ECDC’s Affiliate, the Refugee and Immigrant Assistance Center (RIAC), Utilizes Cultural Competency to Combat Violence against Women


The Muslim-African Women’s Network for Safety, Advocacy and Protection (MAWNSAP) Project at the Refugee and Immigrant Assistance Center (RIAC) offers training to community-based victim service providers, criminal justice agencies and others who work with Muslim-African women who are survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking and/or dating violence. MAWNSAP is not only the acronym for the English title of this project but it is also derived from the Arabic and Somali word mawnasap, meaning the right thing to do—a particularly poignant concept in the fight against domestic violence.

The cultivation of cultural competency and understanding lies at the heart of RIAC’s MAWNSAP project. In our post-9/11 world, there are many misconceptions about the Islamic faith and its views of and about women, so in addition to information about domestic violence against Muslim-African women, the training is designed to give participants a comprehensive understanding of this social issue’s cultural and religious context. Participants have responded to this aspect of the project enthusiastically, and it is clear that the training is fulfilling service providers’ interests in becoming knowledgeable and culturally sensitive in their interactions with Muslim-African women. The following are only a few examples of past training participant questions:

  • What does the Quran say about violence?
  • While working with Muslim women, is physical touch, like a handshake acceptable, or is physical touch with an advocate not ok?
  • How can I, a non-Muslim woman, better demonstrate my empathy toward women in abusive situations and help them know that I support them?

During the training, participants are presented with case studies and practical service strategies for the Muslim-African women community. Additionally, they can receive individual consultations with MAWNSAP project staff for additional questions or specific concerns . Project evaluations have been very positive but have also given insight into new topics to include or explore more deeply during future trainings. Trainees responded especially well to the video clips and the personal testimonials from the project staff.

Since the project’s start in 2008, trainings have attracted participants from a variety of disciplines, ranging from law enforcement officers to graduate students, medical professionals to social workers. Trainings have been held at a variety of academic institutions, medical facilities, social service centers, and government offices throughout the greater Boston area and the entire state of Massachusetts. In their evaluations at the end of the training, participants are invited to talk about what they learned and whether they will approach their work differently. A small sample of trainees’ responses is a testament to the importance and effectiveness of RIAC’s MAWNSAP project:

  • I will be more conscious of the values and how to reframe them to be more helpful empowering women to change the arguments they’ve had to stay in an abusive situation.
  • I will be more aware of the influence the community has on the victim.
  • I will ask better questions.
  • I will be more culturally aware and not make assumptions.

To learn more about RIAC and its various programs, please visit their website.