On an average, every six days a woman in Canada is killed by her intimate partner. Most of these deaths can be preventable.
Zahra Mahamoud Abdille was a Torontonian married woman and a mother of two brilliant sons: Faris and Zain Abdille. She was a dedicated public nurse working for the City of Toronto and living in North York.
Zahra was known as a strong, bright, hardworking, compassionate and special individual. In fact, she had her two sons while completing her nursing degree at Humber College, and later at the University of New Brunswick in 2006. In 2012, Zahra completed her master's degree and received her nurse practitioner certificate from Ryerson University. Faris and Zain were described as bright, brilliant and kind as well. They all had bright futures before them.
While excelling in the public sphere, her private life was marked by abuse. In July 2013, Zahra Mahamoud Abdille and her two sons fled violence and sought refuge in a Toronto women's shelter.
Zahra did the right thing. She wanted to leave the abusive life behind her for good and start a new life free of violence. And thus, she contemplated a divorce. However, such an endeavour requires resources, including legal fees that were beyond her means.
Once again, Zahra, did the right thing: she applied for legal aid to proceed with her separation and divorce papers. Sadly, Zahra was denied legal aid because she was working and had a "decent" income.
The mother of two faced a dilemma: keep her job and her financial independence or lose it to qualify for legal aid and gain freedom from violence. Disappointed and with no other alternative, she went back home to her husband.
On Nov. 29, 2014, Zahra and her two sons Faris and Zain were killed by her husband, who killed himself thereafter.
There is an undeniable link between the system's refusal to provide Zahra Mahamoud Abdille with the legal aid she needed and her decision to return to her violent home and her and her children's eventual murderer.
We, as a society and systems in place, have failed Zahra. We have failed Faris and we have failed Zain. We as a society have failed countless women before and after Zahra's death with immovable policies that force them to go back to abusive partners. Zahra, Faris and Zain Abdille died because she was working; they died because her salary was slightly beyond the so-called "poverty level."
Women should not be punished to death because they seek a better future and economic autonomy. Women's economic and professional development should not confiscate their right to access justice. And we should not be known as a society, as a nation, that chooses saving money over saving the lives of women and their children.
For these reasons, we are demanding from the Canadian Federal Government the prompt implementation of universal legal aid -- free and unconditional -- for women and girls fleeing all forms of violence across Canada.
For more information, please visit LegalAid.on.ca.
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NIA suggests: "She needs to know that you’re there for her, that you will support her. Don’t criticise the decisions that she’s made. Remind her that she’s not alone, domestic violence affects one in four women in their lives. "Remind her that it’s not her fault, that she isn’t responsible. Also it isn’t her responsibility to make him change or make him stop." Rise adds: "Believe the person, don't say 'Really? They seem so nice.' Say things like 'I believe you' 'this isn't your fault.' Don't say 'why didn't you say something sooner' as that is blaming a 'victim.' It doesn't matter when they tell, just that they do. Say things like 'I am pleased you've told me.'"
NIA says: "it can be really difficult to see that you’re in an abusive relationship, as women often minimise or excuse what is happening to them or find ways to think it’s their fault. It’s also hard to tell someone else, so don’t wait for your friend to ask you for help. Ask her, let her know that you’re concerned, that you know something is wrong." Rise UK add: "Being direct can help as it takes the responsibility away from the survivor, they will know what you are asking, rather than trying to guess form an ambigious question. 'Are you experiencing abuse?' might also help a survivor feel safe that they can disclose to you; you aren't afraid of what might come out."
Women's Aid says: "Tell her that no one deserves to be threatened or beaten, despite what her abuser has told her. Nothing she does or says justifies the abuser's behaviour."
Women's Aid says: "Acknowledge that it takes strength to talk to someone about experiencing abuse. Give her time to talk, but don't push her to talk if she doesn't want to. "Acknowledge that she is in a frightening and difficult situation."
Don’t be afraid to broach difficult questions. Is she safe? Is she afraid? Two women a week are killed in the UK. Domestic violence is serious.
If you know her partner, don’t collude. Don’t make excuses for him, don’t agree with his excuses. Tell him that he, not she is responsible for his actins. If he genuinely wants to change, help is available, advise him to look up an organisation called 'Respect'.
"If you witness a violent incident, call the police," say NIA. Rise adds: "Be aware that doing things; preparing to leave or reporting to the police (etc) can increase risk to survivor and consider how that can be managed; make plans together, have a code word, inform the police, and contact local specialist services."
Rise says: "Ask the survivor what they want to happen or do about the situation, putting them in control. A friend or relative may want to jump in and 'fix' things, which is disempowering. Be aware that the situation probably cannot be resolved quickly, but support is available whilst decisions are made." NIA adds: "Check that she knows where she can get help. Give her the National Domestic Violence Helpline number (0808 2000 247). Also, Women’s Aid have an excellent confidential survivors forum, sharing what is happening with other women in abusive relationships can make a huge difference. You can find out where help is available locally from Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis’s websites."
Finally, don’t give up on her if she doesn’t tell you the first time you ask, or if she doesn’t leave or returns to a violence relationship. Abusers break down our self-confidence. Women often make several attempt to leave a violent and abusive relationship before they make the final break. She isn’t being weak, she being strong and brave and trying to escape. You might be her lifeline.
"Don't tell her to leave the relationship if she isn’t ready. That's her decision," say Women's Aid.
Ask if she has suffered physical harm. If so, offer to go with her to a hospital or GP.