From the Outside Looking In: What Does Not Need Reporting

From the Outside Looking In: What Does Not Need Reporting January 27, 2009

* Asian and South Asian will be used interchangeably to refer to those of Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, etc., origin.

Earlier this month, BBC News ran two stories online on young Asian (read South Asian in North America) women, and both stories exposed our dirty laundry. Or at least that was the way they seemed. The first headline read More Asian women ‘use hard drugs’, and the second More Asian women having abortions. In one month we find out that South Asian women, many of whom are Muslims, are not only using hard drugs more often but are also having more abortions.

Ten years ago drug misuse amongst British Asian women was unheard of.

Now, Nafas [Asian drugs charity] says it is treating 20 to 25 women for heroin addiction a year in east London alone – a figure it believes is just the tip of the iceberg.

According to BBC:

The manager of the Nafas drugs project in east London, Tohel Ahmed, said Asian girls hooked on drugs are particularly vulnerable.

He said: “We think this is the next big problem for the Asian community, these females. Many of them start young, and we’ve had 14, 15-year-olds.

And on the abortion issue BBC reports:

There has been a big jump in the number of Asian women having abortions in the UK, according to figures from the Department of Health.

On the surface reporting such incidences may appear to be informative. After all, should we not talk about the problems in our communities?  We cannot, after all, deny that such things happen.

Indeed, we cannot and should not hide these things. But I am unclear as to what reporting these statistics on BBC will do. When was the last time we read “More White women ‘use hard drugs’ ” or “More White women having abortions”? What is the point of racializing drug use and abortions? Because that is what such reports do. And as a result the South Asian community is made into a spectacle to be gossiped about. An ethnic minority that is so concerned about their image, and for good reason considering the racism and marginalization they have faced, is not so “perfect” after all, is the tone these articles seems to take on.

Instead, such information should be disseminated among the South Asian community within the U.K., to organizations for and by South Asians which can help these women, such as Nafas. Additionally, as the article on abortion suggests:

“There need to be campaigns targeting Asian women even if it’s not quite within their culture and it’s something their parents won’t be happy about – these women need to know that they feel very, very safe and this is something they can access.”

However, these campaigns need to come from the South Asian community, and more specifically from South Asian people who can understand and appreciate what these women are experiencing without judgment.

However, the articles have been written and thus require an analysis as they are.

These articles simply state that more Asian girls are engaging in risky behaviour but do not explain why such things may be happening. This leaves us with one assumption – this must have something to do with them being Asian.

Take for instance these examples. Under the subheading “Family Honour” the article on drug use tells us:

There are no official figures but drug experts agree it is a growing problem, not just in London but in places with large Asian communities like Birmingham, Bradford and Lancashire.

But because of a sense of family honour or concern for public image, the problem remains hidden.

Labour Peer, Baroness Pola Uddin, believes this prevents young Asian girls from seeking the help they need.

Then in the next section entitled “Community Reluctance” we find:

She [Baroness Pola Uddin] said: “The stigma against substance misuse seems to be almost like the last taboo. We’ve got to take a very serious look and see what the level of problems is and where these girls are going for support.”

It is a view shared by Zarina. She thinks Asian girls are too scared to come forward for fear of violent reprisals.

“Some of my friends who use drugs can’t walk down the street, in case their brothers see them. Some of them have been battered by their families for taking drugs,” she said.

Mr Ahmed believes the situation is similar to that of Asian men 10 years ago, where the community was aware of the problem but reluctant to speak out or seek treatment for friends or family.

And the article on abortion rates tells us:

“There need to be campaigns targeting Asian women even if it’s not quite within their culture and it’s something their parents won’t be happy about – these women need to know that they feel very, very safe and this is something they can access.”

From these quotes, it would seem that the nature of South Asian culture is exacerbating the issues. Honour is brought up again as it always is with South Asians, especially Muslims, without fully understanding both the South Asian version of the concept and the ubiquity of the concept in mainstream Western society.  And to be fair, the idea of honour and community reluctance most likely does negatively impact these young girls. But again, this is something that South Asians themselves need address and maneuver around. Only those who understand the complexity of the concept of honour and social stigma while also understanding the delicate and vulnerable situation these young women are in will be able to do any sort of justice to these young women. By pointing out the ways in which South Asian culture has failed these women, my fear is, the BBC is setting up a picture of a culture which fails all women.

Additionally, these reports are implying that South Asians are slaves to their culture without the capacity to decide their actions, and that culture itself is static. Very often, people do not act according to cultural traditions and thus cultures change. Both can and should be anticipated and expected of any people.  But it should be expected of the people to initiate themselves, not by an outside force.

As a South Asian, I am not denying that stigma exists with drug use and premarital sex and pregnancies in our community. However, the stigma is not the only problem these young women face. The stigma alone is not contributing to their drug problems. The BBC article should have investigated the possible links between being a racialized, stigmatized, marginalized, and economically disadvantaged community and drug use. There may be certain situations in these young girls lives, other than the men they date, which may lead to drug use. There may also be pressures of not further stigmatizing their own community in the eyes of the non-South Asians “if word got out.”

Again, although such issues do need to be addressed within the South Asian communities and these young women do need support and assistance, printing such stories on the BBC does not better their situation and makes as much sense as reporting similar stories in the White population (while specifying White). There are much more concrete and culturally appropriate ways in which to help these young women, which do not include airing their struggles for all to see and fulfilling some voyeuristic urges from outside the community.

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