Particularly within the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies department at Brandeis, my classes this past year have compelled me to think a lot about the savior narratives that many organizations tend to have towards women and girls transnationally. Classes such as Professor ChaeRan Freeze’s WMGS 5A and Professor Harleen Singh’s Postcolonial Feminisms had me thinking about campaigns that reinforce the idea that women and girls of color in largely non-Western countries need saving from their patriarchal culture and the men in their culture. This kind of narrative degrades women by portraying them as helpless without the aid of Western non-profits or service workers. Particularly within the immigration context, it is easy for asylum-seekers to feel re-traumatized and as if they have lost control of their autonomy/story/narrative in the immigration system. This savior narrative, which is driven by many non-profits that serve refugee populations, acts to take away individuals’ narratives even more.
Admittedly, I was a bit nervous when I first heard about the Tahirih Justice Center (which primarily serves women and girls who are victims of domestic and gender-based violence), as I thought it would be another organization to reinforce this harmful narrative. However, since working at Tahirih, I have found that they do all in their power to combat this savior narrative and actually empower their clients to take control of their lives and stories. In fact, on many Tahirih advertising and informational materials, they describe their clients as “courageous immigrant women and girls who refuse to be victims of violence.” The efficient services that Tahirih provides–including pathways to immigration status and social services like therapy and help finding housing–allow clients to take control of their lives again. This is particularly important for victims of domestic violence here in the U.S. Many of our clients are completely reliant on their abusers when they first seek our services, and Tahirih does everything in its power to provide them tools to lead independent, self-sufficient lives.
This mindset of empowering clients (even in an immigration system that does a lot to disempower them) is what I am thinking about as I start assisting on one of our lawyer’s VAWA cases this week. VAWA, the Violence Against Women Act, was put in place specifically to protect immigrant victims of domestic violence and give them a pathway to status that may otherwise be barred by an abuser. I am looking forward to sitting in on an interview with the client and the lawyer, during which the lawyer will ask questions that will help us write the client’s declaration. I will be observing the ways that the lawyer phrases questions so as not to re-traumatize the client, but rather to give them space to tell their story exactly how they want to tell it.
I am also excited about a project I am working on that is a resource guide with information about how to prepare for ICE immigration raids, with information about knowing your rights, hotlines to report ICE raids, hotlines for domestic violence, and family planning guide. This user-friendly resource contains information that is catered to our clients and is meant to give them the resources they need to stay safe during potential raids.
It has been inspiring to see that Tahirih is truly working towards the mission to empower its clients–who are made up largely of women and girls. It has been a valuable learning experience thus far to partake in work that supports this mission.
Ellie Kleiman ’21