A legacy to stand by after helping South Asian women for 50 years

The India Mahila Association is set to celebrate their 50th Anniversary on April 19

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Raminder Dosanjh remembers when women who were a part of a big influx of immigration from India in the late 1960s and 1970s lacked critical social and emotional support.

“There were hardly any services catering to the needs of the newly arrived immigrant women, particularly from South Asia, you didn’t see any role models, you didn’t see any women involved in the service agencies,” Dosanjh said.

That gap in services led Dosanjh and other community volunteers to found the India Mahila Association, which has dedicated itself for advocating for South Asian women’s rights and empowerment in Vancouver. The organisation is marking its 50th anniversary on April 19. But as Dosanjh and other volunteers look back at their accomplishments, they say the work continues.

Dosanjh said, that during the early days of the organisation, many women reached out to them due to the societal and cultural pressure on them to get married and start a family, rather than getting higher education and a career.

She said newly arrived parents were worried that their daughters would marry outside their culture.

“There were those kinds of fears … and they were trying to push their daughters into marriage.”

But Dosanjh said while many families realize they need to allow their daughters access to education, some are still resisting. “A good number are changing, but there are pockets, still, where some of those problems still exist,” she said.

Other problems persisted, such as women facing domestic violence. The women, mostly from rural areas of Punjab, were isolated in their houses and most of them did not know English.

“They were very vulnerable because of that.”

One of the organizations they worked with, was Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter.

“They really helped us out when we were setting up our organization, made sure that we were in the right place to support women from the South Asian community appropriately and effectively,” said Karla Gjini, an anti-violence worker at the shelter.

Gijni said that there’s a history of mutual support between the two organizations, with Indian Mahila Association ensuring cultural appropriateness and access to resources for South Asian women seeking assistance.

“They’ve offered us a lot of support over the years when we have women who call us, who are from different South Asian communities, but also women in our organization too,” Gjini said.

Alex Sangha, a social worker and founder of Sher Vancouver which provides support for the South Asian LGBTQ community, said organizations like India Mahila Association are important for providing service for alienated Indian women.

“After all, they’re suffering their whole life. They’re finally getting a chance to go out and make some friends and be with people like themselves, where they can get some support,” Sangha said.



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