Dr Asma Sayed, Professor of English at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, Canada.
Sexual abuse is rampant globally and yet, usually, people are uncomfortable discussing it. In some cultures, it is taboo to even mention such abuse; often, to raise a voice against it is considered airing dirty laundry in public. South Asian culture is one such culture. When people choose not to talk about abuse in their society, they become complicit in oppression. The needed response is to collectively raise our voices against systemic gendered violence. That is what the Pooni sisters from Indo-Canadian community in greater Vancouver did: they decided to tell their story. Because We are Girls, a documentary produced by Selwyn Jacob and directed by Baljit Sangra, reveals the horrors of incest and child sex abuse as three siblings come together to fight against their abuser.
I had the opportunity to watch Because We are Girls as part of a documentary film festival, KDOCS, which exclusively focuses on social justice cinema. Centring on the stories of three sisters, Jeeti, Kira, and Salakshana, the film charts the journey of the Pooni family from India to British Columbia in Canada. The Pooni family lived a happy life in a small town in Canada until a male relative from India moved in with them and changed the lives of the three young girls forever. The sisters were all sexually abused by this male cousin from India for several years, but they each stayed silent during the years of their abuse and only became aware of their shared experience as adults. When they realized that they were dealing with the same shared trauma, they decided to tell their story and bring the abuser to justice. However, the fight for justice is anything but easy. Even in countries such as Canada which foster an image of equity and justice to the rest of the world, combating sexual violence is an uphill battle. It is widely known that most of the judges, especially male judges, are not trained to deal with cases of sexual abuse and the system tends to place the onus on survivors to prove that they were abused.