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Why Regulation is Not the Answer: 15 Black and Minority Women’s Rights Campaigners Explain

‘Sharia’ and other religious systems of arbitration are back in the news once again. There appears to be growing recognition of the profoundly discriminatory nature of religious arbitration systems which relegate Muslim and other minority women to second rate systems of justice. But is regulation the answer?

A joint statement signed by 15 prominent black and minority women’s rights campaigners clarified yesterday that “regulation is neither desirable nor viable” for several reasons.  In the signed statement the women’s rights campaigners stated that:

A close examination of the workings of ‘Sharia’ Councils and the Muslim Arbitration Tribunal reveal serious failings that flout principles of the rule of law and undermine the rights of women in fundamental ways. These forums use fundamentalist and ultra-conservative definitions of ‘Sharia laws’ in highly selective and authoritarian ways; they seek to impose a social culture of ‘Zina’ which compel women to resolve marital and family disputes using ‘Sharia laws’ or risk becoming social outcastes and worse.

Evidence from the UK and elsewhere shows that such religious arbitration bodies function primarily as a means of exercising control over female sexuality and autonomy. They do not treat women as full persons before the law, but instead subject them to degrading questions and investigative procedures and impede them from leaving violent relationships even if they experience torture or ill-treatment and are at risk of losing their lives. The emphasis is centrally on reconciliation even if this conflicts with the protection principle and gender equality. Questions of marriage, divorce, inheritance, financial and children arrangements as well as polygamy and other cultural forms of harm, must be determined by the civil and criminal laws of the land and not so called ‘religious laws.’ This also means that all religious marriages must be registered by law.

Politicians and lawyers would do well to listen to the voices of over 300 abused minority women who signed a letter last year describing how their rights are violated on a daily basis. Any incorporation and recognition of religious forums would sanction the place of religious leaders in making decisions about women’s lives and normalise deeply patriarchal value systems.

We therefore urge caution in accepting the suggestion that a ‘compromise’ involving regulation and training provides a way forward.  Regulation is neither desirable nor viable for the following reasons:

  • The sheer diversity of religious interpretations would make regulation unachievable;
  • Parallel legal systems create and legitimise arbitrary systems of ‘justice’ which means less scrutiny by state institutions out of fear of ‘causing offence’;
  • There will not be sufficient resources to offer impartial judicial oversight of religious arbitration bodies to ensure compatibility with anti-discrimination and human rights law;
  • In the wider society there is continuing public scrutiny and revision of law and policy and under a democratic parliamentary process but religious law is not open to such scrutiny;
  • There is no political will to reform from within – religious forums around the world have been resistant to progressive reforms on women;
  • Self regulation through bodies such as The Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board (MINAB) and the Board of Sharia Councils has failed to ensure the rights of women and children are protected;
  • The accommodation of such forums, will amount to state sponsorship of fundamentalist and authoritarian forms of governance that encourage intolerance, misogyny and homophobia.

As black and minority women, we demand adherence to one legal system grounded within universal human rights principles. We cannot and will not settle for anything less.”

Signatories:

Pragna Patel, Director, Southall Black Sisters
Yasmin Rehman, Trustee, Centre for Secular Space
Maryam Namazie, Spokesperson, One Law for All
Diana Nammi, Executive Director, Iranian & Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation
Sadia Hameed, Spokesperson, Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain
Gina Khan, Spokesperson, One Law for All
Houzan Mahmoud, Cofounder, Culture Project
Rahila Gupta, Writer and Journalist
Sara Khan, CEO, Inspire
Nasreen Rehman, Forced Marriage Commission
Marieme Helie Lucas, Founder, Secularism is a Woman’s Issue
Fatou Sow, International Director, Women Living Under Muslim Laws.
Gita Sahgal, Director, Centre for Secular Space
Rumana Hashem, Founder, Community Women’s Blog and Former-organiser of Nari Diganta
Elham Manea, Author of Women and Shari’a Law: The Impact of Legal Pluralism in the UK

 

Women’s rights campaigners hold hand written placards against Sharia law. 14 December 2016

For further information, contact:

Pragna Patel
Director of Southall Black Sisters
pragna@southallblacksisters.co.uk
02085719595

Gina Khan and Maryam Namazie
Spokespersons of One Law for All
onelawforall@gmail.com
07719166731

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Court of Appeal finds that #GenderSegregation can amount to unlawful Sex Discrimination

PRESS RELEASE  By Southall Black Sister

In a landmark judgment handed down on 13 October 2017, the Court of Appeal found that ‘separate but equal’ treatment on the basis of gender at a school can amount to unlawful sex discrimination under the Equality Act 2010 (EqA).

