Monthly Archives: December 2007

Child Protection

What do we know about Child Protection?

Child sexual abuse is a problem that involve societal attitudes and the protection laws around individuals rights. In our Iranian culture children are often left out to the cruelty of their parents, adults in their neighbourhoods, teachers in schools, other adults who try to exploit the child in any possible ways.

This is no surprise that we in our Persian culture do not have legitimate means to protect our children; no one is protected by law anyway. People are suffering from various levels, individuals, groups; communities are all in pain that is caused by the chaos of “ideology instead of human rights protection.”

Many times sexual abuse is justified by many religious terms or it is covered up with concepts that do not make any sense. The bottom line is that sexual abuse is a real problem in our culture that is ailing. Our children and youth are the real victims, sometimes, more than they can bear. Suicides among young people are many times due to unspoken issues such as sexual abuse. We have to learn and to teach our communities about this serious problem.

Sexual abuse of children exists in every country and every society. Sexual abuse is an act of crime, done by someone who is close to the child. The offender usually intimidates the victims by putting the shame and blame on them. These victims feel dirty, guilty, and shameful for something that was done to them. The burden of shame and guilt is something more than a human body can take. This leads to many serious mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and chronic pain.

Studies have shown that teachers, couches, priests, babysitters, grandparents, and parents are the main abusers. Since there is no study about this issue in Persian culture, it is hard to say what kind of caregivers does mostly commit this horrible crime. However, it is most often someone who gets close to the child and makes the child to trust him or her. Yes, I say “her”; women also could be abusers of young boys!

In those families in our home country who do marry young girls (underage) we do “justify” the sexual abuse of that girl. These victims are usually forced to be silent, threatened to be punished if they disclose, and left out with the blame of having caused the sexual interaction.

We know that many traditional families around our home country, they marry their young girls. Wouldn’t these types of marriages be called an official sexual abuse of children?

Definition of Child according to the Canadian laws is a person under age 18!

Two major laws to remember:

· Criminal Code of Canada

· In British Columbia; the Child, Family, and Community Services Act

These are the national and provincial legislation that are protecting children from any abuse.

If the walls of fear would fall down, many of these victims would come forward to testify the level of fear, isolation; emotional trauma, terror, and hurt that they have endured in the hands of those who decided to find sexual gratification with children.

Sexual abuse is a crime. We need to educate people and have them realize that children should be respected sincerely. Children have the right to live and thrive with safety, compassion, and away from harm. Sexual abuse is a crime that leads to physical and emotional abuse.

Sexual abuse victims are most silent and stigmatized young children (girls and boys), young girls, and women, people who carry a huge package of guilt, shame, and pain.

We should realize that sexual abuse is a huge problem that needs to be discussed openly and respectfully in our communities.

We should open up a debate where women and men could come forward talking about this issue and seeking help. The reality indicates that, it is going to take a long time for our Persian culture to start talking about this issue and other problems around sexuality. We do not talk about sex in our Persian culture. This is a topic that needs clarification, discussion, and education. If we do not educate our children, we let them be open to exploitation and harm. In our Persian culture we have been forced to silent a long time, it is now time to change that killing silent; it is time to talk about what is an open topic in western cultures. This topic is one of the hundreds of other topics that should be part of our cultural discussion agenda. When would that be possible? It is hard to say.

December 12, 2007


Domestic Violence & Typical Marriage

What is Domestic Violence and How does a typical Iranian Marriage look like?

There is no typical marriage, however, this is a format that can more and less be found in many new couple’s life.

What goes on in an abusive relationship? How does a marriage turn into a prison for a woman or a man? What do we mean by domestic violence? Is domestic violence specific to a certain culture?

These are questions that many of us might have when thinking about relationships that are abusive or become abusive soon after marriage. Today there is an overwhelming amount of research about violence in relationships and about the dynamics of violence. We should know that:

· The cycle of abuse and the cycle of violence live hand in hand.

· Violence in relationships does not distinguish between cultures and it happens everywhere, in every culture, and around the world.

· Victims of domestic violence, who are mostly women (although men can also be victims), generally come from all ages, all classes, and all races.

