By Sidrah Ahmad
Initiating conversations about domestic violence can be daunting, and it takes creativity to develop safe enough spaces to have these important discussions. On July 15 2017 at the Afghan Women’s Organization in Mississauga, IRCNFF Peer Champion Rhona Rahmani hosted “Sewing Love into Our Communities”, an innovative workshop that brought together women from the Afghan community to learn traditional embroidery and discuss domestic violence.
Rhona brought instructors skilled in the Afghan art of Kattak – a traditional form of embroidery passed down from generation to generation. As the instructors shared their craft and mentored women in their individual embroidery projects, a sense of community and safety was created in this room. In this relaxed and supportive space, Rhona facilitated a discussion about different types of abuse, the warning signs of domestic violence, and how to offer support to someone living with abuse. She had interpreters available for women who were more comfortable discussing their thoughts in Pahstu or Dari.
At the end of the session, women shared a meal together of delicious traditional Afghan food and brought their embroidery art home with them. IRCNFF resources in English, Pashtu and Dari were also available for women to take home with them. Everyone left feeling connected, artistically inspired, and more informed about domestic violence.
I asked Rhona what made her decide to use this particular approach to raising awareness about domestic violence within the Afghan community. She said, "I wanted to create an event that would be healing and productive, considering we would be discussing some heavy topics. By using the art of traditional Afghan embroidery, some women could get back in touch with a skill they left behind a long time ago. While other women got to learn something completely new. It allowed for a comfortable environment of skills sharing and discussion. The best part was everyone had something to take home with them that they created, and would one day remind them of the experience we shared."
Rhona’s event highlights the importance of making educational events on gender-based violence culturally situated and accessible to immigrant and refugee communities by removing language barriers. It also demonstrates the power of art in promoting a sense of community and safety, which are both vital to the task of breaking the silence on domestic violence. Let’s hope that more communities follow Rhona’s example in creating safe, supportive spaces for immigrant and refugee women to discuss domestic violence using arts-based methods. And love in “sewn” into more women’s lives.