The Court (Etherton MR and Beatson and Gloster LJJ) had been asked to consider gender segregation at the Al-Hijrah school, a voluntary aided Muslim co-ed school in which boys and girls are completely segregated from the age of 9.

The Court found that the school’s policy of strict segregation was discriminatory since it had an adverse impact on the quality and effectiveness of the education given by the school to both the girls and boy pupils respectively, and could not be justified under one of the exceptions set out in the Equality Act.

Moreover, Gloster LJ went further and accepted the submissions of SBS and Inspire that the effect of gender segregation, in the specific context of this Muslim school, was not gender neutral but informed by particular precepts and practices of certain Muslim communities.

Drawing extensively upon the ‘Casey Review’, which was referenced in SBS and Inspire’s submissions, Gloster LJ concluded that the school’s policy was particularly detrimental for girls in that it reinforced the different spaces – private and public – that men and women must occupy, and their respective stereotyped roles which accord them differential and unequal status.

This is an important judgment with far reaching consequences for the rights of minority women and girls to equality and the freedom to participate in public life as citizens.

Pragna Patel of SBS said: “We very much welcome the judgment and its recognition that gender segregation can be unlawful and discriminatory, especially in contexts where the practice is tied to the rise of religious fundamentalist and conservative norms. For over three decades, we have seen how regressive religious forces have targeted schools and universities as a means by which to control and police female sexuality in minority communities. The imposition of gender segregation, dress codes and sharia laws are just some means by which gender inequality is legitimised and promoted despite the serious and harmful consequences. This judgment is a vital step forward in our effort to persuade the courts and state bodies to take account of the reality of the misogyny and gender stereotyping that is promoted in our schools and universities in the name of religious and cultural freedom. We are delighted that the court has seen through this and upheld the equality principle.

Sara Khan of Inspire said: “I am pleased the Court of Appeal has recognised that in the context of co-ed schools which apply gender segregation throughout the school day, separate is not equal. Inspire have long argued that the practice of gender segregation is discriminatory and is a violation of the Equality Act. Over the years, religious fundamentalists in our country have aggressively sought to normalise the practice of gender segregation in our schools and institutions; and unfortunately we have witnessed a growing accommodation to it in particular by local authorities. This landmark ruling can now act as a bulwark against this. The Court of Appeal’s judgment makes clear that the policy of gender segregation as practiced by Al-Hijrah and other co-ed schools across our country is unlawful and has no place in our multicultural and multi-faith society. I hope this serves as a reminder that equality and the rights of women and girls especially from minority communities must not be sacrificed in the name of culture or religion.”

For Further Information Contact:

Pragna Patel, Director of Southall Black Sisters: pragna@soublacksisters.co.uk 02085719595.

Sara Khan, Director of Inspire: Sara.Khan@wewillinspire.com

For Background Information Check out CWB Blog: Gender Segregation amounts to Sex Discrimination https://communitywomenblog.wordpress.com/2017/07/11/gender-segregation-amounts-to-sex-discrimination/


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Reflection on a Trip to Bangladesh where Priest was Hacked to Death and Rape of a Five-Year Old was Possible

By Pushpita Gupta 

 

I am the co-founder and President of the pressure group, called the Secular Bangladesh Movement UK (SBMUK). I am also the elected President of the Campaign for the Protection of Religious Minorities in Bangladesh (CPRMB).  In March 2016, I visited Bangladesh on a fact finding trip to see for myself the victims of the atrocities committed against Hindus and other minority community. I subsequently produced a report that provided a detailed description of my tour, providing an insight of the difficult situation faced by the minority religious community, which was published on CWB alongside Secular Bangladesh Movement UK website.

This report is based on my follow up trip to Bangladesh in December 2016. Bangladesh is a country where the majority (90%) of the population follow the Muslim faith. After the partition of India in 1947, the Hindu population became an endangered community in their motherland, Bangladesh. During the Liberation War of Bangladesh in 1971, Hindus were one of the main targets of the killings and rape by the Pakistani military and their local militias. After independence of Bangladesh in 1971, the number of Hindus continued to dwindle due to persecution and oppression by the majority community. The Hindu community has faced large scale brutal attacks, including murder, rape, land grabbing and the destruction of temples by Islamist fanatics in 1991-1992, 2001-2002.
In recent years, with the rise of Islamism, atrocities against the Hindu minority community have increased to an ever more alarming rate. It is noteworthy that with the re-election of secular alliance government led by Awami League, which came to power in 2008, and the formation of International War Crimes Tribunal in 2010, attacks on Hindu minority has increased. Amnesty International in its 2013 report noted, “the attacks come in the context of large scale violent protests that have been raging across Bangladesh for weeks over the country’s ongoing war crimes tribunal, the International Crimes Tribunal (Amnesty International Report, 2013)”.

