1. You are an advocate par excellence Deepa. You must have faced challenges galore. What are some of the achievements that you are most proud of?
In my life, I experienced many forms of oppression: sexism in the early part of my life in India, racism and discrimination as a racialized person and foreign-trained professional in the UK and Canada, and later systemic struggle of working in a sector that is underfunded, under-valued, and precarious. Each unique challenge equipped me with a new tool to overcome that adversity. Overcoming adversity and being granted the opportunity to champion others walking my path – through my work and volunteerism – are among my most significant personal achievements. Professionally, there are many. Each time we can support a client through their experience with violence and provide them with access to justice so that they can prosper is an achievement of which I am proud. I am both humbled by and proud of the acknowledgement I have received for my work and determination to move the needle forward in favour of an anti-oppressive, anti-racist approach to social justice remedies for survivors of gender-based violence.
2. In hindsight as you look back on your career thus far what would you have done differently?
I feel that hindsight is a trap too easy to fall into and ruminate on the “I should haves” that fail to embrace the value of learned experience. Therefore, I am not sure that I would have done much differently. Everything I have done thus far has landed me where I am now, where I belong now. Sure, there are experiences I could have done without, but I chose to learn from them, and each experience fortified my resolve to do and be better. My path has allowed me to collaborate and work with like-minded people from a broad spectrum of disciplines worldwide. Together, we balance the scales, identify gaps that disadvantage some over others, and seal them.
3. Are you optimistic about the future for our South Asian/racialized daughters entering the workforce/adult life today?
I am optimistic. South Asian women hold more prominent leadership positions in visible professions than ever, and those numbers are increasing. You will find us in trades, banks, hospitals, and law firms, among other disciplines. Diversity and inclusion are becoming increasingly important across all sectors of the workforce. I sense an emerging understanding and appreciation for the value of diversity in gender, race, ethnicity, and sexuality as it delivers diverse views, experiences and expertise which benefit everyone.
Our responsibility as elders is to be the torch bearer for our racialized daughters – biological or otherwise – to let them know that anything is possible. I am not naïve; I know that our daughters will face barriers. There is an inherent resistance to change. Colonialism, anti-racism, and anti-oppression don’t magically disappear the moment a racialized person crosses the threshold of the C-Suite. Our collective voice, however, will force open the ears of those who prefer not to hear us and shatter the barriers that deny our access.
4. Given the nature of our globalized world is it possible to envisage a world sans human trafficking? Or do we need to settle for reducing its most severe traumatic impact?
It is possible to envision a world without human trafficking, yes. However, it will necessitate international efforts, much like ending gender-based violence. The complex issues of human trafficking, labour exploitation and forced marriage can only be addressed by understanding the factors that create environments for economic coercion, control, exploitation and make it everyone’s responsibility and priority to use a human rights framework to understand gender-based violence. This means more than disassembling the international rings that prey on the vulnerable. It means broad-sweeping systemic approaches to policy and law reform and socio-economic and environmental considerations that cause the poorest to become more susceptible. It will demand political realignment – war and civil unrest are among the leading causes that make women and girls vulnerable to violence. It will take massive technological considerations because technology is widely used to prey on unsuspecting victims of trafficking.
As mentioned, human trafficking is a complex issue. I would recommend that anyone interested in learning more about the understanding of economic coercion view the discussion paper available on our website under the Migrant Women’s Right project at www.schliferclinic.com
5. We have been talking as a society about violence against women for a long time. Social change is a process undoubtedly. Are there milestones that we have crossed that keep you hopeful for the future? What is the sine non qua what will turn things around?
Absolutely there are milestones. Since the 1960s, we have begun to witness changes to legal reform that identifies and criminalizes violence against women. In the early 1970s, we saw the emergence of shelters specifically for survivors of gender-based violence. With each wave of feminism, there has been progress and social change. Though the first few waves of feminism were viewed predominantly through the lens of white, privileged, middle-class women, that lens – thanks to racialized women – now include the complex and intersecting needs of Black women, women of colour and Indigenous women. There have been countless policy amendments and legal reforms to protect women better and gender-diverse survivors from experiencing violence, and the efforts of women who work in the field of gender-based violence are inexhaustible.
In 2021, a Roadmap for the National Action Plan on Gender-Based Violence was released and presented to the federal government. The Plan contains 100 recommendations across four pillars to provide a ready roadmap for a National Action Plan on VAW and GBV. The long-awaited National Action Plan to End Gender-Based Violence, released by the federal government on November 9, contains gaps that concern those who committed significant time towards its creation. Still, I am confident we will continue collaborating with the federal, provincial, and territorial governments to fill those identified gaps and create a comprehensive National Action Plan that meets the diverse, complex, and intersectional needs of all survivors of gender-based violence.