benefits which can assist.
- Provide good understanding on the topic of sexual abuse. Create an appropriate workshop that will be beneficial both for children and parents for building open relationships. It becomes necessary that parents attend workshops to be able to have a conversation with their children on sexual abuse and be approachable when necessary. This helps in breaking the barrier of lack of communication and alienating their children.
- Cultural supports – Imams (Shariah) are seen as leaders in the Muslim community, and beacons of support for some. However there is a sense of mistrust of such people (in power) as there can be a lack of understanding of how to respond to someone who has experienced sexual violence and a lack of knowledge regarding appropriate supports and healing pathways for victims/survivors. It is seen that this is an area of potential support in the future that should be progressed with caution. That is, the willingness of Imams to engage in relevant education with regard to responding to sexual violence is vital.
- Address the need for emergency housing.
Enhancing cultural competence
Shah, K. (no date) Practical Tips for Working with Muslim Mental Health Clients. Auckland: Waitemata District Health Board.
Other related research
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