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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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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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Out in School: Gender, Sexuality and Fundamentalism

A Feminist Dissent Event

 

When: Friday, 1 July 2016 from 12:00 to 16:00 (BST) 

Where: Institute of Advanced Study, Milburn House, University of Warwick – View Map

This Workshop brings together researchers, teachers, community members, activists and policy practitioners to provoke an in-depth discussion on the question of sexuality (including sexual orientation) and fundamentalist religious beliefs and practices within schools. What kinds of conflicts arise in the interface of individual and communal religious beliefs and sexual and reproductive choice? What kinds of specific challenges do children who identify themselves as bisexual, gay, lesbian or trans come up against in terms of dealing with religious orthodoxies within schools, communities and families? How can educators, policy practitioners and feminists create space for such discussions to be “out”, and what kinds of practices and policies are best suited to ensure the well-being of children and the values of secularism, liberty and human rights? These are some of the questions that the Workshop will seek to explore. We hope you will join us for this important discussion.

The event is FREE  to attend. Further details about speakers and panelists are available on eventbrite https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/out-in-school-gender-sexuality-and-fundamentalism-tickets-25932194893

Places are limited, so please reserve a free place via eventbrite

Lunch will be provided for all those registered.

 

We are offering 5 travel bursaries to school teachers from any part of the UK, on a first come first served basis. To request one, please email Rashmi.Varma@warwick.ac.uk

Feminist Dissent is supported by: the Department of English and Comparative Literary Studies, the Warwick Impact Fund and the GRP in International Development.


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Commemoration Meeting on 22nd Anniversary of Shahid Janani Jahanara Imam

By Ansar Ahmed Ullah

Today is the 22nd death anniversary of Jahanara Imam, a legendary Bengali feminist and the mother and a wife of founder martyrs, who fought and died for the independence of Bangladesh nation-state in 1971.  On the occasion of her anniversary, the Ekattorer Ghatak Dalal Nirmul Committee in London has organised a discussion at Iftar time to be held at Shaad restaurant, 13 Brick Lane. London E1 6PU.

 Jahanara Imam courtesy: Nirmul Committee. UK, 20 June 2016

Jahanara Imam courtesy: Nirmul Committee. UK, 20 June 2016

 

The committee invites everybody to the Discussion and Iftar in memory of our founder Martyrs Mother Shahid Janani Jahanara Imam to be held at 8.00pm today. The cost of iftar will be covered by attendees’ donation. We would like to request everyone to contribute ((ideally £10 per person) towards the cost of Iftar . We hope that you will join us to make the discussion useful and successful.

Please RSVP as soon as possible as we need to inform the restaurant of the number of Iftars.

Please RSVP to Jamal Khan, Asst Secretary Tel 07961 374627 j.a.khan@hotmail.co.uk


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Nari Diganta denounces the heinous act of sexual harassment of girls and young women in Dhaka

Bangladesh Government Must Take the Responsibility to Apprehend the Perpetrators

Rumana Hashem

In the evening of 14 April, during the celebration of Bangla New Year 1422, called Pohel Boishak, 20 young Bangali girls and women were attacked by a group of rapists who took possessions of women’s bodies by forcing them to be naked and lied down on the ground while rapists played with their bodies at the premise of the country’s largest public University in the capital city of Dhaka. While the act of violence against these women was just less what we call rape in the West, the ferocity of the sexual assault was beyond account. The outrageous act of sexual harassment of young women in public went on for about two hours, near the gate of Teachers and Students’ Centre (TSC) of Dhaka University and the Suhrawardy Udyan (the historical Suhrawardy Garden), known as a premise of the country’s progressive people. During the vicious incidence, a group of progressive students belonging to a left political student’s organisation, called the Bangladesh Students Union (BSU), had protested the incident and tried to stop the rapists. As an end result, they were badly beaten up and threatened to be killed by the rapists. The rapists broke an arm of one protester, Liton Nandi, a leading activist and key organiser of the Bangladesh Student’s Union.This outrageous occurrence is unacceptable.