Abbas Faiz, Amnesty International’s Bangladesh Researcher at the time said that “The Hindu community in Bangladesh is at extreme risk, in particular at such a tense time in the country. It is shocking that they appear to be targeted simply for their religion. The authorities must ensure that they receive the protection they need” (Amnesty International Report, 2013).

Human Rights Watch in its “World Report 2015: Bangladesh” noted: “Supporters of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party and the Jamaat-e-Islami party threw petrol bombs to enforce strikes and economic blockades. Before and after the election (referring to 2014 election), the attackers also vandalized homes and shops owned by members of Bangladesh’s Hindu and Christian communities”.

This trend seems to be continuing and increasingly worsening in 2016 and 2017. Bob Blackman MP, Chair of All Party Parliamentary Group on British Hindus, noted correctly in a debate at the House of Commons on 8 Sept 2016 that “the widespread and persistent violations of human rights and the persecution of minority religious groups—Hindus, Christians, Buddhists and other tribal communities in Bangladesh—by the extremist armed groups are deeply worrying to all concerned within the country (Bangladesh) and in this country” (UK). As a minority human rights campaigner from Bangladesh in Britain, I went to Bangladesh initially for 3 weeks on 26t March and stayed till 18 April in 2016 to see the situation myself. My follow up visit was on 10 December in 2016  and I returned from Bangladesh on 15 January in 2017. For my visit to Bangladesh, the charity funds raised by two organisations, namely the CPRMB and SBMUK, have provided support enabling me to visit different places and affected communities in several regions. Also during my visit in Bangladesh, I received invaluable support and resources from Ekattorer Ghatal-Dalal Nirmal Committee.

Religious persecution following the comments of Minister of animal well-being, who called Hindus as ‘malaun’. Source Ajanta Deb Roy

I visited some places including Gopalganj where a priest was hacked to death allegedly by a youth at Basuria village, Tungipara Upazila, Gopalganj in April 2016. Doyal Roy, son of deceased Poramando Roy, said that when his father was returning home from market, Shariful Sheikh, a resident of Gingadanga village, hacked his father indiscriminately on Saturday night. He was taken to Khulna Medical College Hospital and then was moved to Dhaka Medical College Hospital where he died later that night. The widowed spouse of Poramando Roy has lost all sense of reality.

Doyal Roy said that his father was a priest at Bai Ros Ram temple. Police have already arrested Shariful, but reason behind the killing could not be known immediately. Officer-in-Charge of Tungipara police station told the Dhaka Tribune that local people were saying that the youth was mentally ill and they were investigating the matter.  A case on the murder incident was filed by Police in April 2006. The question is, does this filing of a case ensure justice for the widowed spouse and the son of Poramando Roy? The answer is unknown.

widow-of-roy-dec-2016.pdf

I also visited Dinajpur where rape of a five-year-old was committed in October 2016. The five-year old girl, Puja, was found in a crop field not far from her home after going missing from home for over 10 hours. She bore stab marks all over her body. Physicians at Dhaka Medical College Hospital (DMCH) where she was admitted in a critical condition told the Dhaka Tribune that the traumatised minor had developed infections in her genitalia.

The little girl had gone missing on 17 October. When her family members were frantically searching for Puja, one Saiful, the alleged rapist, told them that the girl was taken by a spirit.  This made the family suspicious and the girl’s father filed a complaint with the police station that evening. They later found Puja in the crop field, and happened to know by asking Puja that Saiful had raped her. Puja called him uncle and knew him as a senior relative in the village. Saiful was capable of raping a little girl who trusted him as her uncle. He is indeed the rapist.

The DMCH Deputy Director, Khaja Gafur, said that the hospital would carry the expenses of the Puja’s treatment and, if needed, send her abroad. He also said that there were assurances from the prime minister herself that the government would provide all expenses for the girl’s treatment. The victim was first taken to a local health complex from where she was moved to Rangpur and underwent treatment there for a week.

