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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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Kalpana was abducted by 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.


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Women’s rights campaigners echoed the voices of 300+ BAME victims & survivors of abusive religious related practices & codes: ‘Who will listen to our voices?’

End of Year Update on Campaign to Dismantle Parallel Legal Systems

By Rumana Hashem

Over 300 women of Black and Minority communities, abused by religious bodies such as Sharia Councils in the UK, have signed a statement opposing Sharia courts and religious bodies, warning of the mounting threats to their rights and to their collective struggles for security and independence. The letter published on 14 December 2016 on Open Democracy 50.50 reads as below:

We are women who have experienced abuse and violence in our personal lives. Most of us come from Muslim backgrounds, but some of us come from other minority faiths.

We are compelled to voice our alarm about the growing power of religious bodies such as Sharia Councils and their bid for control over our lives. We oppose any religious body – whether presided over by men or women – that seeks to rule over us: because they do not have any authority to speak or make decisions on our behalf and because they are not committed to women’s rights and social justice. Whether we are women of Muslim, Hindu, Sikh or Christian faiths or of no faith, we have much in common with each other in the face of cruelty, tyranny and discrimination in our families, in our communities, and in the wider society. Many of us are deeply religious, but for us religion is in our hearts: a private matter between us and our God. Religion is not – and must not be – something that can be used to deny us our freedom or the little pieces of happiness that we find by mixing and borrowing from many different traditions and cultures which give meaning to our otherwise difficult existence.

We know from personal experiences that many religious bodies such as Sharia Councils are presided over by hard line or fundamentalist clerics who are intolerant of the very idea that women should be in control of their own bodies and minds. These clerics claim to be acting according to the word of God: but they are often corrupt, primarily interested in making money and abuse their positions of power by shaming and slandering those of us who reject those aspects of our religions and cultures that we find oppressive. We pay a huge price for not submitting to domestic violence, rape, polygamy and child abuse and other kinds of harm. For this reason alone, we are fearful of religious laws and rulings from such bodies. Our experience in our countries of origin and in our communities tells us that they are deeply discriminatory and divisive. They will weaken our collective struggles for security and independence.

We struggle to fit into this country and to educate our children, especially our daughters, and to protect them and give them a better life. We struggle to have our experiences of violence and abuse addressed properly in accordance with the principles of equality and justice for all. We do not wish to be judged by reference to fundamentalist codes that go against our core values of compassion, tolerance and humanity. We do not want to go backwards or to be delivered back into the hands of our abusers and those who shield them.

Many of us have not made public comments on this issue, because we are afraid of the consequences of doing so openly. All of us have faced abuse and we are desperately trying to rebuild our lives in the face of constant and continuing threats and trauma. Some of us have used only our first names to support this statement, but we feel strongly enough about this matter to do so.

We do not want Sharia Councils or other religious bodies to rule our lives. We demand the right to be valued as human beings and as equals before one law for all. We demand the right to follow our own desires and aspirations.

 

To view the names of the signatories and the nature of human rights violation and abuse experienced by individual signatories, please check out the article: The Sharia debate in the UK: who will listen to our voices?

 

In the meantime the coalition of women’s rights campaigners against parallel legal systems and Sharia Councils in the UK has launched a fresh campaign on social media for One Law for ALL which went viral two days before the closure of final evidence submission to Home Affairs Select Committee. The online campaign appeared on the same day as the letter from 300+ abused women opposing Sharia courts in the UK was published on Open Democracy.  The campaign by secular women’s rights campaigners on twitter and Facebook preceded by a hash sign “One Law for ALL”, ending with a hash sign “Struggle Not Submission” – a slogan used by the ex-WAF  members  , echoed the voices of 300 BAME victims and survivors of abusive practices and codes of religious bodies. The power of the campaign is in the slogans and the placards written and made by the women’s rights campaigners who experienced various forms of oppressions by Sharia and religious codes and practices.

