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Protest against sexual assault and attack on indigenous women in Chittagong Hill Tracts

Where? In front of Bangladesh High Commission, London

When? 13:00 – 14:00, Thursday, 15th March 2018

 

The Jumma Peoples Network UK, in association with Survival International, is organising a peaceful demonstration outside the Bangladesh High Commission, 28 Queen’s Gate, Kensington, London SW7 5JA, at 1pm to 2pm on Thursday 15th March 2018, to protest against rape and sexual abuse of two Marma sisters by the Bangladesh security forces in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, a region in south-east Bangladesh. As well, the demo is being organised to condemn the violent assault on the Chakma Circle Adviser, Rani Yan Yan.

Although two decades had passed since the Chittagong Hill Tracts Accord 1997 was signed, incidences of rape and sexual violence against Jumma women are increasingly evident in the region. The recent occurrences of rape and sexual abuse were committed as part of organised violence against Jumma women. Indigenous community representatives and local civil society organisations have reported that members of Bangladesh Army, who were deployed by the government of Bangladesh for security purposes, had first raped a 19-year old Marma woman, then assaulted her 14-year old sister in a village called, Orasori, in Rangamati – a sub-district at the Chittagong Hill Tracts. The two Marma sisters were raped and abused on 22 January, and both of the sisters were confined at the Rangamati Sadar Hospital since 24 January. They were subsequently taken out of the the hospital by force (against their will), and were handed over to their parents after three weeks, on 15 February. Amnesty International reported that the sisters are currently staying at an accommodation of a ruling party leader in a restricted environment, contrary to their request of shelter.

Instead of enquiring into the rape and sexual abuse of the two sisters, the Bangladeshi security forces had committed a violent physical attack on the Chakma Circle Adviser, Rani Yan Yan, and one of her volunteers on 15 February 2018, when they were visiting the ward where the two Marma sisters were kept. Most appalling is that an impartial investigation to prosecute the perpetrators is yet to begin and the survivor’s family has been subjected to intimidation by the army.

We call upon everyone to join the demo and to stand in solidarity with those fighting for justice for the Marma sisters in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. The protesters outside the Bangladesh High Commission in London will ask the Bangladesh government to ensure immediate safety and security of the two survivors of sexual violence, and to begin an impartial investigation into the violence against the Marma sisters. A joint memorandum by members of the Jumma Peoples Network UK, Survival International, Amnesty International, Campaign for Religious Minorities in Bangladesh and Secular Movement of Bangladesh, Community Women Against Abuse and other human rights activists will be submitted to the Bangladesh High Commission to be delivered to Sheikh Hasina, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh.

We ask our supporters to join the demo this Thursday. Organisations and individuals are encouraged to bring along your own placards and organisational banners to show your support for the indigenous women in Bangladesh.

For further information, please contact:

Jumma Peoples Network UK

Phone: 07723059225 and 07931777262

Email: jpn_uk@hotmail.com

Web: www.jpnuk.org.uk

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A women’s revolution in Northern Syria fights for its life


 

Courtesy: Women’s Initiative for Peace in Afrin, UK

 

Help Build the Women’s Initiative for Peace in Afrin, DO something truly international on IWD2018

We call upon the women of Britain to join us in the Women’s Initiative for Peace in Afrin to be launched in Parliament on 6 March, Committee room 3, House of Commons at 7pm. Please leave 30 minutes to allow for security clearance.

Behind the frontlines in war-torn Syria, the region of Rojava has established, since July 2012, grassroots democratic structures based on the principles of radical democracy, ecology, and women’s liberation. Led by the political system of Democratic Confederalism, the people created communes, assemblies, academies, and cooperatives to organise their daily lives in a secular, multi-cultural, and gender egalitarian manner. An autonomous women’s movement has established women’s social, political, and economic structures to secure a radical transformation of a society shaped by male domination, patriarchy and violence against women. A wide-ranging legislative programme has banned harmful traditional practices such as polygamy, child marriage and forced marriage. The Social Contract of the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria (DFNS) makes the elimination of discrimination against women in all spheres of life a guiding principle. A women’s quota of 40% is enforced in all governance structures while the co-presidency principle ensures that every institution, from the federal administration to the small neighbourhood communes, is chaired equally by a woman and a man.

Despite its ground-breaking assault on patriarchal structures, Rojava gets very little coverage, perhaps because its commitment to true equality is threatening to Western capitalist powers. This is probably the best place in the Middle East to be a woman. Women’s struggles all over the world can take heart from this truly revolutionary society which has achieved so much so quickly.