The accused Saiful, has been arrested from Dinajpur town and sent to court seeking remand. A court has fixed for the remand hearing. I have handed over our collective donation as a financial support as well as moral strength to the family of Puja. The meeting with Puja’s family and relatives was heart-rending. I cannot disclose details here for confidentiality.

I continued my journey from the far North to Southeast Bangladesh, where organised attacks against Hindu minorities were committed last year. The lessons learnt from the short visit to the affected communities were as illuminating as heart-breaking.  It is hard to describe in a short blog. A full report of my travel was published on Secular Bangladesh Movement, UK website and is currently available to all for open access.

Pushpita Gupta – a community women’s blog member and representative of minority rights hunger strikers stood with a placard for Santal people outside Bangladesh High Commission in London on Wednesday 23 November 2016. Photo credit: Atish D Saha

To conclude this brief reflection, I should note the ongoing atrocities against religious minorities and indigenous people in Bangladesh that have been committed by identifiable perpetrators are outrageous. Mere condemnation is not sufficient to prevent the widespread and systematic attacks on Santal and religious minorities in Bangladesh. The government should take actions to protect the religious minorities and to bring violence against innocent people to an end.

 


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GENDER SEGREGATION AMOUNTS TO SEX DISCRIMINATION

PRESS RELEASE

 

On 11 and 12 July 2017, Southall Black Sisters (SBS) and Inspire will be intervening in an important case on gender segregation to press the Court of Appeal to rule that the practice of gender segregation in a voluntary aided Muslim co-ed school amounts to sex discrimination under the equality law.  This is a potentially historical and precedent setting case, the outcome of which will have a far reaching impact on the human rights of minority women and girls.

 

Background to the case

 

School X segregates its pupils based on their gender. From the age of 9 to 16, boys and girls of Muslim background are segregated for everything – during lessons and all breaks, activities and school trips.

 

The school was inspected by Ofsted which raised concerns about gender segregation and other leadership failings involving the absence of effective safeguarding procedures, and an unchallenged culture of gender stereotyping and homophobia. Offensive books promoting rape, violence and against women and misogyny were discovered in the school library. Some girls also complained anonymously that gender segregation did not prepare them for social interaction and integration into the wider society. As a result of what it found during the inspection, Ofsted judged the school to be inadequate and placed it in special measures.

 

The school took legal action against Ofsted accusing it of bias amongst other things, and claimed that gender segregation did not have a detrimental impact on girls. Following a High Court hearing, in November 2016, the presiding judge, Mr Justice Jay, found no evidence of bias against the school but agreed with the school that gender segregation did not amount to sex discrimination under the Equality Act 2010. He went onto say that no evidence had been presented to show that gender segregation disadvantaged the girls in the school.

 

Ofsted is seeking to overturn this part of the judgment but the Department of Education and the Equality and Human Rights Commission, along with SBS and Inspire are intervening in support of Ofsted.

 

Why are we intervening

 

SBS and Inspire are intervening in this case because we believe that the right to equality for women and girls of Muslim background in this instance is being seriously undermined. We are alarmed by the growing acceptance of such a practice in our universities and schools; a move that we have also previously contested. In a context where all the evidence shows that minority women are subject to growing abuse, isolation, inequality and powerlessness, the practice of gender segregation cannot be viewed as a benign development because it is informed by the Muslim fundamentalist view that women are inferior and the cause of disorder and sexual chaos in society. If unchecked, the practice will give religious fundamentalist and ultra-conservative forces in our communities more and more power to define women’s lives. It will also signal the view that regulatory bodies like Ofsted have no business in investigating issues of gender inequality in faith based schools. We say that gender segregation amounts to direct sex discrimination and violates the fundamental rights and freedoms of women and girls under international human rights law on equality and non-discrimination.

 

Pragna Patel of SBS said: “Fundamentalist and conservative religious norms like gender segregation are becoming normalised in minority communities at an alarming rate. Separate can never be equal in a context of rising misogyny, violence against women and patriarchal control. Regressive religious forces want to implement their fundamentalist vision of education. They want to use religion to extinguish the human rights of minority women and girls to equality and self determination. We will not allow this to happen. We will not allow them to undo the strides that we have made for greater equality and freedom. Our struggle against gender segregation mirrors the struggle against racial segregation: it is morally, politically and legally wrong and the Court of Appeal and the rest of society must recognise this.”

