Cultural competency in the domestic violence field requires supplementing the four basic components - awareness, attitudes, knowledge and skills - with a gendered analysis. This means (a) maintaining a critique of patriarchal culture without confirming negative cultural stereotypes, (b) resisting the hierarchy of oppressions trap, and (c) focusing primarily on changing and instituting good practice and less on addressing cultural stereotyping (which can often induce diversity-training fatigue).
Gender competency in the field is equally important to all survivors. Gender bias is evidenced overtly and covertly at so many points of contact, and many systems and resources designed to protect victims of gender-based violence, can also cause harm. Gender competency does not mean being educated in feminist theory, just as cultural competency does not mean being an anthropologist. Instead, both competencies incorporate analyses about gender, culture, identity and inter-personal violence; and examine how biases diminish good practice.
Integrating gender competency and cultural competency ensures the integrity of individual and systems advocacy and the principles of equity and justice in meeting the complex needs of primary and collateral victims/survivors.
Culture is too hastily understood as ethnic culture, but in fact we all inhabit multiple cultures simultaneously and need to understand which ones we are operating in to be effective.
E.g., a rural shelter frames an Indian woman’s reluctance to use common bathrooms as a function of her cultural attitudes to nudity. The more appropriate question is what would a battered woman in this situation want; rather than what are Indian women’s attitudes to nudity?
Therefore, ascertain if the lens of gender answers a question or suggests a solution more effectively than the lens of culture.
When one hears “this is how women are treated in my culture” what’s being described is the culture of patriarchy, sexism and violence against women. The cultural devaluations of women differ from place to place, from time to time, and in their degrees of rigidity, but are used to the same end, to justify domestic violence.
Therefore, advocates should use cultural justifications to understand (a) how tightly prescribed and rigid gender relations are; (b) how their interventions will challenge traditional roles; (c) what battered women are up against (e.g., tradition requires silence); and (d) what threats or risks (e.g., being deported) will follow when breaking from tradition (e.g., disclosing victimization).
E.g., burning a woman to death or shooting her dead – one seems more horrific than the other based on what people are exposed to in their own culture, but in fact both acts are equally horrific. The method of killing does not make one group of men more horribly violent than the other, although our stereotypes may make us think so. We all hold stereotypes, the important thing is to recognize them, set them aside, stay client-focused, and be the best advocates we can.
Therefore, intake, interview or assessment questions to a client (e.g., to assess danger) have to be crafted and interpreted correctly (e.g., asking if batterer has threatened her with a gun does not rule out homicide danger).
E.g., when child protective services intervenes, instead of getting resources that would help a battered mother keep her housing and her children, she is required to go to a shelter in order to keep her children.
Therefore, cross-systems advocacy needs to be strengthened and survivors prepared by advocates about negotiating the cultures of systems. The cultural competency of advocates in negotiating systems is critical to survivors’ well-being.
Training Curriculum designed by Sujata Warrier, Ph.D.
A series of Power Point slides to be used by advocates
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Persons depicted are models and are used for illustrative purposes only.
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