 

They said: “injustice is injustice even when it comes from people of colour”, “our community women do not want to be re-victimised by Sharia judges”, “minority women are not extensions of the ‘community’, regressive imams & Sharia judges – they are citizens with rights”, “it is racist to fob off minority women to kangaroo courts”, “polygamy is abuse and violation of women’s Rights”, “Sharia law legitimises under-age marriage & honour-based violence against women”, “the impunity that Sharia courts enjoy must be ended”, “listen to women who know: don’t allow them to be silenced by anyone” . “By accommodating Sharia courts and Betei Din, the UK government is itself in breach of its obligations to gender equality”.

 

Besides, Maryam Namazie of One Law for All lodged supplementary written submission of evidence to Home Affairs Select Committee (HASC) Inquiry into Sharia Councils. And, on the final day of evidence supplementary evidence submission, Prgana Patel of Southall Black Sisters has submitted further evidence and long testimonies of victims and survivors of parallel legal systems to HASC on 16 December 2016.  These latest submission by One Law for All and Southall Black Sister are undeniable. The final submissions of devastating evidence made a luminous end of the year 2016.  We shall hope that these last minute yet detailed and powerful evidences will enlighten the blind government and the allegedly bias Home Affairs Select Committee. We can hope for a bright, enlightened, equal, free, fair and tolerant new year.

Hope, Peace and Happy wishes to all Community Women’s Blog readers for 2017!

Read more:

Sharia courts have no place in UK family law. Listen to women who know

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/dec/14/sharia-courts-family-law-women

Supplementary written evidence submitted by One Law for All http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/home-affairs-committee/sharia-councils/written/44036.html

#OneLawforAllBecause  #StruggleNotSubmission


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Denounce Those Playing Political Games with Women’s Lives over Sharia and Islamophobia

Rumana Hashem

This is probably an overdue update for community women’s blog readers on our campaign against Sharia Councils in Britain. We are aware that our blog has largely been dominated by stories of Bangladeshi community for a while. Due to the ongoing political situation and violence against women and minorities in Bangladesh, we needed to prioritise stories of Bangladeshi-British women and news from Bangladesh. However, this is a critical juncture when we must return to an ongoing issue of Islamophobia and the status of our campaign against parallel legal systems in Britain.

 

Muslim women and secular activists in East London joined Nari Digantas's panelists and representatives of eight Muslim women's organsiations, to abolish Sharia In Britain. Monteforio Centrre on 15 Oct 2014 by Golam Rabbani of Diamond Studio

Muslim women and secular activists in East London joined Nari Diganta’s panelists and representatives of eight Muslim women’s organsiations to abolish Sharia in Britain. Monteforio Centrre on 15 Oct 2014 by Golam Rabbani of Diamond Studio

Following the commitment to dismantle abusive practices of Sharia Councils, religious arbitration in family matters and parallel legal system in the UK, minority women’s rights campaigners have been urging the government to fully and impartially investigate Sharia bodies.  Although the UK government is conducting an inquiry into the operation of Sharia Councils which was launched in spring 2016, this is being boycotted by secular and minority women’s organisations, including East London based women’s rights organisation Nari Diganta and the core coalition against parallel legal systems, for reasons explained in this article . In short, the remit of government’s inquiry is too narrow, and the panel of judges are not ‘independent’ enough to undertake an impartial investigation.

On July 4, a letter, signed by an unprecedented number of women’s rights campaigners and organisations from Britain and internationally, was submitted to the Home Secretary raising serious concerns about the government’s ‘independent review’ into Sharia councils in Britain. Our letter stated that the limited scope of inquiry and its inappropriate theological approach will do nothing to address the discriminatory effect and intent of the courts on private and family matters – areas where, arguably, the greatest human rights violations of minority women in the UK take place. Rather than taking a human rights approach, the government has constituted a panel and terms of reference more suited to a discussion in theology than one which serves the needs of victims whose human rights are violated.  By making religious appointments, the government has lost a vital opportunity to examine the discriminatory nature of not only Sharia bodies but all forms of religious arbitration.

