Mariam Rauf is the Outreach Program Manager at the Asian/Pacific Islander Domestic Violence Resource Project (DVRP). Managing the organization’s communications, outreach, and training programs, she works closely with Asian/Pacific Islander (A/PI) communities in addressing gender-based violence, while also speaking on panels and at conferences about the unique challenges A/PI survivors of gender-based violence face in the US. Prior to joining DVRP staff, she was on its Board of Directors and finished her term as Board President. Mariam’s professional background includes editorial work at a public health nonprofit where she was the managing editor of its external and internal communications. She also was a public servant with the US government, where she advised US officials on policy decisions involving regions in the Middle East and South Asia. Photography is her favorite pastime.
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My ethnic background is Baloch American. I was born in Karachi and immigrated to Queens, NY, at a young age. After a few years in NY, my family moved to West Virginia, which was more of a culture shock than moving from Pakistan to the US. The adjustment was difficult, but I learned to assimilate: I finished school drinking a lot of sweet tea and moved to Washington, DC after graduating from college. I was in DC for 10 years before moving back to NY a few months ago. I now live off the same subway line as when my family first moved to the states.
I’ve worked in multiple sectors, including at a private multi-million dollar company and as a public servant for the US government. I am now at a small nonprofit that serves Asian/Pacific Islander survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault; I manage the communications, outreach, and training programs. I got pulled into this work because of what I’ve witnessed loved ones go through in their relationships. Our communities have a long way to go to stop gender- based violence, and the place to start addressing that issue is in our homes. We must start having uncomfortable conversations with our family and friends about how women and girls are treated. We also have to be intersectional in our approach: we have to talk about sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and why Black lives matter.
Whether through colonialism or imperialism or plain old patriarchy, we have had to internalize oppression to survive the wrongs done to us and our bodies. This is why we see women speak out against women’s rights instead of for it. This is why members of our community will point out who among us has lighter skin and who has darker skin. This is why traditional clothes worn by men that look like women’s dresses have almost gone extinct. Where did we learn that women (and girls) are not equal to men (and boys)? How were we taught that relationships must be between two cisgender individuals of the opposite sex? Why is there a preference in our community for lighter skin over darker skin? When did clothes become so gendered? To have a meaningful conversation about gender-based violence, these are the types of questions we should be addressing.
We carry a lot of historical and generational trauma. Dissecting our histories and understanding our own prejudices and biases is key to moving forward as communities of color. This isn’t easy to do: looking within while speaking out against isms and phobias we witness in our homes is not comfortable or popular. But more and more people are having these difficult conversations with their families and loved ones. The number of people in our community speaking against gender-based violence is growing. And folks, mostly younger generations, are becoming more intersectional and inclusive. We’ve witnessed many tragic events (recently and in the past) and have a lot of healing to do, but if the recent rallies and marches have anything to show us, it’s that we can heal together. A few weeks ago, I attended a LGBTQ+ solidarity rally for Muslim, immigrant, and equal rights. It was a beautiful event to witness with my own eyes. What I would like to see now is more Muslims showing up for LGBTQ+ rights and #BlackLivesMatter.
As tough as it is, we are living in a historic time. I am so proud to be a part of this new movement that has brought together multiple communities that find themselves in the margins. I am proud to stand next to such empathic, kind-hearted, and selfless people. But I know we can only get so far before our own prejudices and biases stop us from achieving the ultimate goal: equality for all. But we will get there. Till then, remember to be kind to yourselves and to each other.