Who is the expert of experience? Legal vs. individual definitions of culture in the Canadian courtroom

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University of New Brunswick


Canadian case law suggests that the legal system imposes generalizations upon members of cultural groups thereby silencing the voices and perspectives of women within cultures. This can be particularly dangerous for women who have experienced abuse within the family. This study focuses on the experiences of Muslim women living in Canada who have experienced the courtroom procedure because of family violence committed against them. In order to highlight the importance of individual narrative about culture, I explore the documented literature and theoretical perspectives surrounding violence against women. More particularly, I introduce literature and theoretical perspectives that explain the importance that cultural competence and an intersectionality framework for analysis have for researchers and service providers attempting to understand the experiences of vulnerable women. I use a mixed methods approach integrating case law analysis and qualitative interviews with key informants to investigate the complex experiences that Muslim women have with the legal system. These methods demonstrate common themes which are used to offer recommendations for service providers and legal professionals working with culturally diverse women, as well as, suggestions for future research in this area. Keywords: Culture; Gender; Legal System; Violence against Women; Muslim