Despite grave concerns, Theresa May’s government is moving ahead with its controversial Sharia review.  At the same time the UK’s Home Affairs Select Committee has launched an inquiry into the compatibility of Sharia with British law. Some frontline organisations and women’s rights activists including Southall Black Sisters, the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation, Centre for Secular Space, One Law for All, British Muslims for Secular Democracy and the Culture Project, and Yasmin Rehman have submitted written evidence to Home Affairs Select Committee. A few of these campaigners were invited to attend oral Evidence Session held on 1 November and they gave robust evidence under hostile environment by Islamist MPs.

 

Women's' rights campaigners challenged the unbalanced inquiry on Sharia Councils at the public meeting on "Sharia Law, religious arbitration and access to Justice" at the Parliament on 7 November 2016. Photo credit: Southall Black Sisters

Women’s’ rights campaigners challenged the unbalanced inquiry into Sharia Councils at the public meeting on “Sharia Law, religious arbitration and access to Justice” at the Parliament on 7 November 2016. Photo credit: Southall Black Sisters

 

There are currently two parallel enquiries running, one by the government and one by Home Affairs Select Committee, both of which appeared to have imbalances.  Earlier this month, certain committee members in the UK’s Home Affairs Select Committee launched personal attack against a secular women’s rights campaigner, Maryam Namazie of One Law for All, who was invited to provide oral evidence following a call for evidence submission  against abusive practices of Britains’ Sharia Councils. Muslim women’s rights campaigners such as Yasmin Rehman, who expressed wish to attend oral evidence session by all means, was left out of the committee room as uninvited, while Maryamn Namazie an Iranian born secular feminist who worked closely with victims of Muslim origin and who provided powerful oral evidence on Sharia abuse at oral evidence session was faced with a personal attack as unrepresentative of Muslim women.

A committee member Naz Shah MP asserted that she wants to have a choice for Sharia divorce. The Pakistani origin -‘British-Muslim’ committee member Shah insisted that she is aware of many Muslim women who may use Sharia Councils. For Shah, a closure of Sharia Councils in Britain would mean that the option for a Sharia divorce of many Muslim women in the UK would be taken away. She asserted: ‘My choice would have been taken away’.  We don’t know if Shah will ever go to a Sharia council for divorce though, she wants to have the choice to have a Sharia divorce!

Using her parliamentary privilege, Naz Shah MP accused Namazie that her suggestion for closing down Sharia Councils would have discriminated against all religious believers. Without any proof, she said: ‘the people I have been talking to in the last 24 hours have told me that there is an air of Islamophobia and racism about this whole debate’. It would be interesting to know who are those people that Naz Shah MP had spoken for 24 hours to defend Sharia councils.

The antagonist comments by the MP in question was criticised by concerned secular groups and women’s rights campaigners. Yet she has not apologised for her misconduct and disgraceful attack against a women’s rights campaigner, while the oral evidence session was supposed to focus on Sharia Councils and its adverse effect on women’s lives.

 

The shocking part for me was the latest news that the Home Affairs Select Committee has asked victims of Sharia abuse to attend a physical event in Whitechapel in East London to be testified by committee members.  As an activist-academic – having completed a doctoral research in gendered violence, being engaged in teaching and research in feminist methodology and ethics in social work, and having invested nearly two decades in working with Muslim women and survivors of religious arbitration in Bangladesh and Britain – I found it hard to believe that the Committee intended to meet with survivors and victims’ in this manner. Whatever it is- insensibility or insanity – this raises many questions in connection with the ethics of the Home Affairs Select Committee appointed to investigate a delicate matter like abuse of women by Sharia in private life, and abuse in the name of religion. Whilst wondering about the motive, opportunity and objective of the Home Affairs Select Committee, I am leaving this blog by keeping my doubts to be explained in a later article at a wider platform, beyond the community women.

