KARAMAH Advocates for Cultural Sensitivity at the World Bank

To conclude their year-long campaign to address domestic violence, the World Bank hosted a panel in December, titled “Domestic Abuse Around the World.” The aim and intent of the event was to look at domestic violence from a cultural lens—a very challenging and often problematic way of addressing the problem if not done with respect and thoughtfulness. The premise of the event was to address misperceptions of culture that may perpetuate abuse, contribute to victims’ failure to report abuse, or limit services available to victims. With an extensive background in family law and domestic violence advocacy, KARAMAH’s Executive Director Aisha Rahman was asked to participate in the event’s panel. Ms. Rahman spoke to the sensitivity that we must have when discussing culture—culture is a rich part of a community and should not be a tool of oppression. Ms. Rahman addressed how KARAMAH frames these issues through community-oriented educational programming, as well as ‘train the trainer’ workshops for lawyers, judges, and domestic violence advocates.

Vice President of Human Resources at the World Bank, Sean McGrath, introduced the event by highlighting the core values of the organization and its commitment to diversity. Fons Marcelis, head of HR, then shared an excerpt from the Indian talk show “Satyamev Jayate.” Hosted by Aamir Khan, the show spotlighted stigmatized and under-discussed social issues, including domestic violence, in India. This particular episode featured a number of interviews with Indian women who remained under their abusive husbands’ control for up to 10-16 years before leaving them. The episode most shockingly reported that in some areas of India, up to 84% of women reported being subject to physical violence at home.

Though the show focused on cases of Indian women, its message was universal. The overarching theme addressed during the following discussion was that, despite cultural differences, domestic violence equally plagues all societies and cultures. One particular point raised was the need to engage men in dialogue about domestic violence. In particular, there exists the need to redefine “masculinity” in more patriarchal cultures that stress the woman’s place singularly in relation to her male counterpart.

In addition to Ms. Rahman, the panel discussion featured representatives from three other organizations in the DMV area who talked about the resources available through their respective organizations. Jessica Li, Director of the Asian/Pacific Islander Domestic Violence Resource Project (DVRP), mentioned that though she finds marked differences amongst victims of Asian backgrounds, there exist many similar stigmas of reaching out to service providers.

Dr. Revathi K. Vikram of ASHA for Women addressed the need to redefine the woman’s role in inAmericaand abroad, particularly in South Asian communities. Empowering women to have the courage and financial stability to leave their victimizers involves helping women develop their own independent identities. Education, she stressed also, is the equalizing factor through which girls and boys learn to respect their partners.

Antonio Arenas, Legal Advocate at the House of Ruth in Maryland, discussed the social services available at the shelter. Services include abuser intervention programs and cultural sensitivity training for their predominantly Latin American clients. Mr. Arenas additionally talked about the need to change and standardize DV legislation internationally. Indeed, all panelists reiterated the need to train service providers to be “culturally sensitive” and “culturally competent” in dealing with victims across religious, ethnic and cultural boundaries.

Mr. Marcelis concluded the panel by stressing the World Bank’s, IMF’s, and IDB’s intolerance towards domestic violence. He then highlighted the ways in which the organization(s) would continue to advocate for victims’ rights and expand the resources available to employees and their families in instances of domestic abuse. KARAMAH hopes to have the opportunity to participate in similar panel discussions in the future. These events only further the dialogue about important issues such as domestic violence, and thus bring us one step closer to ensuring dignity and basic human rights for all.

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