· The cycle of abuse has a pattern, a routine, a form, a shape. Research in this area defines the cycle as: triggering moments, argument, aggression, assault (physical, verbal, or psychological), moments of regret, promises to resolve issues, gifts and flowers for the victim(s), a couple of days of peaceful communication, another trigger, another fight, another argument…

· The issue of power imbalance is the key in domestic violence; the victim is cut off from family, friends, society, financial dependency, and /or self-esteem.

· Cultural issues such as the involvement of extended family in a couple’s fight or their private situations may contribute to tension and conflict.

Since we are not going to solve a “world problem” and we need to learn the signs of abuse in our own culture, we will concentrate on couples with an Iranian background. We will also look into some cultural elements of the patterns and the behaviours.

In our Iranian culture, women are in many times bound to some traditional, cultural. and societal form of oppression. By law a woman has the cultural obligations to obey her husband. However, we know that this is not always the case and the level of obedience depends on many things. Our Iranian men are also learning new ways of communicating, however, in most case scenarios men have the power.

The level of cultural capital (education, knowledge, and world view) and the type of family plays a huge role in how women are being treated.

Most women in abusive and domestic violence situations have to carry the blame for the issues occurring in their homes. There are some typical reasons for this: either women are not “listening enough” or they are not “behaving well” or they are not “dressing properly.” We can find hundreds of other “reasons” for why men have to “react” and teach women how to be what is required.

The blame on women is an issue that also happens cross-culturally, however, in Western societies legal protective measures are in place for these women. Many Iranian women, who ask for divorce while here in Canada or other Western countries, talk about the fact that they could not ask for divorce in Iran for many reasons. These include risking their family’s disgrace and feelings of guilt (aberoo and sharm).

Some men in our Iranian culture are given permission by the culture and even by law to “take care” of their “disobeying” wives. Once they immigrate, they learn that in their new country, for example here in Canada, the same behaviours are unacceptable and in most cases punishable by law. Some men are scared to death that their wives will leave them, so they use different strategies to keep them in the relationship: putting them down, name calling, accusing them of “having affairs,” “becoming whores,” or being bad mothers etc.

In order to understand what happens inside a home, we need to have studied cases. As this topic is a huge taboo in our Iranian culture and since we lack proper case-based research, it is hard to illustrate what really leads to an abusive relationship. Many anti- violence organizations and women’s support groups have done a tremendous amount of work here in North America to find out why the woman stays and under what circumstances she leaves the abusive relationship.

The world of research and the scholars of today should focus on more culture-specific and holistic approaches to finding out what cultural elements of abuse are most hard to break.

We can make a typical case in a fictitious way. We have to realize that in our Iranian homes there are some patterns of culturally accepted behaviours and norms, yet, due to many other factors, no two families live the same lifestyle.

A typical case scenario and a typical marriage in Iran (with reservation for diversity of cultures) that we all can relate to, could unfold in this way:

A young Iranian girl is getting married to a man, most likely older, who approached her family to ask for her hand. Either the two already know each other or a third party has suggested the match. The young girl will marry this man, usually not out of personal choice, but for various other reasons such as the man’s financial situation, the man’s family name, status, or a perceived love. Also, some parents would not like to keep an unmarried daughter in the home for a long period. So the reason this girl might say “yes” to a marriage might not be even close to “love.” Some delusions and illusions are always involved.

A contemporary traditional marriage is what happens in most homes today; parents and extended family members are involved, conditions for the wedding (mehrieh, Jahaz), cake, dinner, the number of guests for the party, the size of the party, and many other details are taken care of at this point. Some hidden conflicts due to various disagreements can be kept out of the equation and parents try to keep on happy faces to help their young daughter get through this important event in life.

Our fictional couple settles down either in the husband’s home or a home with the husband’s parents. In the best case scenario, the young bride moves into her husband’s home. In some wealthy families, the parents either purchase or rent a place for the new couple. Most parents, usually the bride’s, have made arrangements in form of furniture and other such details by this point. Also, most probably, the husband has a job with his father or at his father’s business. In more traditional or religious families, there are a number of customs that play a role. The main point is that the couple does not have much say in most cases, either because families want to help or want to make sure that their daughter gets married and finds a family life.

Traditionally, the husband is expected to be the breadwinner, the wife is expected to care for the home and have children. In some families, women go out and work, but most husbands persuade their wives to stay at home since life “out there” is not the best for women. In upper middle class families, the husband goes out to work and the wife may go participate in various activities, though these are “protected.” In any case, not much real initiative is encouraged.