Bangladeshi police and campus security guards were present in the premise during the atrocities. They have witnessed everything throughout the dramatic sexualised event. Police failed the nation and did not play the role of state security personnel. They played extremely controversial role by keeping silent and by watching the incidence as armless staff of the state. By keeping silence and acting as statues, cop gave shelter to the rapists. Further, the University administration and local government denied their responsibilities to prevent these appalling sexualised violence happen in the premise of Dhaka University. The Proctor of the University has made controversial statements and denied to have evidence of sexual assaults of women within the Dhaka University’s premise whereas CCTV footage shows there is plenty of evidence and it is quite possible to identify the perpetrators.

This is not the first time that Bangladeshis have witnessed such masculinity and brutality of sexualised violence against women in Bangladesh. Masculinity is pervasive in Bangladesh but government plays hopeless roles to prevent such violence, allowing renewed sexualised violence against women. In 2000, a young woman was gang raped and killed at Dhaka University premise during the celebration of a new year in the eve of millennium. The woman was raped in front of her boyfriend. Both her boy friend and the millennium had witnessed the gendering of a young woman’s body right in the eve of a new era. Her fault was that she went to celebrate millennium as many men.

The story repeated on Tuesday, and this time our sisters were assaulted at day light by rapists in a similar fashion that the millennium had witnessed. Bangladeshi women are being destined to pervasive masculinity of some men and cadres of the ruling party. There has been nation-wide outrage to the incidence of Pohel Boishak.

Protest against sexual violence in Dhaka 15 April 2015. Courtesy: Facebook Group of Bikhubdho Nari Samaj  via Thot Kata

Protest against sexual violence in Dhaka 15 April 2015. Courtesy: Facebook Group of Bikhubdho Nari Samaj via thot kata

Yesterday women’s right campaigners have demanded apposite punishment of the perpetrators in a protest under the banner of Bikhubdho Nari Samaj (the society of women agitators). In response to the protest and nation-wide condemnation by women’s rights campaigners, the Bangladesh High Court has ruled the case as a sexualised violence against women. The perpetrators must be apprehended.  Further protest to demand appropriate punishment of the perpetrators and to address the need for an appropriate law to punish the perpetrators, has been organised by Bangladesh Students Union which will be held on Friday, 17 April in Dhaka.

As Bangladeshi-born women’s rights campaigners, we stand in solidarity with the agitating protesters.  We pay respect to our assaulted sisters.  We express full support to the demands of Bikhubdho Nari Samaj and Bangladesh Students Union (BSU) in Dhaka.  #freewomen #respectforwomen #preventsexualisedviolence

Below is a Facebook note by Professor Gitiara Nasreen, a key organiser of yesterday’s protest and a leading left-feminist in Bangladesh. In her note, Nasreen provides some findings which she compiled from the discussion which was being held in the protest by Bikhubdho Nari Samaj on Wednesday, 15 April. We have reproduced the findings for our Bangla-speaking women’s rights campaigners in London.

যৌননিপীড়িত উৎসব।।
গীতিআরা নাসরিন

বাংলা সন ১৪২২ এর প্রথম দিনে, ঢাকা বিশ্ববিদ্যালয়ের টিএসসি এবং সোহরাওয়ার্দি উদ্যানের গেটের মধ্যবর্তী জায়গায় প্রায় এক-দেড় ঘন্টা জুড়ে যে দলবদ্ধ যৌন-নিপীড়ন চলতে থাকে, সে সম্পর্কে ২রা বৈশাখ বিকেল পাঁচটায় ‘বিক্ষুদ্ধ নারী সমাজ’ ব্যানারে আয়োজিত প্রতিবাদ/প্রতিরোধ সভা থেকে পাওয়া কিছু তথ্য।