 

Sara Khan of Inspire said: “I am deeply concerned about the rise and accommodation of gender segregation in our schools and universities.  This is due in large part to the rise of fundamentalist patriarchal movements over the last few decades which seeks to reinforce regressive gender stereotypes and restrict women’s rights in an attempt to deny women full and equal participation in public life.  I have seen first hand the damaging impact of gender segregation on women and girls.  As a British Muslim woman, I call on our country and our judiciary to stand on the side of equality and women’s rights, at a time when illiberals and fundamentalists seek to do away with them.

 

Maryam Namazie from One Law for All added: “Islamists have become adept at using rights language to impose rights restrictions. Islamist projects like the niqab or Sharia courts are deceptively promoted as “rights” and “choices” when in fact their aim is to control and restrict women and girls. Girls in Islamic schools are segregated not in order to enable them to flourish but because they are seen to be the source of fitnah and male arousal from puberty onwards. Which is why they must be veiled, segregated, and prevented from many activities that are essential to child development. The court would do well to remember that when it comes to children in particular, there is a duty of care to ensure that the girl child has access to a level playing field and is able to flourish – sometimes despite the wishes of parents and fundamentalists.”

 

For more background information visit http://www.southallblacksisters.org.uk/news/gender-segregation-is-gender-ap artheid

See the High Court judgment here: https://www.judiciary.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/x-v-ofsted.pdf and here: https://www.judiciary.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/x-v-oftsed-press-su mmary.pdf

Community Women’s Blog, Nari Diganta and Southall Black Sisters are part of the One Law for All campaign which also includes the Kurdish Culture Project, Centre for Secular Space and others working to challenge the rise of religious fundamentalism and extremism and it specific impact on  the rights of black and minority women in the UK. We are currently running a campaign against the accommodation of Sharia laws in the law or as part of alternative dispute resolution systems in relation to family matters. See details here: https://communitywomenblog.wordpress.com/2016/12/22/womens-rights-campaigners-echoed-the-voices-of-300-bame-victims-survivors-of-abusive-religious-related-practices-codeswho-will-listen-to-our-voices/

Information about previous contestations against gender segregation in universities can be found below: http://www.southallblacksisters.org.uk/news/campaign-gender-apartheid-uk-universities   https://www.opendemocracy.net/5050/pragna-patel/’shariafication-by-stealth‘ -in-uk  http://www.wewillinspire.com/tag/segregation/


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“Glastonbury of Freethinkers” in defence of free conscience and expression to be held in London

There is not much time left for the historic 22-23 July 2017 conference, being dubbed the “Glastonbury of Freethinkers”. The conference jointly organised by One Law for All and Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain will mark the 10th anniversary of the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain (CEMB). “We will honour our dissenters and celebrate freethought”, said Maryam Namazie , the spokesperson of the CEMB.

It is set to be the largest international gathering of ex-Muslim activists and freethinkers in London. Over 70 speakers and acts including comedy, music and art will discuss censorship and blasphemy laws, freedom of and from religion, apostasy, the limits of religion’s role in society, LGBT and women’s rights, atheism, secular values and more, to be held to defend freedom of conscience and expression and argue that freedoms are not western but universal. If you wish to be part of what will be an historic event, you can register via Secular Conference website.

You can find out more about the conference aims in The Freethinker interview with Marieme Helie Lucas and Maryam Namazie.

Get your ticket here: http://www.secularconference.com/get-tickets/

Read more about the conference: http://www.secularconference.com/

 

 


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Kalpana was abducted at election night and never returned

By Rumana Hashem

Two decades ago an outstanding Indigenous feminist and a fearless leader of Hill Women’s Federation, Kalpana Chakma, was abducted from her home in Rangamati, Chittagong, on the night of the national election on 12 June 1996 in Bangladesh. She has not been seen since

Instead of ensuring justice for Kalpana’s family and to prosecute those suspected of criminal responsibility for her enforced disappearance, the Bangladeshi authorities attempted to close the investigation. Bangladeshi police on 27 September 2016 asked a court in Rangamati to close the case, citing a lack of evidence, which was being challenged by Bangladeshi feminists.  Multiple police investigations and a government-appointed commission of inquiry have failed to identify perpetrators, let alone initiate any prosecutions. This 12 June marks the 21st anniversary of Kalpana’s abduction. In tribute to the abducted feminist Kalpana Chakma, we reblog a previously published article, describing the dramatic events on her abduction and the aftermath, in the Dhaka Tribune. 

