illustration of women gathered around a table
Illustration by Bria Miller

Our Background

Why do we need communities of care for urban Indigenous and African Nova Scotian women who have experienced gender-based violence?

Our research for this project showed these underlying issues:

The disproportionate impact of family violence on women and girls (Government of Canada, 2015).

The debates around why women and girls continue to suffer from family violence at disproportionate rates point to gender inequality, internalized gender norms, the institutionalization of sexism and misogyny. These are intensified by a patriarchal sociocultural context which has the effect of minimizing the damage violence does to women, girls, and children, and elevates male violence as a social construct to be admired (Ruby, 2000; Pepin, 2016). Broad social issues such as homelessness, poverty, addictions, and unemployment are also documented to increase the likelihood of experiencing various forms of family and intimate partner violence (Baker, Billhardt, Warren, Rollins, & Glass, 2010; Smith, 2000).

The increased likelihood of Indigenous and African Nova Scotian women suffering from violence.

 Systemic and institutionalized racism (Hill, 2004; Beishline, 2012), oppression and marginalization (Hatala, Desjardins & Bombay, 2016), the normalization of family and domestic violence (McMillan, 2011), the limited focus of state responses to the well-documented intergenerational and historical trauma, along with the internalizing of a profound mistrust of mainstream support services[1], all lead to Indigenous and Black women suffering disproportionately from family and domestic violence.

The rising rate of incarceration for women, in particular women from Indigenous and Black communities (Burke, 2017; Government of Canada, 2016).

The rates of incarceration for women are increasing, and a solid explanation for this disturbing phenomenon is as yet speculative. However, it can broadly be surmised that the same factors outlined above contribute to this trend.

A criminal justice system known to be unresponsive to the needs of survivors of domestic and family abuse, and disproportionately harsher towards members of racialized communities (Crutchfield and Weeks, 2016). 

The failure of Western criminal justice systems to adequately respond to the emotional trauma and damage suffered by victims of domestic and sexualized violence is acknowledged in the literature (Mears, 2003).  Our current criminal justice system evolved from a narrow application of legislation created to protect the property and privileges of the society’s upper classes. As such, it has typically had a limited role in meeting the needs of poor and otherwise marginalized people, including women and members of racialized minority groups, and in responding effectively to complex interpersonal and intimate conflict. Domestic violence is known to be unlike other types of crime primarily because of the associated intimacy and privacy in conjunction with social and gender norms. It is now broadly acknowledged that experiencing the criminal justice system for women, whether as victims or as offenders, may further revictimize them.

And finally, of most direct relevance to the populations addressed by this Project, the impact of intergenerational and historic trauma and loss on Indigenous and African Nova Scotian communities in Nova Scotia. Research from Nova Scotian scholars link the ongoing suffering of family violence in Indigenous communities in the province to colonial legacies, notably the residential school system, under the rubric of intergenerational or transgenerational trauma.   African Nova Scotian scholars have further emphasized the importance of awareness of the shared history of racism towards African Nova Scotian and Indigenous communities by mainstream society as key to developing and offering effective social services.

These underlying issues have the cumulative effect of weaving a profoundly alienating environment for women from Indigenous and African Nova Scotian communities who have experienced violence. The survivors consulted for this project emphasized their reluctance to access mainstream services for women in their position, recounting how they had been subject to racist remarks and practices by staff and residents when “forced” to use these services. They repeated that they felt unwelcome and unheard in these spaces which they saw as being designed by privileged women who did not understand their plight. In this environment with systemic, community, familial and inter- and intra-personal impacts, a lack of reliable and consistent services and supports is a significant gap. The main objective of our Project is to step into this gap by enabling community-based organizations which hold cultural competency and operate through a critical race analysis lens and are already closely involved in the lives of survivors, to implement programs and practices in a considered and well-planned manner while taking into account the cultural worldview and context of the communities they serve.

[1] Consultation with survivors from the African Nova-Scotian community at Mulgrave Park Caring and Learning Centre, Halifax, Nova Scotia, on 5 February 2019.