Culturally it is acceptable for the husband to be tough and angry; he works hard and when he comes home, he has the right/permission to rule over his wife.

In families with no boundaries or respect for the couple’s private life, many parents and extended families get involved. Parents usually advise their newly wed daughters to become pregnant and bring a child into the world with the belief that “the child” will keep the husband at home! Many times the bride is forced to have children to make the husband’s parents happy. Culturally, children serve the purpose of making adults happy and causing the husband to become more attached to the home.

Tensions start to appear; if the couple does not have a good foundation in life, they trigger each other. Sensitive areas such as “my mom” vs. “your mom” are often the reasons for conflicts. When a lack of respect, name calling, and negative attitudes are involved, most women tend to be quiet and to avoid conflict so as to stay in the marriage in any way they can. Yet there are some who would think of their options.

There is a notion in our Persian marriage culture that the couple will “become like each other,” meaning they will get used to each other and adopt behaviors from each other. Alternatively, from the beginning whoever has the most power will try to make the other one like him/her, so there’s no chance for individuality. Men are physically stronger, have deeper voices, can be physical, and can threaten as well.

Battering, if it starts early on, occurs because the husband is attempting to express the gender differences and gender dominance. Expressing masculinity, in all patriarchal systems, is considered to be a good thing for men, who need to act like men, who do not feel emotions, who “put” women in their places, who can punish, and who can maintain control over family life. Research shows that gender identity is established between ages 1 to 3. Boys in most families are taught to be men and to stand up for their families, while girls are taught to be caregivers and nurturers.

If the wife’s mother was also abused and controlled, she learned early on that she has to become like her mother, that she has to care for her husband, who like her father, kicked, screamed, and yelled. The daughter has to learn from her mother, who loved and nurtured her angry and hostile husband.

The couple in our example may bond with each other and attachment will happen, even in the presence of family violence and abuse.

After a few years, the couple decides to move to Canada. The couple gets excited over the move and thinks that their issues will soon be solved–life outside Iran sounds and seems so different. However, unresolved conflicts move with this family to their new community. In addition, the problems and adjustment issues related to migration need to be taken care of in the first couple of years of life in a new country. This prompts promises after promises from the husband, that now the couple has to stay together because of new life situations. Children have to be sent to school and adjustment issues for them are sometimes overwhelming for parents. If the relationship is still abusive and violent, the victim who is mostly the woman will wait for the children “reach somewhere,” whether a certain point in school, or a certain age before acting/leaving.

In the midst of a life in a more woman-friendly country, the wife learns that she has rights and indeed that help is available; she also knows her rights intuitively, yet, she needs time to learn to stand up for herself. The husband does not want to let go of his excessive anger, resentment, and violent behaviours, and he still hangs on to the macho man he was before.

The wife asks her husband to go for counselling; someone has advised them to see a counsellor. The husband thinks his wife is crazy and that she alone needs to go for counselling—he denies having any problems. The wife is blamed for being the source of the problem, the one who needs to attend a “mental hospital.”

Sometimes, the wife denies having any problems and she misuses her power in the family to hurt and to cause pain!

All the fights, arguments, or silences suffered by both parties happen inside the home and their children witness this. Children are often caught in the middle. If the husband is a suspicious type, he will use his children to spy on their mother.

If divorce comes in to the picture, the husband is still trying to intimidate his wife, threatening her for various reasons, telling her how useless she is, blaming her for having affairs with other men, and involving children in this marriage-custody-divorce battle.

Everyone is hurt, though mostly the children and the wife. The husband is also in pain, but he has hard time accepting the reality and asking for help.

Some couples do seek the proper help and they resolve issues; some fight until the end. Things can be prevented if the couple learns to deal with the problems early on.

We can always talk about our differences and issues in order to find our similarities and common interests! We need to learn how to build healthy relationships; this is why marriage counselling and pre-marriage counselling exists!

Get the help you need and deserve. No one should suffer in a relationship. If we cannot make a good couple, sometimes we can be good friends, and we can live our lives and co-parent if we have to.

The list is much longer in some families and different in others. What we know is that the cycle of abuse and violence knows no border. It is universal, yet, cultural influences are huge and they have to be identified in our Iranian one!

