South Queens is having it’s own Women’s March to address Gender-Based Violence in the Indo-Carribean Community
The deaths of Rajwantie Baldeo, Stacy Singh, Maria Fuentes, Rita Rajkumar, Donna Dojoy, Vanessa Zaman, Jessica Motilall, Guiatree Hardat, Marian Singh, Christina Sukhdeo, Natasha Ramen, Leona Samalall, in South Queens is an demonstrative of an epidemic of violence against women in the Indo-Caribbean community in Richmond Hill, Queens. It’s 2020 and we’ve yet to go any definitive direction in protecting women from intimate partner violence and to help survivors get out of dangerous situations but also have the courage to end domestic violence in our community through more awareness about toxic masculinity and it’s trickle down impact into violence against intimate partners.
I wrote all those names down because its time to have the hardest conversation our community will need to have. Why are we failing our Indo-Caribbean women? Why is South Queens experiencing an epidemic of violence against women by those they trust and are in relationships with?
Having grown up in South Queens, I always heard in whispers, the troubles that women are facing in their relationships and many of them had to with the abuse and trauma that women were going through because of the taboo surround the discussion of domestic violence but also because there some situations where a woman’s undocumented immigrant status made it riskier for her to talk about what she was experiencing.
The undeniable intersections between immigration status, housing and financial conditions have had women trapped in unhappy and often times violent situations where getting out is it’s own mountain of troubles to climb. The centuries of intergenerational violence has also left it’s impact in the way that we discuss violence against people in our communities. One story I heard from a friend was that she faced threats from her landlord to not report the abuse that he was inflicting upon his wife because then he would evict her and her family for calling the police and that he would ‘snitch’ on her family because of her undocumented father. I have seen heard women’s stories about the generations of abuses they have had to contend with and the stigma that comes with being a survivor of domestic violence.
There are instances in which I have learned front row, how badly domestic violence can get in the diaspora. Reading the news about domestic violence and the latest woman to fall victim to the ‘boyfriend loophole’ and as Morgan Brinlee reported in 2018:
While the Lautenberg Amendment is a good first step, research has shown spouses aren’t the only ones behind the intimate homicides committed against women. A 2014 study on from the gun control advocacy group Everytown For Gun Safety found 48.6 percent of the intimate homicides committed against women were committed by a dating partner compared to the 46.7 percent committed by a spouse.
Moreover, research shows guns are not only prominent components in the homicide of women at the hand of an intimate partner but that they also factor heavily into incidents of nonfatal abuse and violence. A study published in 2016, for example, found “about 4.5 million [women] have had an intimate partner threaten them with a gun and nearly 1 million have been shot or shot at by an intimate partner.”
To get a better understanding of these issues, I asked Aminta Kilawan Narine, the Executive Director for the South Queens Women’s March for this march and asked her about what she thinks the issues around reporting domestic violence and how it is handled looks like. She had to say that:
“South Queens Women’s March has been postponed out of an abundance of caution for the health and safety of our community. We wanted to take to the streets to celebrate the resilience our women have in spite of the struggles they encounter day in and day out. Those struggles have only increased as a result of the pandemic. Many of our women, especially working class women in the service industry, have lost their jobs. Others are caring for ill loved ones at homes, having to juggle working from home while watching children who are now learning remotely, and others are answering to the call each day to go to work, sacrificing their own lives. Amidst this quarantine, New York City has seen a rise in calls to its domestic violence hotline as women have fewer options to get help while being trapped at home with abusers whose power and control is now amplified while sheltering in place. Relationships can become even more toxic as families face economic loss and changed circumstances. Many in our community also reside in small living spaces and are struggling to maintain their sanity and safety, with no ability to escape to work or school.
We will be marching when it’s safe to do so, but we’re rerouting our efforts into virtual programming to promote wellness at this time. We’ve had a series of events to foster fitness while sheltering in place and we will be hosting a series on healthy relationships, consent and sex-positivity to address some of the issues I mentioned. And we are looking to ways to fill gaps in resources that the pandemic has created. We will be launching a period drive to support women in our community who need access to feminine hygiene products, products which are expensive and often the first cut in a list of priorities among low-income women.” — Aminta Kilawan-Narine, Founder and Executive Director of South Queens Women’s March.
The arrival of the COVID-19 virus have put on hold the ways in which agencies can help survivors, mainly that in-person interactions have been more rare. The march would have culminated in a resource fair for women in the community to to know where they can get help whether it be a city agency or non-profits that do work around gender justice and domestic violence.
The Centers for Disease Control and prevention presented a staggering statistic for the rate of women who experience violence. The CDC says:
“Domestic violence is a serious and challenging public health problem. Approximately 1 in 3 women and 1 in 10 men 18 years of age or older experience domestic violence. Annually, domestic violence is responsible for over 1500 deaths in the United States.
Domestic violence victims typically experience severe physical injuries requiring care at a hospital or clinic. The cost to individuals and society is significant. The national annual cost of medical and mental health care services related to acute domestic violence is estimated at over $8 billion. If the injury results in a long-term or chronic condition, the cost is considerably higher.
Financial hardship and unemployment are contributors to domestic violence. An economic downturn is associated with increased calls to the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
1 in 3 women and 1 in 10 men experience violence by an intimate partner.
If you or a loved one is experiencing violence you can reach out to these organizations who are still helping women these organizations are continuing to serve survivors in the time of COVID-19:
- Sakhi for South Asian Women
- Safe Horizon
- Daya Houston, Inc
- National Domestic Violence Hotline
- Apna Ghar, Inc
What is South Queens Women’s March Been doing during COVID-19?
Due to the redirection that the South Queens Women’s March had to take in postponing it’s community march against gender-based violence they have steadily picked up momentum in Richmond Hill in other ways. Political candidates and nonprofits alike, shifted into Mutal Aid mode, where the focus was on assesing community needs and then trying to reach them through many ways.
As mentioned above, Mutual Aid was something that SQWM found it necessary to do, as economic insecurity and layoffs prevented people from being able to afford food and other household necessities.
SQWM has also been in partnership with the Mayor’s Office in making sure that community member get essential face maks in order to curb the spread of COVID-19.
At the end of the event, they highlighted the partners they worked with and how much they appreciate the help that everyone pitched in for.
While Sima Taparia from Mumbai might have wanted flexibility and adjustment, South Queens Women’s March showed what community centered and culturally attuned outreach looks like. Among the mutual aid efforts, SQWM also worked to educate the community through Zoom calls and provided fun and social outlets for the public to come and participate in.
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South Queens has also been experiencing a low census response rate. Which I write about here. With the assiatnce of Chhaya CDC and New York City Census, SQWM was able to amplify the issues surrounding a potential undercount of the diverse communities that reside in South Queens. For a community that has been undercounted and under-represented for so long, South Queens Women’s March is leading the way to transform and educate others around the issues of gender-based violence and taboo topics that our communities seldom talk about.
This article was written prior to the arrival of the COVID-19 virus and the march has since been postponed. It has been recently updated as of August 13th, 2020. But reading the stories of women who have fallen victim to gender-based violence is still critical to understanding how much more work we need to do to protect Indo-Caribbean women from the violence they face. If you wish to offer suggestions, corrections or comments please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also support the work that South Queens Women’s March is doing to uplift their community.