Understanding 21st Century Equality – The Courier

Women face insurmountable forms of domestic abuse, poverty, and shelter insecurity. We face struggles involving income, relationship strain, and marginalization. These stem from inequalities birthed form the very nature of our largely mysoginist and patriarchal societies – and Muslim women fit deeper into this intersection. Being a Muslim woman in a western society comes with various and undeniable drawbacks; we are stereotyped, turned away from positions based on how we dress, told that we are “oppressed,” and blatantly attacked in public through words or physical force. It hurts, seeing and experience this pain that has run rampant among our communities; we are othered to the point that walking down the subway with a hijab could be a play on our life. Every woman is valid and deserving of support – Nisa Homes recognizes and lives by this.

Nisa Homes is a non-profit organization provides transitional housing for many individuals – mainly for Muslim women, children, and families – in need of different forms of support. What is transitional housing? To draw an outline, Nisa Homes provides essential services including temporary shelter for displaced people, as well as financial assistance and mental health aid.  Spiritual and language support are also available. Furthermore, this organization provides case work and a variety of activities and programs for women. It touches on the core difficulties that women may be facing, whether their situation is unique or widespread – this service is here to help and empower.

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There are seven transitional homes across Canada (as of a couple weeks ago) and have received a collective 6,122 cases since 2014. 404 women and children have been sheltered in 2020 alone, and 903 women and children have been assisted. Due to the effects of the pandemic, families have been thrust into uncertain circumstances, losing jobs or home or family members. Grief and turbulence is at an all time high, and social supports like Nisa Homes are crucial for dragging people out of the depths. This past year has been understandably busy for this organization, as they have been lending extra helping hands due to the global and national climate.

Poor mental health can often impact lives beyond what we can imagine. Women who are abused face physical and mental strain, whether through domestic violence or emotional manipulation and oppression. The pandemic has increased domestic violence cases significantly, for reasons such as family stresses and an inability to leave the house. Children in these households, or those facing abuse themselves, are victims of trauma. This affects their growth, academic performance, and ability to carry forward in a healthy way. Nisa Homes provides shelter and resources for all these victims, not just through tangible things but through mental support. Women are empowered to find their voice against the injustices they have faced, while children are given opportunities or heal and make friends in a safe space.

Women and families who come to Canada as refugees or immigrants receive the shortest end of the stick, facing unstable employment and shelter, as well as constant discrimination based on language and appearance. Many of them do not have a way out of their financial or social hardships and can end up either unemployed or socially shunned. Nisa Homes does not turn women away based on their issues – it welcomes them with open arms and tools to build their lives back up, despite the pain they have endured. Case workers help people under such strain, through basic necessities and employment search aid – whether its application help or interview prep or moral support – as well as social and language based guidance. One such case worker – Majeda Tarabain – states that women facing crisis experience “discrimination not just from language ad appearance but because of their religion.” She explains that, in some homeless shelters, “shelter workers discriminate or make it seem like [their situation] is their fault. Other residents abuse [them] for that reason.” Nisa Homes’ inclusive environment protects against that.

We asked Majeda Tarabain a few questions regarding Nisa Homes and her work as a caseworker:

  1. What are your motivations for working as a caseworker for Nisa Homes?

“Before I was born, my mom’s sister was a victim of domestic violence… Although I never witnessed the violence, I saw the lasting effects it had on her physical and mental health. The older I get the more I realized how prevalent IPV (intimidate partner violence) is…. I have 5 sisters and knowing that 1 in 3 women will experience some kind of violence in her life, I wanted to be that person that the women in my life could go to for help. That person that will know what to do if someone is in danger and to help spread awareness and try to prevent further violence from happening in the future. As a caseworker, not only do I see all the bad, but I get to see the good too. The healing, and the rebuilding. It’s definitely very rewarding.

2. What are some struggles Nisa Homes has faced and how were they overcome?

Some struggles we’ve faced are lack of funding from the government. We were able to gain the community’s trust and receive an overwhelming amount of in-kind donations. Another struggle is lack of space in the home. We have a long and growing waiting list and our Edmonton home is not big enough for the current need. We plan to move to a larger come in the next few months.”

3. What does a caseworker working with Nisa Homes do Generally?

At Nisa Homes, caseworker is majority one-on-one work sessions with clients. You have to screen them before coming to Nisa Homes (we’re a dry program and do not have staff 24/7) to see if we’re the right fit for them. Then you’d have to do move ins, do a needs assessment and meet with them a couple times a week to ensure they are slowly becoming independent. Our manager always says “teach them how to fish, don’t fish for them”. Each week new goals are set like; applying for income assistance, missing documents, seeing a doctor, registering in daycare/school, resume building/financial literacy classes, job hunting and house hunting. Our job is to support them to reach whatever goals they might have and help them transition into their own home where they can continue their healing and become independent. We also need to always advocate for them when the system fails them.

4. What is some advice for women trying to get out of crisis situations, but are too afraid to do so?

“Never hesitate to contact the police. It’s never an overreaction. Once you leave, there are countless supports out there. You won’t be alone, we’re here to help you and keep you safe.”

5. What is some advice you would give to future caseworkers?

“Don’t take anything your clients say/do personally but also don’t tolerate abuse. They are traumatized. They might react differently to things or say things they don’t actually mean and it’s never about you, it’s always about what happened to them. Sometimes the abused learns abusive behaviours and that’s when you need to set boundaries.”

Equal opportunities in all aspects of life should be available to everyone. When communities and organizations come together, we can work towards that reality. Transitional housing is just one of the forms of social aid available to women and children in need. Nisa Homes is a living, breathing representation of what it means to care for those of us that need support. To learn about their cause and facilities, feel free to visit their site!

About the Author

I am a second-year sciences student at the University of Alberta studying psychology and sociology. I’m a Pakistani-Canadian and a Muslim, as well as a local spoken word artist! I enjoy writing and reading and painting - artistic expression makes me feel at home. I love poetry - especially performing it - as it lets me put words to the feelings of others (and myself) that often go unspoken.