১. একজন নয়, বিভিন্ন বয়সের একাধিক নারী যৌন-নিপীড়িত হ’ন।
২. তাদের সঙ্গে যে পুরুষ-সঙ্গীরা ছিলেন, তারাও নিপীড়কদের শারীরিক আক্রমণের শিকার হয়েছেন।
৩. বিশ/পঁচিশজনের কয়েকটি দলে দফায় দফায় বিভিন্ন নারীর ওপর এই নিগ্রহ চালানো হয়।
৪. দাঁড়িয়ে থাকা, হাঁটতে থাকা, রিকশায় বসা কিম্বা ধাক্কাধাক্কির ফলে মাটিতে পড়ে যাওয়া, সকল অবস্থাতেই নারীটিকে (সঙ্গী এবং একটি ক্ষেত্রে ৮ বছরের শিশুসহ) ঘিরে ফেলে নিপীড়ন চালানো হয়।
৫. যৌন-নিপীড়নের পদ্ধতি ছিল গায়ের কাপড় টানা/খোলা/ছিঁড়ে ফেলা এবং শরীরের বিভিন্ন অংশে নানাভাবে হাত ও মুখ দেওয়া অর্থাৎ খামচানো/আঁচড়ানো/কামড়ানো।
৬. রক্ষাকারীরা সংখ্যায় কম ছিলেন, তারাও প্রহৃত হ’ন। ছাত্র ইউনিয়নের লিটন নন্দীর হাত ভেঙ্গে গেছে। উপস্থিতরা অনেকেই (পুলিশসহ) সাহায্যে এগিয়ে আসেন নি এবং ভিডিও বা ফটো তুলে রাখায় ব্যস্ত ছিলেন।
৭. এসময় আক্রমণকারী এবং আরো অনেকেই প্রচন্ড শব্দে ভুভুজেলা বাজাচ্ছিল।
৮. সোহরাওয়ার্দী ফটকের পাশেই ঢাকা মেট্রোপলিটান পুলিশ বুথ, এবং ঘটনাস্থলে কমপক্ষে দু’টি ক্লোজড সার্কিট ক্যামেরা ছিল।
৯. প্রতিরক্ষাকারীরা কয়েকজনকে পুলিশের হাতে ধরিয়ে দিলেও, তাদের সবাইকে পুলিশ ছেড়ে দেয়।
১০. পয়লা বৈশাখে ঢাকা বিশ্ববিদ্যালয় এলাকার মধ্যে রাত দশটা পর্যন্ত যানবাহন বন্ধ থাকার কথা থাকলেও, দুপুর দুটোর পর থেকেই যান-বাহন চলাচল শুরু হয়।
১১. সোহরাওয়ার্দী উদ্যানের টিএসসি মুখী গেটটি নববর্ষের দিন বন্ধ রাখার কথা, কিন্তু গেটটি সবসময়েই খোলা ছিল।

Another front-line Bangladeshi feminist and our friend, Nasrin Siraj, has written an analysis to the prevalence of sexual violence and masculinty in Bangladesh. The article was being published on ঠোঁটকাটা (Thot Kata -The Sharp Tongue), which has been reproduced below with permission of the editor of Thot Kata and the author of the article. 

“WE NEED RED CHILLI POWEDER TO PREVENT SEXUAL VIOLENCE  AGAINST WOMEN”

