The Identity Crisis Amongst South-Asian Women

Written by Layla

Before I begin, I’d like to say this is not a blog to discriminate against the South-Asian culture, as I myself am South Asian and love my culture. It is rich and filled with colour and traditions that make me proud of my heritage as a British Pakistani woman!

However, this post will focus on particular aspects within this culture that can impact young women’s social identity. I also want to emphasise that not all families follow strict culture/tradition and are firmly against some of the horrific ideologies and expectations that some may have for women in the South-Asian culture.

Violence and Staying Quiet

The United Kingdom is only beginning to recognise the concerns regarding the impact ‘South-Asian culture’ has on many females lives. The Honour Based Violence Association network (2012) has identified 12 cases reported yearly in the UK but the actual figure for violence and deaths is likely much higher. Social identities and honour-based violence (HBV) crimes are contemporary issues that cause female adolescents to experience consequences for decision-making, becoming young independent women and challenging their family’s traditions. This is very much looked down upon within the South Asian culture and several organisations such as Karma Nirvana, Safe Lives and Refuge (whose aim is to support victims of abuse) identifies that there are many cases that go unnoticed and/or unreported. This is largely because women are supposed to stay quiet to keep their family’s honour and respect and the fear of going against their family silences them.

Gudykunst defines social identity as:

“Social identities, in turn, connect individuals to society through group memberships influencing individuals’ beliefs, attitudes, and behaviour in their relationships with members of other social groups.”

Validation within the community

Social identity within the South-Asian culture engages with undeveloped cultural practices such as group behaviours and behaviours like this are only influenced within the group and not by anyone on the outside. Some of these groups can influence a female’s self-esteem to increase due to pride and social class within their communities. Social identity concentrates on the social behaviour of an individual and changing their behaviour, according to the group they are within. South-Asian social groups share similar perspectives and beliefs which identifies them to be part of the same social category. Furthermore, many South-Asian social groups gain validation and social satisfaction from within their society, therefore, social acceptance becomes the goal.

When analysing the effects of honour-based violence and the influence of South-Asian culture on the identity of female adolescents within the South-Asian communities in the United Kingdom, social identity can be seen in that most families base their decisions around their community’s beliefs such as honour and respect for the elder or patriarch within the family. For example, just recently a woman with a hijab was recognised to be the first female to wear a scarf as a firefighter within the UK. In many households this would be against the ‘rule’ or ‘law’ within the culture as women traditionally should be taking care of the house; cooking, cleaning etc.

Whilst this may be restricted in some ways, for example, South-Asian families forcing culture and tradition upon the female adolescent and not allowing them to have a positive sense of belonging, the social identity of a female within these groups can also be a positive way to live as it brings people together and individuals begin to value a belief system created within these groups.

Fitting into societal norms… i.e “What will people say?”

Another aspect of honour-based violence on social identity development is changes within a females psychological, physical, social and emotional stages and also experience changes within their immediate relationships such as with family members, friends and educational environments. For example, going back to the time when my father was somewhat “strict” or traditional to his Pakistani heritage. I came home from school telling him I wanted to be a policewoman and he just laughed saying, “What will the people say? That I let you work with men?” and ever since I have had this hesitation of if I do anything how would it look in the community’s eyes? Thankfully, my father has become more open-minded and accepting of what we choose to do in life now but many South-Asian females do not get that lucky.

Traditional Expectations on South Asian Women

Many South-Asian females are trained from an early age through their culture and are influenced by the environment and people they are surrounded by. These influences include family traditions, girls seeing their mothers cooking, cleaning, obeying their in-laws, following the patriarch’s rules and these can affect the identity development of a female adolescent. Young females in particular are growing and developing according to the influences around them, and their behaviour mimics that within their culture and community. These behaviours may include being loyal, self-sacrificing and respecting the elders in the family. Women are not supposed to speak up and if they do, sadly cases of honour-based violence are to be expected as is normal in the community. Therefore, social identity and the South-Asian cultures interlink as individual’s are discovering their identity from the influences in the outside community and within their homes.

I have enjoyed gathering research for this topic related to my experiences and I can now confidently say that I am so grateful how my parents, especially my father, have not followed old traditions of this culture and are very open-minded and supportive of his daughters in their career pursuits and life goals. It can be a sense of relief knowing your family is supportive and I have great sympathy for the many women within the South Asian community who do not have this privilege.

If you enjoyed reading this blog, please follow along. I will be discussing similar topics and giving my experience as a British South Asian woman. If you have any suggested topics, please drop a comment and let us know!

If you need to speak to someone regarding Honour-Based Violence please contact Karma Nirvana, Safe Lives or the Police.

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