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The Activist Helping Abuse Survivors Tell Their Stories Through Comics

Krittika Ghosh helps immigrant women share their perspectives and energize their communities.

Jacob Dubé

Jacob Dubé

Rei Watanabe

Krittika Ghosh, an activist who has been fighting to end violence against women for 18 years, believes survivors of abuse shouldn’t just be passive recipients of services—they should be directly involved in creating and maintaining them.

With that in mind, Ghosh, currently the senior coordinator of the violence against women program at the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants’ (OCASI), helped create a graphic novel to amplify the voices of immigrant women.

In March, the OCASI launched Telling Our Stories: Immigrant Women’s Resilience, a graphic novel featuring the stories of immigrant and refugee women who come to Canada. The book spotlights the problems these women face, and how they can access the proper services to help. The initial goal for the comic was to give out 17,000 copies across the province, but Ghosh said they’ve reached around 35,000 to date.

Ghosh, who was one of the project leads along with Siham Chakrouni, wanted women from these communities involved from the start. “It's not just us spritzing around, deciding what is a good story,” she said. OCASI organized writing workshops across Ontario—two in Toronto, one in Ottawa, and one in Windsor—where immigrant women from local communities would collaborate on stories together.

Excerpt from Telling Our Stories. Image: OCASI

Ghosh and her team ran the groups through a class about issues surrounding violence against women like marital rape, Islamophobia, racism, and sexual harassment. The groups picked the issues they wanted to address and collectively wrote a story for the book. The stories, which were all illustrated by Coco Guzman, aren’t based on the experiences of one person in the group, Ghosh said, but their collective personal experiences and what they see in their communities.

“We made sure that the women who developed this graphic novel, [that] their voices were a part of what people were hearing,” Ghosh said. “They feel like this is their work. The women are so proud of it.”

The first story is about a woman who moves to Canada with her abusive husband and leaves him to open her own bakery with the help of her support group, for example.

“Women can support each other,” Ghosh told me. “It's not enough to show what is happening, we need to show what we can do.”

Ghosh and her team decided to tell these stories in the form of a graphic novel because it’s much more accessible and powerful, as opposed to something like a pamphlet that people might glance at and just throw away. As a comic fan herself, she said she was inspired by books like Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis and more recently Miss Marvel, a mainstream series that includes a female Muslim superhero, while working on her project.

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“We wanted to show you don't have to be a superhero to do amazing things,” she said. “It shows that everyday people can change the world.”

Ghosh lived in India until she was 13, and was impacted by the social inequality she witnessed within the nation’s class and caste system. “I would see how [many] women there did not have access to school,” she said. Ghosh then moved to New York City, and later Toronto, and decided that she would focus her work on helping those from her community and others like it, and ensuring that marginalized voices are heard.

Throughout her career, she has found that one of the most effective ways to bring change to a community is to educate them, and provide resources so members can help each other, and she brought that perspective to the graphic novel project.

Excerpt from Telling Our Stories. Image: OCASI

“It was a powerful mechanism, because it was women from their community working within their community to bring about change,” she said. “This model is a good way to do the work and to raise awareness.”

Telling Our Stories was developed with this grassroots approach to show that immigrant women are able to take action for themselves. “Immigrant refugee women are always looked down upon as 'victims' who are not able to make decisions or be a part of the movement to end violence against women,” she said. “We wanted to challenge those narratives that exist.”

Not many people hope to one day lose their jobs, but Ghosh wants to get to a point where her work isn’t needed in these communities anymore because it’s no longer a problem. “I'd like to live in a world where we don't have a rape culture, we have a consent culture. We have a culture where we learn at a young age how to treat each other,” she said.

It’s a big ask that requires a lot of serious attitude and policy changes, but she knows she’s not doing it alone.

Correction: An earlier version of this article identified Ghosh as senior director of the violence against women program at OCASI. Her title is senior coordinator. Motherboard regrets the error.

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