 

To end this report, I would like to call upon all community women’s blog readers to name and shame these politicians who fail to see how their policy could violate women’s fundamental human rights. Both the government and the Home Affairs Select Committee seem playing with Muslim women over Sharia and Islamophobia. In the name of choice of Muslim women and religious freedom, the Home Affairs Select Committee is directly acting on behalf of Islamists whose votes matter to the MPs more than women’s lives. The Committee members seem blind enough to not able to see how this ask for testifying victims and survivors of Sharia Councils could cause secondary trauma and further safety issues to many women who are in need of legal protection and access to justice.  Instead of protecting the women who gave witnesses in anonymous forms to their nominated women’s rights advocates, the committee has embarked on a project to promote violation of human rights of those survivors who are already faced with violence and abuse.

 

This update for community women’s blog readers includes a new Written evidence submitted to Home Affairs Select Committee by Southall Black Sisters, the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation, Centre for Secular Space, One Law for All, British Muslims for Secular Democracy and the Culture Project, including Evidence Session held on 1 November. The new written evidence that was submitted to the Home Affairs Select Committee by the core coalition of women’s rights organisations against Sharia Councils in the UK is as follows:

We refer to recent emails from the Home Affairs Select Committee to Southall Black Sisters and the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation requesting us to help find Muslim women who have ‘used’ Sharia Councils, to attend an event in Whitechapel, East London, on 24 November 2016 in connection with your inquiry.

We are a coalition of organisations who have an immense track record in providing front line services and in campaigning for the human rights of black and minority women. Our coalition includes Southall Black Sisters, the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation, Centre for Secular Space, One Law for All, British Muslims for Secular Democracy and the Culture Project: we represent some of the most marginalised groups in our society. Between us, we have over 100 years of combined experience of working with women from all faith backgrounds, the majority of whom come from a Muslim background.

Many of us have supported minority women, adults and children of all religious backgrounds to resist powerful cultural and religious constraints that prevent them from exiting from violence and abuse and impede their ability to assert their rights as citizens of this country. It has taken long and often painful struggles to give minority women a voice and to facilitate their access to the formal legal system that many see as their ultimate safety net. We have seen that, without proper and informed access to the civil and criminal justice system and to the welfare state, women are left to the vagaries of arbitrary and discriminatory systems of community arbitration, including Sharia Councils – the subject of the current inquiry by the Home Affairs Select Committee. The experiences of women in these circumstances suggest that such parallel legal systems create a lethal space for the resurrection and perpetuation of patriarchal control over and harm to women, vulnerable adults, and children. It is precisely because of these experiences that, in many parts of the Muslim world, women are resisting Sharia laws and religious impositions.

It is against this background, that we are compelled to raise three specific areas of concern that have arisen in relation to your inquiry:

  1. First, we have to say that we are puzzled by your request for women who have personally used Sharia Councils to participate in the event in East London, and we are compelled to decline it for a number of significant reasons:

(a) Why is the Select Committee only interested in hearing from Muslim women who have ‘personally used’ Sharia Councils? There are an equal if not greater number of Muslim women who, for very valid reasons, do not wish to use these Councils out of fear and distrust arising from their own negative experiences of religious control in their communities. Many women confronting honour based abuse, for instance, will not use Sharia Councils because they feel angry and let down by their communities and religious authorities. Many recount the ways in which they have been subject to religious abuse of power, including sexual abuse, and for these reasons they are fearful of being subject to further abuse and humiliation in Sharia Councils. Their experiences and reasons for rejecting Sharia Councils are as valid as those who ‘use’ Sharia Councils. When will these women’s voices be heard?

(b) Many women that we see are deeply traumatised and still in crisis situations. They are often unwilling or fearful of taking part in events that involve revealing intimate details of their lives, especially of a sexual nature, in front of other people (even women) not known to them. Most fear making any kind of disclosure or of raising any criticism of religious authority in unfamiliar and unsafe environments. Our experience of providing counselling, group therapy and support for the extremely vulnerable women with whom we work is that they need to feel confident in safe spaces with which they are familiar before they will disclose their experiences. They have to develop a strong affinity with other women based on shared experiences and mutual respect before they open up to others, even if they are from the same community.