 

Kalpana Chakma, an indigenous women’s rights activist of Bangladesh held the position of General Secretary of the Hill Women’s Federation. Kalpana Chakma is reported to have been forcibly detained by security personnel from her home in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) of Bangladesh on 12 June 1996 – her whereabouts remain unknown. Courtesy: Amnesty International.

 

June 12 has a historical significance to many Bangladeshis, especially to those who supported and voted for Awami League to form government in 1996. On June 12 in 1996, the AL won the Seventh National Parliamentary Elections and regained power to lead the nation after more than two decades.

The day is remarkable to the generation of 1975, including myself, who heard many stories about the party’s leading role in the war of independence in 1971 but never saw the AL in power before June 12, 1996.  Nevertheless, when many Bangladeshis note the day as a victory day of their favourite political party since 1996, it has become a commemoration day to the lives of a significant segment of population of the country — the people in the Chittagong Hill Tracts.

On June 12, 1996, an uncompromising Chakma feminist and an inspirational activist at Hill Women’s Federation, Kalpana Chakma, was abducted by unabashed state-security forces at the dark of the night when the nation was focused on the general election that would bring in democracy to the nation.

Kalpana was vocal against militarised violence and military occupation in the land of adivasi.  There is little doubt that her captors would belong to the same military that she regarded as enemy to her people and homeland. Protests in the aftermath of her abduction, of course, took place and outbursts across the CHT continued. But the end result of the protests against military is so that rather than bringing back Kalpana, four more protesters including a young boy, Rupan Chakma, were shot dead.

Rupan, Monotosh, Shukesh and Somorbijoy Chakma died in militarised violence against an outburst on June 28 in 1996, two weeks after Kalpana Chakma had been abducted.The incident brought in a clear message to the community and the nationals, who opposed militarised violence, that violence against indigenous people and women would continue while protesters against militarised violence are to be silenced.

Two decades have passed since. Many stories have gone around the gendered phenomenon over the past years, yet the demand for an independent investigation was cruelly ruled out as irrelevant. Instead of conducting an investigation on Kalpana’s disappearance, more lives were taken away. One may think that the trouble is the military. But the truth is more complex than we see.

It is not merely military, rather that of the misogynist civic nation that embraces culture of impunity as a way to uphold chauvinism. A close look to the events that followed Kalpana’s abduction after the General Election in 1996 would explain that the idea of democracy and justice has been disabled in the CHT, especially after 1996.

The incident of the notorious abduction of an uncompromising female activist with her two living brothers from her mother’s home was, as it appeared, less important to the majority of the nation. Only a small segment of progressive activists expressed willingness to discuss the matter. Others remained silent and did not want to know more — let alone speak.

If you search the profile of Bangladesh or the incidents on June 12 in 1996, there would hardly be any information available on Kalpana or the outrageous incident in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. The lines about an uncompromising aboriginal feminist do not “virtually” exist. The crucial lines have been erased from the whole profile of Bangladesh.

The questions about who was behind a stretched dark event on the night of a general election and how was this disgraceful incident of kidnapping normalised in the national life seemed immaterial and obsessive to many within Bangladeshi civil society.

Instead of undertaking investigation into the gendered phenomenon, the continuum of gendered violence in the region, under peace-forces, has been aggravated through gang rapes and sexual abuse of women at daylight which were committed by both the military and civil Bengali men. During my fieldwork of a completed doctoral research on “gender and armed conflict” in the CHT, I was told by the Additional District Commissioner in Khagrachari that there have been some “isolated incidents on militarised violence against women.” But he would not comment on these or Kalpana Chakma’s disappearance because, in his words, “these are matters to be dealt by peace-force”. What he implied is that he was out of power as he was made up to chair an administrative body who would sit and listen to how brutal the sounds of militarised violence are.

There is no doubt that military plays an important role in controlling the incidents in the CHT. Subsequently, I was prohibited to speak to Kalpana’s family and was forced to return from Khagrachhari with incomplete data. Nevertheless, the point that should not be missed is that the nationals are equally submissive and misogynistic. The nationals submit to militarism and chose the culture of impunity as a way of controlling indigenous population. This was evident in the comments of the ADC in Khagrachari. At the end of the meeting, he ruled out the chances for Kalpana’s return.

