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Breaking the code of silence: Domestic violence and African-Nova Scotian communities

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – In addition to living under pandemic restrictions, women of African descent have experienced anti-Black racism and gender-based violence for too long.

Through its partnership with the Creating Communities of Care project which supports urban African Nova Scotian and Indigenous women experiencing gender-based violence, the Nova Scotia Association of Black Social Workers (ABSW) has been working to raise awareness and educate their fellow community organizations about this harsh reality. 

Lack of trust in the criminal justice system, deep stigma around domestic violence, and the desire to protect men and boys from mainstream agencies which they know to be discriminatory and oppressive has all led to what one African Nova-Scotian woman called “a cloak of silence” around domestic violence in Black communities, despite the fact that “it happens. We all know it happens.” 

During the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, over spring and summer 2020, ABSW concentrated on getting response lines and individual supports up and running in the Black community. 

As the “new normal” set in place, they expanded their efforts to connect with and educate non-Black organizations on the reality of the double bind of anti-Black racism which pervades our systems, and gender-based violence facing the women of their community. 

It is well understood that women from the Black community, due to the pervasive nature of anti-Black racism and lived experience of racialized aggression, simply do not trust mainstream organizations. Supporting these organizations to become more welcoming and culturally competent represents a challenge that NS ABSW is well-prepared to address. 

As part of this initiative, ABSW prepared and sent care packages to non-government organizations including the Elizabeth Fry Society who serves criminalized women, and the Mulgrave Park Caring and Learning Centre, as well as Victim Services (Department of Justice) and Community Services. 

These packages contained a variety of African-Nova Scotian themed items and educational materials and more generically useful goods. These organizations regularly serve women of African descent who have experienced violence, and providing these cultural tools is an important first step in developing safe and secure places. 

In a further attempt to break down the silos between organizations and to connect and learn, NS ABSW continues to advocate for survivors of gender-based violence in Black communities and provides Africentric education with organizations such as YWCA, Coverdale Courtwork Society, and Saint Mary’s University. The key messages they deliver can be summed up as follows:

The code of silence on domestic violence has become part of our culture – we need to break this silence and challenge this culture.

The importance of emotional safety of women of African descent- we need to create safer spaces which are trusted and seen to be welcoming by women. Otherwise, we will add to the harm they have already suffered. 

Engaging men and boys in these conversations and talking to both boys and girls in the Black community from a young age about healthy relationships, consent and respect. 

Our community needs to heal. We need to keep talking, keep educating and keep reaching out to each other to help the healing from all the harms inflicted on our community.  

For more information on the ABSW suite of educational workshops, please email: cec.absw@gmail.com

This piece was prepared with the assistance of Transition House Association of Nova Scotia, a knowledge mobilization partner for the Creating Communities of Care project.To learn more about the goals of Creating Communities of Care and its partners, visit: https://creatingcommunities.ca/

If you are concerned that someone you know may be experiencing violence, please call or text 1-855-225-0220, toll-free and open 24/7, for safe and confidential information on how to best support them.

See also: The light and the dark: Work at the Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre

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