(c) It is impractical for some women who live in North and West London or even outside London to travel to East London. Many are extremely vulnerable or destitute, or have work or child care responsibilities that make it difficult for them to travel long distances. We therefore propose that the Select Committee gives serious consideration to our request to meet women who have used Sharia Councils as well as those who have not, in safe venues across London and the UK, with the support of their advocates and to also consult and take evidence from their advocates who can speak to their experiences. SBS and IKWRO for example, are willing to facilitate access to women who use their services by organising a closed session at the premises of SBS, in West London, where advocates and counsellors will also be on hand to provide evidence and additional support to the women who attend.

  1. We are concerned that the inquiry sessions on Tuesday 1 November 2016, at which witnesses were invited to present their evidence, were highly unbalanced and weighted in favour of those who support Sharia Councils in some form or other.

(a) The sessions consisted of 3 panels of witnesses. Out of a total of ten witnesses who appeared, seven spoke in favour of Sharia Councils (four of whom actually ran Sharia Councils), one remained neutral and only two witnesses – Dr Elham Manea and Ms Maryam Namazie – were called to present their counter arguments. We note that some of those who gave evidence were invited to do so even though they had not made any written submissions to the inquiry.

(b) Whilst we accept that witnesses who speak in favour of the role of Sharia Councils have every right to be heard, we question whether the inquiry can be said to be fair or impartial when the evidence sessions were so clearly slanted in favour of those who have a vested interest in maintaining the role of Sharia Councils over family matters.

(c) In our view, the inquiry needs to hear evidence from expert witnesses who can provide specific examples of how abused women have been re-traumatised and placed at risk following their engagement with Sharia Councils. Most of the abused women that use our services seek a divorce only after they have left abusive relationships, but they are almost always compelled to return to the abuse by Sharia Councils and other religious arbitration bodies, even if this breaches civil and criminal laws and good practice and policies in respect of mediation and reconciliation in gender-based violence cases. In other words, they are forced back underground.

(d) It must be a matter of concern that the Select Committee appears to have chosen not to hear from witnesses experienced in front line advocacy work with BME women – work which has necessarily involved the invocation of human rights and equalities legislation to challenge Sharia laws. The Public Sector Equality Duty for example has been successfully invoked to address the ways in which fundamentalist interpretations of Sharia laws have been utilised by advocates of parallel legal systems to demand gender segregation in public spaces and Sharia compliant wills in inheritance matters. These very same fundamentalist interpretations of Sharia laws are invoked in Sharia Councils and the Muslim Arbitration Tribunal. We are also worried about the focus of the inquiry on divorce when these ‘courts’ address everything from polygamy, child custody, domestic violence, marital rape, marital captivity, forced marriages and more.

  1. Finally we wish to place on record our concern about the line of questioning of Maryam Namazie at the evidence session referred to above.

(a) In particular, the tone and manner in which she was allowed to be questioned by Naz Shah MP brought discredit to the Select Committee and its approach to the issues under scrutiny. In particular, the specific suggestion that Maryam Namazie was ‘anti-faith’ appeared to provide a pretext to discount Maryam’s evidence: such tactics can and do contribute to a culture that incites religious hatred and violence towards those, especially from Muslim backgrounds, who are perceived to be apostates, atheists and non-conformists.

(b) As you will be aware, we have already seen a rise in religiously motivated hate crimes towards so called apostates that has even led to murder in the UK. (See the case of Asad Shah who was killed in Glasgow in March 2016.) Given her own background, we would have expected Ms Shah to understand the dangers of portraying those who do not conform to their faith in such negative terms.

(c) We trust you will agree that, as an MP and member of the Select Committee, Ms Shah has a duty to exercise due care and to behave fairly to all the witnesses at all times, whether or not she agrees with them. In our view, she breached that duty in this instance, and we shall be interested to know what you have to say in that regard.

We hope that you will give serious attention to the concerns we have raised. Please treat this letter as a submission to the inquiry. We are also attaching an open letter by us regarding the government’s review of Sharia Councils setting out our concerns which are relevant to this inquiry too.

We look forward to your response.

Please do not hesitate to contact us if you need any clarification or have queries arising from the contents of this letter.