Even so, the missing woman is far from being silent. The woman from the other side of the wall stands as more powerful than her skippers. Kalpana’s disappearance alone has discovered many more voices that are vocal against violence against indigenous people. At a personal level, the incident of Kalpana’s outrageous abduction and disappearance, on the night of a historical general election, has turned me into an academic from activist. I was an undergraduate student at that time, was committed to help the Election Commission in counting votes, delivering a prompt service and neutral result of the election to which the whole nation awaited.

On the night of Kalpana’s abduction, I had been serving the nation of Bangladesh as a loyal volunteer of Dhaka University Scouts. After a sleepless and hard-working long evening when I returned home at nine o’clock in the morning, the national dailies have already reached out to the people, across the nation, that were eager to read news of election. Kalpana’s abduction was only partly covered. Even so, it had its power which motivated me to pursue a scientific research on gender and armed conflict in the end.

We may not be able to bring back Kalpana, but the power of a missing woman is proven. It is time to reveal and overcome the misogyny of the so-called civic nation that submits to, instead of protesting, the culture of impunity.

 

Read full article on Dhaka Tribune: http://archive.dhakatribune.com/op-ed/2016/jun/15/missing-woman-far-being-silent


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When Will Attitude towards Women Change?

By Piya Mayenin

Society-made, insurmountable obstacles hinder the progress of gender equality. With one step forward and leaps back the ugly mountain blocks our future unless some real changes are made worldwide. ..Quantitative actions are not turning into qualitative change because of insurmountable obstacles of society. 

 

Why do women have to bang on about Women’s right?  Well, firstly as women they would have experienced inequality and, at some time in their life, they would try to find a reason for those inequalities and solutions. Secondly, the status quo that is harming women, economically and socially has proved to be one that is almost impossible to shift inspite of achievements in equality by society.  Despite achievements of women, worldwide, the inequality mountain stands almost still. In the new era of ‘Trumpism  – when a Man like Donald Trump gets the Presidentship of in the US after making all the despicable comments about women – we need to put down our feet firmly for real quality changes!

Quantitative actions are not turning into qualitative change because of insurmountable obstacles of society. Quantitative changes mean that there are more women working today then say there were in the 1940’s. So does that mean that work around equality by our foremothers is really paying off? Comparators across indicators of qualitative change show that this is not the case. I have put that down, I am sure many many others have too, to a lack of respect for women. This lack of respect, globally, for women is simply from deep rooted ideas of women’s inferior place in society and the economy. This is seen, all over the world, where women are still usually working more and getting paid less than men irrespective of the major global women’s rights treaty that was ratified by the majority of the world’s nations a few decades ago.

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Bangladeshi-British women, including the author of this piece, in East London hold placards against sexual violence against women in 2015. Situation has worsen since. Courtesy: P V Dudman

In the US and pretty much in other western countries, women begun to enter work for many reasons including the rise of wages that made couples see that it is more beneficial for them, deindustrialization and men moving offshore or getting out of work.  Women earned about 60-65 percent of what men earned from the 1950s to the 1980s. After 1980, this began to equalize so that by about 2000, women earned 76 percent of what men did. Since 2000 there hasn’t been much more progress toward equality.

Women still earn less than men for many reasons which are unbelievably discriminatory. One explanation is, for instance, that employers pay people when they have more years of experience, and women’s child rearing breaks make them unsuitable. A report by the Women and Equalities Select Committee concluded last year that responsibility for childcare and the concentration of women in low-paid sectors were key causes of the pay differential. This means that some employers discriminate against women when hiring in higher-paying jobs, leaving the women no choice but to seek lower-paying jobs.

The glass ceiling is broken by a very few women and some when they get there are not very appreciative of feminism. ‘Far from “smashing the glass ceiling“, she was the aberration, the one who got through and then pulled the ladder up right after her, noted the reporter correctly in the Guardian on 9 April 2013.

So women have been given access to enter into a man’s work world only to stretch and fit, and as a result there is no qualitative change. The numerical pointers are not necessarily the indicators of success, while substantive changes are.

A woman now has to juggle working all day in overarching sexist structures and environments and tackle the bulk of housework and childcare after, doubling the stresses she previously had. Here’s another reality: Inequality is glaring when one sees that with most well off couples, the woman having the worse car while the husband flashes the better one. These indicators are evidence that attitudes and mentality have not changed around women although the benefits of their income have been realized by many.

Another achievement globally is where more girls are entering education and even higher education. However appalling safety levels and poor resources of the schools and incidents against women in developing countries do not allow for a real difference for girls.

