SHADE’s vision is currently being fulfilled through its community requested program entitled, MIRRORS: A Reflection of Immigrant Women Building Healthy Relationships. The MIRRORS program includes a small group of immigrant women participants, some still living in domestic abusive relationships, and others who have left. These women have been meeting weekly until the program was temporarily suspended due to the advent of COVID-19. MIRRORS is set to begin right where it left off as soon as it is deemed safe to do so by the Province of Manitoba.
As a Caucasian woman, though with lived experience of IPV, I invited two immigrant women, both fluent in several languages, to be mentored as future facilitators. It is absolutely heartwarming and humbling to witness the degree of professionalism and compassionate interactions occurring between the mentees and the vulnerable immigrant women participants. The richness of diverse cultures, beliefs, language groups, and experiences among us has gelled us together and helped bring inner strength to each of the women. So much so, that they are slowly beginning to reclaim their identities, simply because each feels a sense of belonging, when for so long they have been shamed, ostracized, and criticized. Breaking the silence in this oft-taboo subject is empowering! I treasure and support SHADE’s vision and mission for we are united by diversity and strengthened by inclusion.
The topic of abuse in Canada – what it involves and how it is defined – is a complex subject, particularly for immigrant and refugees who may hail from different societal traditions and expectations. As such, it is an important topic to discuss openly and honestly in a safe way that invites participation. To begin this conversation during our MIRRORS program, we introduced what we call the Silhouette Activity.
During Workshop 1, each participant wrote behaviours and actions of abuse, one per coloured post-it note. As they approached the female silhouette, each woman, one-by-one, read off the behaviours and actions of abuse that she had written down, then placed each note around the silhouette. Abuse is so much more encompassing than physical violence - and physical violence encompasses so many twisted and painful types of suffering. This exercise evoked much emotion for every participant.
During the second part of this activity, each woman wrote out the effects of the behaviours and actions of abuse, one per white post-it note. Again, one-by-one, each woman approached the female silhouette, read the effects of domestic abuse she had written down, then placed her notes inside the female silhouette.
Our facilitators led a thoughtful discussion after each part of this exercise, then led the group in an activity that recognizes each woman’s strengths and the life values they desire to emulate. Debriefing after such a powerful visual demonstration of domestic violence is crucial. We emphasized that no woman should ever feel shame; abuse is perpetrated against her by someone who desires power and control over her. A trained counsellor is on-site during each MIRRORS workshop, available for individual counselling to any of our participants, if desired.