Intersection of gender-based violence and xenophobia against visible minority women: examining the status quo for policy and practice implications

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About the project

Gender-based violence (GBV) is a broad term that includes any action resulting in physical, mental, or emotional harm toward women because of their gender. GBV can intersect with xenophobia and disproportionately affect visible minority women who are non-Indigenous and non-Caucasian women. Among different forms of GBV, community and structural forms of violence substantially affect visible minority women’s lives in Canada. Community-level GBV often manifests through instances like race-based hate crimes or sexual violence, while hostility and discrimination toward women in the workplace are examples of structural-level GBV.

Visible minority women, including cis and trans women, have become the prime targets of increased xenophobic violence in public places and workplaces in Canada. Failure to address such violence at the structural level creates a cycle where acts of GBV are seen as individual problems, and victims are dissuaded from reporting and seeking support. We conducted a systematic review to identify the knowledge strengths and gaps in research about community- and structural-level GBV against visible minority women, barriers to accessing support for GBV, and existing policies and practices in five immigrant-receiving English-speaking countries: Canada, the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia and New Zealand. Central to our approach was applying an intersectional lens to examine recent literature on community- and structural-level GBV.

Key findings

Theme 1: Intersections of Xenophobia and Sexism Affecting Visible Minorities

  1. Intersectionality in Experiences of GBV: Visible minority women, particularly those from Black, Latinx and Asian communities, commonly experience GBV, including sexual harassment in public places. This is especially true for trans women, those with a history of homelessness, or those involved in sex work. South Asian, Filipina and other visible minority women also report experiencing GBV, often in healthcare and caregiving workplace settings.
  2. Violence setting variation: Young women are often victims of violence in home and educational settings, while adults experience violence in their workplace. Online GBV, particularly sexual objectification and harassment, is frequently reported by visible minority women.
  3. Intersection with structural disparity: Structural disparities such as poverty, precarious immigration status and societal stereotypes increase the vulnerability of visible minority women to GBV. Undocumented immigrants and those working in unregulated work conditions encounter higher instances of violence, including labour exploitation affecting their health and wellness.

Theme 2: Challenges in Addressing Community/Structural Level GBV

  1. Barriers to Reporting Violence and Harassment: Many GBV victims avoid reporting due to fear of retaliation, lack of familial support, and mistrust in law enforcement. This results in underreporting and inadequate access to resources.
  2. Cultural and Linguistic Barriers: Many visible minority women are also immigrants or refugees and may face certain limitations in understanding subtle racism/microaggression, therefore struggling to deal with such a situation. They often encounter racial slurs and stereotypical jokes that they perceive as derogatory, yet feel clueless about responding to them.

Theme 3: Research Gaps and Future Research Suggestions

  1. More Inclusive Research Approach: Extensive research is recommended within the Canadian context, particularly among diverse visible minority communities. The research in Canada also needs to be extended to various settings such as sports, public places and social media. This is crucial for developing effective policies and interventions tailored to Canadian settings. Given that a substantial proportion of visible minority women are immigrants, and are likely to face cultural and linguistic barriers, it is important to adopt more inclusive research approaches to ensure their participation in GBV-related research.
  2. Understanding Reporting Patterns and Barriers: An exploration of the patterns in reporting of community- and structural-level GBV is warranted to identify the factors associated with possible underreporting by visible minority women. Moreover, the research should examine structural dimensions of violence including politics of violence and institutional discrimination.

Policy implications

  1. Research and support programs to address GBV against visible minority women and its physical and psychological impact need to integrate culturally sensitive and safe approaches. In addition to legal support, educational programs are warranted to increase awareness of the specific ways GBV is expressed toward visible minority women.
  2. Inadequate GBV Prevention Policies and Reporting System: Educators and community leaders need to work with different actors to overcome the current limitations in GBV prevention policies in educational settings and workplaces, in particular, reducing and improving support for sexual harassment and bullying against visible minority women. The reporting system needs to be updated so that GBV victims can report without fear and in a safe environment.
  3. Improvement of Protection Measures for Migrant Workers and Trans-women: Improved policy considerations need to include heightened protective measures for migrant worker women and trans women. A diligent monitoring system for GBV against them can be imposed to ensure their safety. Assurance and safety training can improve their working conditions and uphold their rights.

Further information

Read the full report

Contact the researchers

Dr. Nashit Chowdhury, Research Associate, Department of Family Medicine, Cumming School of Medicine, University of Calgary:

Ms. Didem Erman, Community Coordinator, Department of Family Medicine, Cumming School of Medicine, University of Calgary:

Mr. Mohammad Raihan, Graduate Research Assistant, Department of Family Medicine, Cumming School of Medicine, University of Calgary:

Dr. Zack Marshall, Associate Professor, Department of Community Health Sciences, Cumming School of Medicine, University of Calgary:

Dr. Ranjan Datta, Assistant Professor, Canada Research Chair, Mount Royal University:

Dr. Fariba Aghajafari, Associate Professor, Department of Family Medicine, Cumming School of Medicine, University of Calgary:

Dr. Janki Shankar, Professor, Faculty of Social Work, University of Calgary:

Ms. Kamal Sehgal, Alberta Network for Immigrant Women:

Dr. Ruksana Rashid, Foundation for the Voice of Immigrants in Canada for Empowerment:

Dr. Tanvir Chowdhury Turin, Associate Professor, Department of Family Medicine, Cumming School of Medicine, University of Calgary:

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