This relatively peaceful and totally non-sectarian society is under threat from Turkey. On 20 January 2018, the Turkish army and affiliated jihadist gangs launched a war of aggression on Afrin, one of the cantons of DFNS. This cross-border invasion by the Turkish state, cynically labelled “Operation Olive Branch” is a violation of international law. Since the beginning of the operation, hundreds of civilians have been wounded and killed, dozens of homes, schools, and vital infrastructure have been destroyed in the airstrikes and ground invasion.

The War on Afrin is a War on Women. This revolution is your revolution.

We demand:

  • immediate end to the attacks on Afrin
  • end of arms trade with Turkey
  • humanitarian support for Afrin
  • independent investigation into war crimes in Afrin
  • establishment of a No Fly Zone for the protection of civilians
  • support for the democratic forces and peace efforts of the DFNS for a free, democratic Syria
  • support for the inclusion of the DFNS in the Geneva peace talks on Syria

Please RSVP via https://www.facebook.com/events/180906479191644/?notif_t=plan_user_joined&notif_id=1519912083507020

For further information on Women’s  revolution in Rojava, please read this article: https://newhumanist.org.uk/articles/5160/the-rojava-experiment


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One Law for All coalition rejects Independent Sharia Review

Sharia Laws Are Part of the Extremist Threat and Not a Solution

 

Community Women Against Abuse joins with One Law for All and our coalition partners to express dismay and disappointment at the Independent Sharia Review. We have previously boycotted the Review, along with numerous other women’s rights and human rights organisations and concerned individuals. We had also expressed our grave concerns in an Open letter to the Home Secretary in September 2016. Having read the Review, our fears have been realised, and worse. As the One Law for All coalition points out in the letter below, the Review was secretive and non-transparent. Its analysis and conclusions are superficial and simply not credible. There is absolutely no attempt to engage with the wide body of evidence collected by the coalition and others, which is publicly available, detailing the devastating consequences for women and children of using these ‘courts’, ‘tribunals’ and ‘councils’. The Review chooses to ignore the highly discriminatory, patriarchal and oppressive cultural, religious and political context in which sharia councils operate. It prefers instead to legitimise them, therefore continuing to leave vulnerable women and children at their mercy. We are therefore calling on the Home Secretary to ensure none of the highly questionable recommendations are implemented without proper consultation of advocates who are able to make clear connections with extremism, fundamentalism and inequality.

 

Rt Hon Amber Rudd MP

Secretary of State Home Office

2 Marsham Street

London SW1P 4DF

6th February 2018

Dear Right Hon Amber Rudd, MP,

The Independent Review on Sharia: Sharia Laws are part of the extremist threat and not a solution

As black and minority women and human rights campaigners, we voice our dismay at the outcome of the independent review on Sharia laws commissioned by the government in 2016. Although the government has rejected formal recognition (through regulation), the way has been left open for the Sharia courts to continue to exist in a no-man’s land where they continue to produce discriminatory parallel laws while posing as an acceptable alternative dispute mechanism. Now they will be strengthened by a review that has endorsed their existence.

At the outset, we feared a whitewash but what we have seen is worse. The review is superficial, narrow and secretive; and completely lacks credibility.  We protested when the Home Office appointed a theologian to lead the review and two Imams as advisers. How absurd that the Home Office now claims that the review ‘was not tasked with considering theological issues, for example whether Islam and Sharia law treat women in an unequal way’. Why then appoint three people whose only qualification for the job was their status as religious scholars?

Any review that is based on interviewing only eight women and a handful of organisations; and that provoked a boycott from most of the organisations that deal with women adversely affected by religious laws, cannot be considered legitimate. Demands for the acceptance of Sharia laws to govern family matters are part of a wider fundamentalist and ultra conservative goal to normalise profoundly misogynist values in the law and other public spaces. Our front-line experience has found clear evidence that both the intent and the process of the Sharia courts is abusive and discriminatory; that the Sharia bodies are run by organisations with links to extremist organisations; and promote the full range of fundamentalist goals such as strict gender segregation, imposition of hijabs and other dress codes, homophobia, bigotry and discrimination against non-Muslims and Muslim dissenters, blasphemy laws and attacks on apostates.

Our research also shows that they do refer to ‘courts’ and ‘Judges’, because of a clear intention of establishing themselves as a parallel law which ‘good Muslims’ must adhere to. The review suggests that that they are ‘Councils’ only and thus sanitises them.

