BOOK REVIEW- The Social Organization of South Asian Immigrant Women’s Mothering in Canada
Dr. Ferzana Chaze, professor of Applied Health and Community Studies at Sheridan College (Toronto), recently authored The Social Organization of South Asian Immigrant Women’s Mothering in Canada (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2017). The practical impact of this social science research is important as it closes the research gap and answers a critical question posed by many immigrants and their service providers: “What is it about the post-migration settlement process that makes many South Asian women carry out their mothering work in ways that were not in harmony with what they believed to be good mothering?”
Life experiences of Canadian South Asian Immigrant women
Using institutional ethnography – a form of social inquiry created by sociologist Dorothy Smith as her method, Dr. Chaze explores the mothering work of South Asian women who have resided in Canada for less than five years. Dr. Chaze’s work is based on in-depth interviews with South Asian immigrant mothers about their everyday experience, therefore recognizing the “authority of experience” – the interviewed women. Consequently, Dr. Chaze’s research enhances the reader’s understanding of exactly what happens when these immigrant mothers are settling in Canada, various stressors and coping strategies used, the role of their culture and its impact on their mothering. This work is a powerful tool for all service providers working with or intervening in the lives of South Asians in Canada, in that it decodes South Asian immigrant parenting. In a nutshell, this research breaks down an abstract complex term of “settlement needs and challenges of South Asian immigrant women” into a concrete, actionable framework.
Dr. Chaze’s standpoint in itself makes the study valuable, as there is no parallel study that has looked into the everyday lives of Canadian South Asian immigrant mothers, understood their real-life experiences from inside out, and simultaneously analyzed the impact of external factors such as immigration policies, systemic issues, and settlement challenges, on their mothering practices. This research brings together the personal lives of South Asian mothers, cultural norms of South Asian parenting, systemic and policy overviews, and their inter-relations and impacts from a social work perspective. Dr. Chaze acknowledges her study to be a feminist research project. The questions raised by the author are rooted within frameworks of social justice and inequality, and the goal of her research is to facilitate social change.
The chapter on Mothering Work is particularly revealing as it has in-depth descriptions of immigrant South Asian women’s work related to cooking, caring for children, housework, teaching children culture and religious values, and protecting children. The case study in this chapter focuses on immigrant mothers who are victims of domestic violence and how it impacts their mothering.
The honest conversations with mothers on what it means to transmit culture to their children touch on many sensitive topics such as: placing limits on children’s potential sexual activities, dating, wearing a head scarf (hijab) or face covering (niqab), physical discipline by the parent, etc. The changes in mothering work after immigration to Canada are also noted in detail. Of further interest is Dr. Chaze’s literature review, which covers topics such as merits and demerits of co-sleeping, the Ontario Children’s Aid Society’s response to this issue, and the child welfare sector’s interest in and disregard of aboriginal parenting practices.
South Asian cultural context
Dr. Chaze’s discussions about South Asian cultural context, traditions of mothering, analysis of changing patterns in families, and the impact of migration are particularly fascinating. She notes that the mother is not acknowledged as the sole individual responsible for raising the children, as this responsibility is often shared by members of the extended family. A relatively new development in South Asian immigrant families is the concept of the nuclear family, in which the mother is tasked with the physical care and development of the child, though involvement of the larger family is expected and encouraged. Dr. Chaze notes that migration significantly alters the parenting/mothering dynamic, shifting child rearing from a collective responsibility to an individualized one. Through immigration, the family loses its traditional sources of support, and the responsibility of care and development of the child falls even more firmly on the mother. Thus, she makes the case that in the context of immigrant South Asian women, the term “mothering” is appropriate, but the work of “mothering” is shaped and carried out within larger institutions of family, community, religion, and the institution of motherhood which seeks to control women and their mothering work (Rich, 1986).
The role of religion and culture
The discussion of the role of religion and culture in South Asian immigrant mothering is particularly compelling. The book makes an interesting commentary on the ways in which religion is often meshed with culture, and how child-rearing practices are prescribed by ancient religious text such as Smritis and the Quran in the predominant religions of the region such as Hinduism and Islam. Cultural preferences for a male child and cultural practices such as dowry are also discussed.
Different features of the family
This book compares the concept of “family” across cultures, contrasting the Standard North American Family (SANF) (white, middle class, nuclear and two parents) with the particular features of the South Asian immigrant families – which were rooted in very different social, economic, political, and historical processes. The North American mothering discourse emphasizes raising an autonomous and independent child, while the South Asian discourse on mothering discourages this.
Immigration policy, feminization of migration in Canada
This book examines what the implications of Canadian immigration and settlement policy are on immigrant mothers’ mothering work. It further examines how these immigration policies are driven by the market economy and shaped by neoliberalism, mass migration, colonial history, and larger structures of race, class, and gender.
Dr. Chaze discusses important immigration trends such as the “feminization of migration,” where female immigrants have outnumbered male immigrants entering Canada. The increase in the number of female immigrants entering Canada as economic immigrants, or as spouses or dependents of economic class immigrants, now make up a fifth of the total female population in Canada. Migration is expected to provide a better life and opportunities for these women, but it also exposes them to new vulnerabilities resulting from their precarious/dependent immigration status.
Why this research is important
Studies such as The Social Organization of South Asian Immigrant Women’s Mothering in Canada should move beyond academia and change people’s knowledge, understanding, and attitudes towards these social issues. This research fills a gap in the literature in relation to immigrant mothers and their settlement experiences and highlights the need to revise governmental policies such as immigration, housing, employment, child welfare, and other policies that negatively impact newcomer women and families, and warns that failure to do so would continue to marginalize these women in Canadian society.
Chaze, F. (2017). The Social Organization of South Asian Immigrant Women’s Mothering in Canada. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing
Rich, A. (1986). Of woman born: Motherhood as experience and institution. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
Archana Medhekar, B.Sc., LL.M., is a Certified Family Law Specialist and Accredited Family Mediator, practising family law in Toronto, ON. Archana is also a member of our AFCC-O Newsletter Committee. You can reach her by e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org.