December 3, 2007


Metaphors & Our Daily Life

How metaphors impact and work in Our daily lives?

The use of metaphors is highly prevalent in our Iranian culture. It is significant to recognize the diverse use of language should this be helpful for some service providers to understand how some cultural groups convey certain messages. For our younger generation, it is also sometimes tough to really understand what their parents are talking about. In the absence of freedom of speech and also the internalized sense of censorship, we learn to wrap our words in packages or metaphors, examples, and sayings in order to express our feelings.

In “telling the door that the wall would listen” we set up our boundaries indirectly, in the third person, and in a passive language. When we tell our child that “the neighbour’s child is such a well behaved child” we are trying to say that our child does not behave properly and that he/she needs to learn from the neighbour’s child. Another example would be when we say that some husbands help their wives a lot; we are trying to tell our husbands that we need help, yet we say this vaguely. If we look at all the wonderful movies that are produced Iran (some of them win international prizes), we find many examples of how people are trying to talk about social problems that are taboo, or simply issues that are forbidden to be discussed in Iran. In all those cases we “tell the door,” about the social problems that should indeed be addressed, hoping that “the wall (i.e. government or authorities or people in general) would listen.”

In defining boundaries (had va marz), we work on setting limits, defining roles, and giving responsibilities for each person in a family or work environment. We all need to set boundaries in order to protect ourselves, our families, and others. Sometimes we do not have a boundary; everyone in the family is involved with everyone else’s issues and no one respects the other person’s boundaries. In a home, parents are in charge of defining the boundaries about how much they can provide for their children and how much children should help out in the family. As parents we set limits such that siblings respect each other and be fair with each other. We may set boundaries such as only once a month we can go to a movie or shop for clothes etc. Some parents set rules for their children about when they should go to bed and some children sit in their front of computers all night long breaking those rules. Our children also set up the boundaries of how they would like to be treated or not. Now, whether we as parents respect these boundaries or not, that is another question. Some parents set the rule that they will not argue in front of their children, while some others do not have any boundaries and fight all the time with children present. The person who has healthy boundaries will respect others having those limits.

Sometimes we are unable to use direct language or to have a healthy, assertive, and positive communication–that is the when we go back to our old metaphors. We “tell the door that the wall would listen.” “The door” symbolizes an object that you can pass through; you can open and close it and you can keep it shut if you want. You do not have the same flexibility with “the wall” that is hard, steady, rigid, and fixed in one certain physical place. If you tell “the door” something that can be passed through or transferred to something else, then the next thing you hope is that you may (or may not) reach “the wall.” Let’s see why we need to tell “the door” something. Is it because we do not find “the wall” able to be a good listener to what we have to say? This metaphor, most probably, has a function especially when we are afraid, that the receiver of the message will react, get defensive, or become angry about our subject. Many times we speak in the third person, referring to someone unknown, making fuzzy comments, and leaving ourselves the option to say: “oh, I do not mean you.”

Adlerian Psychology believes that we always try to safeguard or protect ourselves. When we use indirect language and avoid using “I” messages, we are afraid that our opinion will be rejected, disrespected, or not accepted. Many times we fear retaliation, especially if the receiver of our message has no tolerance for another’s opinion. Many of us, we are mostly not afraid of giving our opinion anyways; many times we discuss something for a long time to prove that we are right and the others are wrong. Sometimes we act like our opinion is the only one and we try to make comments in the third person so that “the wall” will hear.

The metaphor of “the door and the wall” is also used in relationships that two people cannot have a healthy communication by telling each other what is going on. When we want to make a point and teach our children something, we use examples of “others” that have gone into various situations with an exaggerated outcome. We judge others in order to prove our real “truth.” We tell “the door” by using those examples that “the wall,” our children, our spouses, or our parents would listen! If we search, we will find numerous metaphors that tell us how we think, how we feel, and how we behave. With use of metaphors we give advice, we tell things that can not be told otherwise, and we communicate in many different ways. It is interesting to put these concepts into a context of cultural analysis to see how our thoughts create words and how our words reveal the significance of our behaviours. In every language we will find those hidden meanings behind certain words that may be passive and not assertive. How do we speak then? It is positive to look at our ways of communicating and bringing up issues! It gives us a framework in which to spend some quality time.

December 1, 2007