By Erum Zehra
MuslimMoms.ca talks to Zena Chaudhry about Nisa Homes and how the organization, with its transitional homes for women and their children, has been instrumental in helping these victims of abuse get their lives back on track.
Can you please share with us stories of some women who are housed in Nisa Homes so that we can get an idea of their plight?
Due to confidentiality and safety issues, we cannot share entire stories, however there is one story which always sticks out for me. We got a call from an older woman one night whose abusive husband had Islamically divorced her. That same night, we picked her up from the closest GO station and brought her to Nisa Homes. From there, we learned that she had been trying to complete her Master’s degree but was having great difficulty due to the domestic abuse. Nisa Homes became a safe space for her where she could focus on herself and we were there for her to help her get her life back on track. Three months later, she graduated with her Master’s degree, got an apartment, and a job. She embodies what we hope and wish for all of our residents. Our goal is to support them in realizing their potential and truly believing just how strong and courageous they are.
It’s also interesting to note the statistics of the major reason why women and children come to Nisa Homes. 38.6% of the residents come due to domestic abuse, 36.5% come due to poverty, 13.6% come because they are refugees or immigrants without support, and 11.3% come for various other reasons. All of these women and children need our support, so our house operators and volunteers are trained to understand and work with women from all different walks of life.
Who are the people behind Nisa Homes. What is its history and when was it created?
The idea behind Nisa Homes was brought up in 2014 within National Zakat Foundation. They set out to determine whether there was a need for transitional homes or shelters for Muslim women and children in Canada. Their preliminary report indicated that there was indeed a demand and they set out to open the first transitional home for Muslim women and children soon after. In 2015, the homes began filling up and we began to see a clear need across Canada for these homes. At the moment, there are two homes – one in Mississauga, ON and one in Surrey, BC. Nisa Homes is run by two individuals – me and Yasmine Youssef. However, we do have the support and backing of National Zakat Foundation, as well. Zubair Qasim and Zaid Mirza are our two advisors and National Zakat Foundation, as a whole, is our financial backer.
How common is domestic abuse in a country like Canada?
Domestic abuse exists in every nation and state around the world and Canada is not an exception. Every six days, a Canadian woman is killed by an intimate partner – if that statistic isn’t alarming, 1 in 4 women have also experienced some sort of abuse in their lifetime. Additionally, 67% of all Canadians say that they personally know at least one woman who has been sexually or physically assaulted.
Further, it is important for us to recognize that the Muslim community is not immune to this either. There is domestic abuse in Muslim communities too but this doesn’t mean that our rates are statistically higher or lower than those of the rest of Canadians. We need to understand that people from all cultural, religious, and ethnic backgrounds can be abused. When people talk about “honour killings” what they don’t understand and take into account is the fact that any domestic abuse-related murder is an honour killing, regardless of the religious background of the perpetrator.
What kind of laws are in place to protect victims from domestic abuse?
Unfortunately, there are no specific laws about family violence, however many of the laws currently in place can work to protect women and men from an abuser. These laws can be found at: http://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/cj-jp/fv-vf/laws-lois.html
Does the government provide any kind of support to such victims?
Yes, there are some services provided by the government for survivors of domestic violence. There are victim services offices in every major region of Canada, shelters, helplines, and survivors of domestic abuse and violence are also put on the priority list for subsidized housing.
If yes, then why was there a need to establish a facility like Nisa Homes?
Nisa Homes was created due to a need in the Muslim community. We have no statistics or information about the number of Muslim women and children who are abused and this is, in part, due to the Muslim community being unwilling to talk about these topics. Domestic abuse and homelessness are seen as taboo topics in the Muslim community so it is important for us to bring these issues to the forefront because they will not go away if we refuse to address them. We should not deny the existence of abuse in our community but we should instead work to provide education and social services to create a safe environment for Muslim women and children.
Islam honours women greatly, so why haven’t there been strides made to protect them? We, as a Muslim community, have a responsibility to protect and honour women so how can we do that without having specific services for them?
Additionally, Nisa Homes is not just a group of transitional homes. We offer shelter, food, counseling, behavioural therapists for children, referral services, education and employment services, safety and sustainability planning, and financial assistance.
Through working at Nisa Homes, we have discovered that Muslim women often returned to abusive and unsafe homes to avoid staying at shelters due to stigma within the Muslim community as well as the community at large that often further exacerbates the problem by putting the onus on Islam. Additionally, mainstream shelters portrayed a lack of cultural and religious sensitivity from both the other residents as well as shelter workers at times, which results in women not being able to practice their religion, heal through spirituality or be prosecuted for their religious choices by, for example, being turned away from shelters, not being allowed to have iftar if the time did not coincide with dinner, or mocked for praying or making wudu (ablution).
How are the operations and the facilities funded?
All of our funding comes from private donors – we don’t get any funding from the government. Thus, the majority of our funds come from zakat, sadaqah, and donations. The rest of it is all sadaqah and general donations. Whenever Nisa Homes cannot make ends meet, National Zakat Foundation assists in covering our expenses. However, it is our goal to be self-sufficient within this year, insh’Allah. In order to do that, we need to build a strong donor base which goes out and actively fundraises for Nisa Homes along with donating themselves. Donations can be made at www.nisahomes.com/donate
How can the community help Nisa Homes?
The three most important ways that the community can help Nisa Homes are: spreading the word about Nisa Homes, donating funds or items, and donating your time and effort. Don’t shy away from talking about domestic abuse and violence in the Muslim community – let’s address this issue and help the women and children who fact this abuse.
For in-kind donations, you can always email email@example.com to see what items we are looking for at a certain time. We always welcome toiletries and non-perishable food items which can be dropped off at our office.