In order to arrive at its conclusions, the reviewers conducted no investigation and ignored evidence that would have undermined their conclusions. They ignored the wider political fundamentalist drive to undermine human rights. They also ignored a considerable body of evidence submitted to the Home Affairs Select Committee in Parliament by members of our coalition and others. For instance, Maryam Namazie submitted two statements in evidence which contained details of statements made by Islamic law ‘Judges’, that exposed their wider political agenda.  Knowing that hate speech and discriminatory speech is regularly erased from websites once it has been exposed, she had taken screenshots of their statements. She stated in conclusion, ‘despite all efforts to package Sharia’s civil code as mundane, its imposition represents a concerted attempt by Islamists to gain further influence in Britain’. If the reviewers did not wish to draw on our submissions, they could have applied some diligence and researched it themselves. Why did they not do so?

The coalition also gathered detailed testimony from many women. Unlike the reviewers, we did not ask for evidence solely from women who had experience of sharia courts, although we met and interviewed many who had tried to get a divorce under ‘sharia law’, were deeply traumatised by the experience and experienced further violence and abuse of their rights.  We also published and put in evidence to parliament, a devastating letter signed by over 300 abused and marginalised women from all religious backgrounds expressing their fear of being controlled by religious laws.

Sweeping statements are made about the “choice” that Muslim women make to approach such councils without giving any consideration to the highly constrained religious context in which that “choice” is made. The review is utterly silent on the crucial concept of ‘zina’ (sex outside marriage), the grave sin punishable by death in many Muslim countries. It is fear of ‘zina’ which compels many women, even those with civil divorces to seek an Islamic divorce. Procedural changes in sharia councils will not diminish their role in spreading this concept; to which they provide the only ‘solution’. That is why use of Sharia bodies is increasing. Evidence before the Home Affairs Select Committee makes clear that fundamentalists insist that a civil divorce cannot be final. Yet earlier generations of women had civil marriage (as well as a Muslim marriage contract) and were satisfied with a civil divorce. Increased religious bullying is a major reason for women’s recourse to sharia, not simply their ‘conscience’. Indeed, the form of Sharia which the theologians of the panel have failed to challenge is much more regressive than Muslim personal laws in Muslim majority countries.

Unlike the review, we have shown that women cannot engage with Sharia Councils or the Muslim Arbitration Tribunal in relation to their divorce without this also impacting on their rights and freedoms in other areas. Our research shows that Sharia Courts/ Councils deal with more than divorce – they impose ‘mediation’, promote polygamy and child marriage, and interfere with child custody and criminal proceedings in relation to domestic violence. The review made no serious attempt to investigate these issues.

The review stands in direct contrast to the devastating observations made by Dame Louise Casey in her report in 2016 “women in some communities are facing a double onslaught of gender inequality, combined with religious, cultural and social barriers preventing them from accessing even their basic rights as British residents...”

A forensic examination of the operation of Sharia in Britain lays bare what fundamentalists do to achieve their goals, not merely what they think. We do not accuse them simply of ‘thought crimes’ but of promoting crimes and human rights violations.

The review is a botched attempt at consultation established with flawed terms of reference and an explicit disregard for gender discrimination. The government and the reviewers have failed the women most affected and ignored the concerns of rights advocates.

We will be providing a more detailed submission. Meanwhile, we call on you, as Home Secretary, to ensure that none of the recommendations contained in the review are implemented without consultation with those advocates who are able to make clear connections with extremism, fundamentalism and inequality. The government has, so far, failed in its duty to make an equality impact assessment, which it needs to do with the full weight of evidence before it.  Continued indifference to the government’s duty to respect, protect and fulfil human rights will leave us in no doubt that there is no change to the social contract in which women’s rights are traded off as part of a process of appeasement of fundamentalists and extremists.

We look forward to your response,

Sincerely,

Gita Sahgal and Yasmin Rehman, Co-Directors, Centre for Secular Space

Pragna Patel, Director Southall Black Sisters

Diana Nammi, Executive Director IKRWO

Houzan Mahmoud, Culture Project

Sadia Hameed, Spokesperson of Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain

Rumana Hashem, Human Rights Advocate and Spokesperson, Community Women Against Abuse

Nasreen Rehman, Human Rights Advocate

Gina Khan, Spokesperson, One Law for All

Maryam Namazie, Spokesperson, One Law for All


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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 Against Abuse 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/