The Independent in January 2017 has reported that ‘Russian lawmakers are being urged to reject a “dangerous” law that could decriminalise all acts of domestic violence, with the exception of rape and serious bodily harm.’  Let’s not forget that a large percentage of the world refuses to recognise rape within marriage as a criminal offence. In Turkey , for example, a draft law stipulates that men who sexually abuse girls under 18 without “force, threat or any restriction on consent”, and who marry their victim could go free.

Bdnews24 in Bangladesh reported on 27 February this year that ‘Bangladesh Parliament passes law allowing child marriage in “special circumstances”. Prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, has defended the law by saying the critics “know nothing about Bangladesh’s social system” and that her government was “making the law considering the ‘realities’ of society”. In Explaining the “special circumstances, the prime minister in Bangladesh who is a woman herself, said:

We’ve fixed the minimum age for girls to marry at 18. But what if any of them becomes pregnant at 12-13 or 14-15 and abortion can’t be done? What will happen to the baby? Will society accept it?

She added then, the girl could go for marriage with her parents’ consent in such circumstances in order to give the baby a “legal status” in society.

New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) have responded correctly, “Accidental or unlawful pregnancy suggests the law could lead to a situation where girls who have been raped are forced to marry their rapists.”

The same Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, promised in the 2014 Girl summit that child marriage will be eradicated by 2024. Bangladesh reports the highest case of child marriage at 66% on girls under the age of 18 getting married and over one third getting married before the age of 15. The recent law has just given for child marriages to rise and also the unintended consent to abuse of children.

Here in the UK, the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) estimates that 8.2% of women and 4.0% of men reported experiencing any type of domestic abuse in the last year and 2.7% of women and 0.7% of men had experienced some form of sexual assault (including attempts) in the last year.  (2017). Two women are killed every week in England and Wales by a current or former partner (Office of National Statistics, 2015)

The Guardian on 5 January, 2016, reported that Women outnumber men in 112 of 180 degree subjects, with females from poorer backgrounds 50% more likely to go to university than their male counterparts.

Papworth Trust in 2016 found that ‘one study shows there is evidence that Indian Asian people are significantly more likely to experience higher rates of disability than Europeans’., quoting Emily D Williams study Ethnic Differences in Disability Prevalence and Their Determinants Studied over a 20-Year Period: A Cohort Study.

This rather depressing state of affairs shows that issues of poverty, race, disability, sexual orientation and gender, amongst many other things, often combine to create a reality of extreme disadvantage for certain groups. Most of the time, these groups are female’, according to the New Statesmen 2013.

The status quo, the place where it is accepted that the poor, the physically weaker and people who are different get it rough, is tough and is so outdated and simply cruel. With regards to women, this is not helped by the large proportion of male banter concerning women around how they look and what they would like to do with them – usually violently when they have an issue with them.

Society-made, insurmountable obstacles hinder the progress of gender equality. With one step forward and leaps back the ugly mountain blocks our future unless some real changes are made worldwide.

UN Women have suggested the strategy for states to come together in working in their economies so that it works for women and equality by making macroeconomic and political changes with women’s development at the centre of it. They say that ‘they would have equal access to opportunities and resources – a good job with equal pay, or access to land – and social protection, which together would provide enough income to support a decent standard of living, from birth to older age. Their life choices would be unconstrained by gender stereotypes, stigma and violence; the paid and unpaid work that women do would be respected and valued; and women would be able to live their lives free from violence and sexual harassment. They would have an equal say in economic decision-making: from having a voice in how time and money are spent in their households; to the ways in which resources are raised and allocated in their national economies; to the broader economic policies set by global institutions.’  In their progress report in 2015 of the world women – 16 ‘Transforming Economics, Realising Rights’, they urge member states:

 To support substantive equality, economic and social policies need to work in tandem. Typically, the role of economic policies is seen primarily in terms of promoting economic growth, while social policies are supposed to address its ‘casualties’ by redressing poverty and disadvantage and reducing inequality. But macroeconomic policies can pursue a broader set of goals, including gender equality and social justice. Conversely, well-designed social policies can enhance macroeconomic growth and post crisis recovery through redistributive measures that increase employment, productivity and aggregate demand.

Let us call for a more equal world this International Women’s Day with the UN Women’s proposals listened to in order to help forge a better working world, a more inclusive, gender equal world. We can only keep trying and urge governments to enact and enforce these policies that would also change attitudes towards women and we can gradually get to see the qualitative change as and when the insurmountable obstacles are removed.