New Canadian Media

By: Manaal Farooqi in Toronto, ON

One in every five Canadian women is born outside of the country. However, despite diverse ethnic backgrounds, many communities face discriminatory hurdles others may never witness in their lifetimes. This notion is only amplified in the case of Muslim immigrant women, who can experience challenges springing from multiple biases.

"Gendered Islamophobia" affects them in ways that are often left out of the wider conversation about the immigrant experience.

Whereas Islamophobia is defined as an irrational fear of, aversion to, or discrimination against Islam or people who practice Islam, gendered Islamophobia dissects the issue a step further by diving into more pointed signs of inequity. Muslim women may be victims of both sexism and Islamophobia, disadvantaging them as they navigate through schooling, employment and other public spaces.

But, ultimately, it could play a huge role in their overall sense of safety.

Muslim women, specifically those identifiable through religious headgear or prayer routines practiced in public, can be more prone to being victims due to their "visible" status. This has led to cases of assault as well as blatant displays of anti-Muslim rhetoric.

Greater scrutiny

Aima, a Pakistani Canadian Muslim woman who dons the niqab, has dealt with discrimination in both public spaces and at university as well. She would find herself consistently ignored in classrooms when she attempted to answer or ask a question during lectures; and when she was able to speak in class she found her answers were met with greater scrutiny, even when they were correct.

Other comments directed towards her included unwelcome discussions on forced marriage along with the fact that she’s been repeatedly told that she “[enjoys] so much freedom” for someone wearing a niqab. She adds that “my body will be policed and my choices scrutinized” for the expression of her faith and identity within today’s socio-political climate.

And she’s not alone, Shazlin, a Malaysian immigrant who once wore religious headgear, states she has had similar experiences, in addition to street harassment.

“Even talking about it now, it makes me angry that I was vulnerable and that I was made a victim in that moment when I know I have a lot more agency,” she says. She recalls one particular incident when on a walk with other visibly Muslim women in Toronto, a man verbally assaulted them and attempted to flick cigarette butts at them.

Regardless of what Islamophobes think, the comments and questions Muslim women face on an everyday basis eventually begin to take their toll. T.G*, who is an Ethiopian Muslim immigrant, has found that people often assume she lacks intellect, agency and knowledge of pop culture because of her hijab.

“I’m a walking encyclopedia on all the ethnicities, cultural expressions, and nuanced faith practices of the Muslim world,” T.G adds sarcastically. “We are expected to be the compassionate caretaker, teacher, and empathetic listener to all manners of ignorance about our faith. The brunt of the burden of flag-bearing for Islam falls on us – especially hijab-wearing Muslim women.”

Seeking a lower profile

But Muslim women who are more visibly ambiguous are not immune to similar experiences. As in the case of Safia*, an Arab-Canadian Muslim who does not wear any religious headgear such as the niqab or hijab. Yet, she constantly faces questions related to terrorist groups such as ISIS at her workplace.

One of her former coworkers even emailed her after the Orlando shooting with footage he had found of an Imam who seemed to have made homophobic comments. He wrote to her demanding, “We want answers. What is your community doing about this?"

No action was taken and the comments continued, despite the fact that Safia had made complaints to her immediate supervisor multiple times. In the absence of authoritative intervention, she weathers the harassment through therapy.

Sara*, a young professional of North African descent who doesn’t wear a hijab, has attempted to keep her religious affiliation from co-workers, out of fear that repercussions could affect future opportunities and her overall comfort at work.

Sara explains that her former employer would bring her news articles about honour killings in an attempt to make a correlation with her faith that would justify its relevance. The controversial articles forced her into a defensive position on a complex subject that she did not even agree with. Now she avoids questions about religion or her ethnicity to discourage unwelcome conversations.

These experiences only begin to highlight some of the situations Muslim women are faced with on a daily basis. The full impact it may have on their everyday interactions, ability to navigate public spaces or even in their careers remains immeasurable.


*names have been changed to protect the identity of these women

Manaal Farooqi is a writer and community organizer working on issues of violence against women and race. This piece is part of the "Ethnic Women as Active Participants in Ontario" series. 

Published in Top Stories
Monday, 07 November 2016 11:47

In Praise of Donald Trump

Commentary by Darren Thorne in Toronto

On the eve of the U.S. Presidential election, and with apologies to the Bard for the inversion, I come not to bury Donald Trump, but rather to praise him.

Of course, at this point, those appalled by the unremitting ugliness of his rise in American politics can afford to be magnanimous, as Trump himself has buried his campaign more effectively than anyone else could have dreamed of. 

While he will never lose the backing of his most diehard supporters, it has become clear that his latest scandals – the devastating combination of videotaped assertions of sexual braggadocio which appear to betray a predilection for, well, sexual assault, and then a deluge of women coming forward shortly thereafter to accuse him of exactly that crime – ended any hope of Trump drawing enough additional support to make him truly competitive in the election. 

