Changing Visions of Ourselves > On Shifting Ground: Gender & Sexuality

Chicago

Baheia Ahmad

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Clinical Supervisor, Metropolitan Family Services

We began our work with women by focusing on domestic violence. We also organized support groups on early childhood, focusing on parents and other caregivers as children’s “first teachers.”

Before the Arab American Action Network, the only domestic violence services in our community were provided by a Palestinian women’s organization. There was no outreach to the Arab community through Metropolitan Family Services.

The early childhood program was very successful. We reached out to the Latino and Arab communities because we had Spanish and Arabic-speaking staff. At an average session we would have 15 families attending.

After 9/11 there was a huge impact on participation from the Arab community. There was no attendance at all for three or four months. We started making home visits to encourage people to come back.

Women have been afraid to report domestic violence because of all the profiling and the deportations. There was a lot of uncertainty about what would happen if someone was reported, even if they had a green card. Arab families turn to relatives when they need help more readily than to outsiders.

Women were also concerned about how they could survive without the men, who were the breadwinners and decision makers in their family. They also knew more English. What would happen if they were arrested and deported? Men were arrested and nobody knew where they were.

We do education in the community about protection orders. But when fear is so generalized in the community, people won’t seek help – because they fear being labeled, profiled, by someone. Women will come to see you as a “friend” – but I can’t really help them without a protection order.

With the war on Iraq, Arab mothers came around more, because our support groups were the only space where they could talk with other Arab-speaking mothers about their feelings. Within three or four weeks of the outbreak of the war there was a tremendous increase in attendance by Arab families. They were all watching Al-Jazeera on Abu Dhabi TV.

We’ve needed to keep our groups very informal, more like a potluck. Women can talk about many things, but not explicitly about the war. They’ll talk about immigration or citizenship issues – but if we set up a citizenship support group, they won’t attend.

We’ve seen women going back to school because their husband is in jail, so they need more family income. School can be a gateway to more income and also to greater independence for women.