Signed by:

Pragna Patel, Director of Southall Black Sisters
Gita Sahgal, Director of Centre for Secular Space
Maryam Namazie and Gina Khan, Spokespersons for One Law for All
Diana Nammi, Executive Director of Iranian and Kurdish Women’s organisation
Nasreen Rehman, Co-Founder and Chair of British Muslims for Secular Democracy.
Yasmin Rehman, Muslim Women’s Rights Activist and Trustee of Centre for Secular Space
Houzan Mahmoud, Spokesperson for Culture Project

 

Further related information:

Elham Manea (2016), “Women and Sharia Law: The Impact of Legal Pluralism in the UK” (documentation of the harmful and even life threatening consequences of privatised justice and legal pluralism for minority women who are denied the right to equality before the law), UK: I. B. Tauris. 

Video of oral evidence given by women’s rights campaigners of our coalition against Sharia Councils can be accessed here :

Video Footage of never before seen testimonies from women, and the public meetings in London and Manchester, organised by Southall Black Sisters with BME women’s groups: http://tinyurl.com/zk5q697

Written testimonies gathered with partner organisations can be accessed here: http://tinyurl.com/gqk83ms

Written evidence submitted by the Iranian & Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation (IKWRO)

Written evidence submitted by Southall Black Sisters

Written evidence submitted to Home Affairs Select Committee by One Law for All

Written evidence submitted by the British Muslims for Secular Democracy

Report on Sharia Council and evidence submitted by freelance consultant Yasmin Rehman

May’s inquiry into sharia is not fit for purpose, The Times, 11 July 2016

Inside Sharia Councils, Victoria Derbyshire Programme, 11 July 2016

Refusing to recognise polygamy in the West: a solution or a soundbite?, Open Democracy, 11 July 2016

More than 200 women’s rights campaigners have sent a letter to the Home Secretary raising serious concerns about the government-appointed independent review into Sharia councils in Britain. Maryam Namazie and Mona Siddiqui discuss, BBC Radio 4, 10 July 2016

Polygamy is not a cultural conceit. It is an affront to women, Guardian CiF, 10 July 2016

Sharia courts review branded a ‘whitewash’ over appointment ‘bias’ concerns, Independent, 10 July 2016

Nehru’s niece Nayantara Sahgal joins UK women to protest “discriminatory” review of Sharia courts in Britain, Counterview, 4 July 2016

Whitewashing Sharia councils in the UK? Open Democracy, 4 July 2016

Critics say a UK probe into Sharia courts is a sham, Freethinker, 3 July 2016

Britain probes Sharia courts treatment of women, UPI, 28 June 2016

Britain’s Sharia Courts Under Scrutiny, News Deeply, 24 June 2016

Calls to Dismantle Parallel Legal Systems by women’s rights campaigners on International Human Rights Day, 10 December 2015

 

 


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Feminist Library Summer Benefit

 

When: Saturday, 2 July 2016 from 14:00 to 22:00 (BST)

Where: Feminist Library – 5 Westminster Bridge Rd, London, SE1 7XW – View Map

The Feminist Library is fighting back against its recent eviction threat by organising a Summer Benefit on Saturday 2 July to help raise funds for new premises.

Experience the Feminist Library anew as artists, writers and musicians perform new and old works in spaces, nooks and crannies of the library, including a choral installation, one-to-one performances in a lift, the spectacular launch of the Feminist Library Survival Song and award winning novelist Ali Smith In Conversation. Playing us out will be Ana da Silva and Gina Birch of the legendary Raincoats!

Plus stalls, zines, signed copies of books, food, drink, dancing and a photobooth performance. Book now to avoid disappointment!

Tickets are available on eventbrite https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/feminist-library-summer-benefit-tickets-25693652406  at different price as it suits you (£5/£12/£20).

We have a limited number of free tickets, for those who cannot afford the low waged ticket price. Please email admin@feministlibrary.co.uk for more details.

Please contact us to enquire about access details for this event.

Save the Library Campaign-Info & Donate: http://feministlibrary.co.uk/support/emergencyfund/