The truth is, despite the last minute recurrence of the Clinton email issue, the 2016 presidential race has effectively been over for weeks. Judging by the extended temper tantrum Trump has been throwing with his deranged, whining claim that the election is somehow “rigged”, on some level he already knows it.

So what words of praise could one possibly have in relation to Donald Trump’s foray into U.S. politics?

Rejection of facts

He is, after all, responsible for coarsening the political, and likely societal, culture of America in unprecedented ways.  His campaign seemingly thrived off of normalizing almost any type of bigotry one could name, be it overt racism against Hispanics or blacks, Islamophobia, xenophobia or just good old-fashioned misogyny.

It took the rejection of facts and the shameless telling of untruths, if not bold-faced lies, to entirely new levels – which is saying something, given that we are talking about the realm of politics.  In debates and in the media, Trump insulted and denigrated his rivals so viciously that one almost had to admire his talent for doing so.

Most damagingly for the American body politic, at every step of the way Trump encouraged his supporters to de-legitimize and turn on anyone who thought differently than they did. And finally now, thanks to his preposterous claims that the election is “rigged”, his rhetoric threatens to undermine public faith in the political system itself and may be sowing the seeds for post-election violence. 

As an aside, I’ll note that, generally, when the person on the train next to you starts ranting about how a shadowy cabal of bankers, media, politicians and their inner city minions are secretly conspiring to ruin society, that tends to be the point at which most of us stop making eye contact.

Racism and sexism still alive

But, despite all of this, Trump has unwittingly done America a service, in two ways.  First, he has revealed the true depth of division and intolerance which apparently simmers just below the surface of American society. The success of his campaign has put the lie to the claim that racism and sexism are spent forces in North America, as at this point it seems clear that his campaign has not thrived in spite of his bigotry, but rather because of it.

Second, though Trump’s campaign exposed these societal fault lines, America should be grateful that the candidate’s personal flaws ultimately prevented him from exploiting these skillfully enough to succeed at the ballot box.  

Trump is certain to lose this election, but only because his pettiness, inability to control himself and loathsome, narcissistic boorishness has meant that he has been unable to fully harness the societal divisions he has stoked and thus ride them to electoral success. 

Still, if nothing else, Trump’s success should serve as a wake-up call. The danger is that this is something a more disciplined, genial candidate with the same sensibilities might well have been able to do. Trump has manifestly exposed this danger, and made clear the racial and economic fault lines that America’s leaders, of both parties, must address, if they do not want to eventually see an even more dangerous sequel to this fiasco.

This is for the good, but it is less clear where America goes from here. The sad truth is that the country is likely to exit from this election even more divided than before. Trump’s rise has also made it abundantly clear how helpless even well-meaning and principled Republicans are in preventing their party from succumbing to its basest instincts. 

So it will be a hard road forward, healing these rifts. But thanks to Donald Trump, no one can now underestimate how vital the need is to do so.

For that, ironically, America owes him a debt of gratitude.  Now let’s hope that after November 8th, none of us have to see or hear from him ever again.

Darren Thorne (B.A., LL.B, LL.M) is an international lawyer and adjunct law professor, specialized in international affairs, development and constitutional and international human rights law. He was previously counsel to Ontario's Deputy Attorney General and has an extensive history of international legal and project work throughout Africa, Asia and Europe.

Published in Commentary

A study led by SFU Masters of Public Policy (MPP) student Halena Seiferling found that the biggest barrier for women entering politics at the municipal level is persistent sexism and gendered comments.

“Though many people may assume that municipal politics is more welcoming to women, this study shows that problems persist even at the municipal level,” says Seiferling. “My research advocates for municipalities to have equal numbers of men and women on their advisory committees and boards in order to begin to combat this problem.”

Indo-Canadian Voice

Read Full Article

Published in Politics
Monday, 31 August 2015 09:03

Living With Arab Girl Syndrome

by Summer Fanous (@SummerFanous) in Toronto, Ontario

Living in Jordan and Syria as a teenager, I witnessed daily injustices – and because I was born female, I faced them as well.

I always knew I wanted to share my story and write a book, but hadn’t got on the right train, so to speak.

As luck would have it, I volunteered to judge a Canadian annual creative-writing competition for ESL students around the world called CreatEng Café. I was involved in a number of steps in the process of creating the book, and once it had been published, the light bulb suddenly came on.

The idea for my book was staring me right in the face.

In my case, out of years of frustration and constant questioning – and a bit of humour – I discovered that I had “Arab Girl Syndrome.”

Culture shock

After spending five years in the Middle East from age 12 to 17, I moved to Toronto in 2011. I love everything about Canada, from the people to the scenery – and especially the hockey.

I must admit, though, my love for hockey has less to do with it being Canada's national sport and more to do with the fact I was born and raised in Chicago and am a Chicago Blackhawks fan. 

But I’ve loved every moment of being in this country. I feel it is a place for true beginnings, especially for newcomers. I lived in Jordan and spent a lot of time in Syria, before any of the civil unrest started happening, and I’ve seen how Canada has stepped up and been friendly to Syrian refugees.

Arab Girl Syndrome is an inherent feeling of inequality rooted in sexism that manifests itself in Arab tradition.

But the extreme culture shock I faced while moving between countries opened my eyes wide in disbelief. Living life on one side and then switching over to the opposite side overnight does something to you.

Right before we were about to fly to Amman, my father was watching a program on television that was talking about honour killings in Jordan.  I asked him what the show was about, and he just told me not to worry.

This experience with my parents speaks to many others I’ve had with them about certain topics. Sex was probably the main one – it’s no surprise to me that immigrant parents in Ontario are so riled up about the changes to the sex-ed curriculum in this province.

Many parents avoid talking about sex in the hopes that their children won’t be “lured” into it.

But having “the talk” is critical for the development of healthy and mature lives. Children need to know about the parts of their bodies that are private. They need the proper language to communicate what’s happening to them.

When parents don’t speak with their children honestly, openly and in an age-appropriate manner, they create confused and misinformed people.

For example, how can children feel comfortable reporting sexual abuse if they don’t know how to discuss it, or what to do if it happens?

The challenge of being born female

Arab Girl Syndrome is an inherent feeling of inequality rooted in sexism that manifests itself in Arab tradition.

In order for a revolution of any sort to happen, people must understand that those outdated ideas and taboos aren’t appropriate in today’s day and age.

The goal for every father of an Arab daughter is to protect her honour and dignity before she gets married off and becomes the responsibility of another man. In most cases, the importance of her “honour” lies in her anatomy and is to be protected of all costs – her virginity.

In the Arab world, marriage – and, therefore, permitted sex – is the one thing that’s probably on everyone’s mind, yet no one is talking about it.

As Shereen El Feki argues in Sex and the Citadel: Intimate Life in a Changing Arab World“Moreover, for women in Egypt and its Arab neighbors, having a husband is key: a woman’s social value is still tied to her status as a wife and mother, no matter how accomplished or professionally successful she might be… As they say in Egypt, ‘The shade of a man is better than the shade of a wall.’”

Giving voice to Arab women

In order for a revolution of any sort to happen, people must understand that those outdated ideas and taboos aren’t appropriate in today’s day and age. Giving voice to the ideals that Canadian Arabs and Arab females from around the world believe today will help get the message across.

But in many Arab countries, “outside” opinions and information that are beneficial to women might not always be welcome.

Thankfully, Canadian society doesn’t subscribe to the same ideals as society in the Middle East, which is why I am proud to be living in a country that affords all people the opportunity to become a better version of themselves.

The last thing I want is for my children to be misinformed about sex. I want my daughter to understand the way the world works and to change the old-school mentality about what’s important as an Arab female.

Our voices are underrepresented, and I believe it’s finally time for them to be heard. That is why I started the Arab Girl Syndrome writing competition, which offers New Canadians from various parts of the Arab world the opportunity to share their stories. The only requirements are that applicants must be female and of Arab descent.

There will be prizes, as well as a chance to be published in a collection of works by Arab women including essays, poetry, short stories and original artwork. The book will be an elegant yet raw look into the lives of Arab girls and women from around the world.

The competition begins September 15, 2015 and will run until January 31, 2016.


Summer Fanous is a professional freelance writer in Toronto. Please visit her website, www.summerfanous.com, for more information. Her passion project can be found at www.arabgirlsyndrome.com

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Arts & Culture

Poll Question

Do you agree with the new immigration levels for 2017?

Yes - 30.8%
No - 46.2%
Don't know - 23.1%
The voting for this poll has ended on: %05 %b %2016 - %21:%Dec

Featured Quote

The honest truth is there is still reluctance around immigration policy... When we want to talk about immigration and we say we want to bring more immigrants in because it's good for the economy, we still get pushback.

-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit

Zo2 Framework Settings

Select one of sample color schemes

Google Font

Menu Font
Body Font
Heading Font

Body

Background Color
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image

Top Wrapper

Background Color
Modules Title
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image

Header Wrapper

Background Color
Modules Title
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image

Mainmenu Wrapper

Background Color
Modules Title
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image

Slider Wrapper

Background Color
Modules Title
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image

Scroller Wrapper

Background Color
Modules Title
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image

Mainframe Wrapper

Background Color
Modules Title
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image

Bottom Scroller Wrapper

Background Color
Modules Title
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image

Breadcrumb Wrapper

Background Color
Modules Title
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image

Bottom Menu Wrapper

Background Color
Modules Title
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image

Bottom Wrapper

Background Color
Modules Title
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image
Background Color
Modules Title
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image