By Nasreen Siraj

যৌন নিপীড়নের বিরুদ্ধে মরিচের গুঁড়ো

নাসরিন সিরাজ

“নয়-দশ বছরের মেয়েটির কাপড় ছেঁড়া, শরীরে মানুষের দাঁতের দাগ। কামড়ে মাংস থেতলে গিয়েছে…দৃষ্টিসীমায় ছিল বহু পুলিশ…ভুভুজেলার তিব্র চিৎকারের ফাঁকে শুনতে পেলাম আশপাশের লোকজন বলছে, ‘ভিডিও কর! এইটা ভিডিও কর!” উপরের বাক্যগুলো দিয়ে একজন প্রত্যক্ষদর্শী এবারের পয়লা বৈশাখে রমনায় ঘটে যাওয়া যৌন নিপীড়নের ঘটনা বর্ণনা করেছেন। ফেইসবুকে শেয়ার করেছেন খবরটা এক নাগরিক, সাংবাদিক। শাহবাগে বিক্ষুব্ধ নারী সমাজ প্রতিবাদ সমাবেশ করেছে। যৌন নিপীড়ন বিরোধী তৎপরতা প্রত্যক্ষ করছি আমরা। পাশাপাশি দেখছি কিছু গণমাধ্যমে যৌননিপীড়নের মত গুরুতর অপরাধকে শ্লীলতাহানী আখ্যা দিয়ে অপপ্রচার চলছে। তাদের সাথে যুক্ত হয়েছে পুলিশ প্রশাসনের “সিসিটিভি ক্যামেরা দিয়ে অপরাধী ধরবো” তামাশা।

আমার এক শিক্ষক পরামর্শ দিয়েছেন যৌন নিপীড়কদের বিরুদ্ধে নারীদের পুরোনো রক্ষাকবচ মরিচের গুঁড়ো এস্তেমাল করার জন্য। কথাটা প্রতীকি অর্থেও ব্যবহৃত হয়। যৌন নিপীড়নের মত গুরুতর অপরাধকে বিভ্রান্তিকর নামে ডেকে যারা তামাশা করছেন তাদের চোখের ঠুলি সারাতে আমাদের লেখাই মরিচের গুঁড়ো। তাই ২০১০ এ বুধবার নামক একটি সাপ্তাহিকে প্রকাশিত একটি পুরোনো লেখা ঠোঁটকাটায় আবার প্রকাশিত হল। এবারের ঘটনা ও তাকে ম্যানেজ করার জন্য প্রশাসন ও তার অপশক্তিগুলো যে কান্ডগুলো করছে তার সাথে পুরোনো ঘটনা ও ম্যানেজ প্রক্রিয়ার মিলগুলো ঝালিয়ে নিলে নারীমুক্তির লড়াই শক্তিশালী হবে বলেই আমরা আশা করছি।

যৌন নিপীড়নের পক্ষে/বিপক্ষের তৎপরতা পর্যবেক্ষণ, ২০১০

নাসরিন সিরাজ

২০০৯ সালের মে মাসে যৌন নিপীড়নের বিরুদ্ধে হাইকোর্ট থেকে একটি নির্দেশনা এসেছে। এই অর্জনের পর, ২০১০ এর শেষে এসে যৌন নিপীড়নের ঘটনাগুলো কিভাবে রাষ্ট্র , নীতি নির্ধারকরা ও গণমাধ্যম বিলি বন্টন করেছে সেটা বুঝবার চেষ্টা থেকে এই পর্যবেক্ষণ। জাতীয় পত্র-পত্রিকা, ইন্টারনেট প্রত্রিকা, ব্লগ কিংবা ফেসবুকে এ বছরে প্রকাশিত লেখালেখি থেকে দেখা যায় এ বছরও যৌন নিপীড়ন নিয়ে আলোচনা বেশ সরগরম ছিল। এই উত্তপ্ততা নির্দেশ করে যে ঘরের বাইরের পরিসরে নারীর অস্তীত্ব টিকিয়ে রাখার স্বার্থে যৌন নিপীড়ন বিরোধী এই নির্দেশনাকে আরও সম্প্রসারিত করার দরকার যেটা যৌন নিপীড়ন বিরোধী আন্দোলনকে অব্যাহত রাখতেও সাহায্য করবে।

হাইকোর্টের নির্দেশনামা জারি হবার সাথে সাথে যৌন নিপীড়নের ঘটনা হ্রাস পাবে এরকম আশা যৌন নিপীড়ন বিরোধী আন্দোলনের সাথে যারা দীর্ঘদিন যুক্ত আছেন তারা করেননি। বরং সমাজে বিদ্যমান লিঙ্গীয় বৈষম্য দূর করতে যৌন নিপীড়ন বিরোধী ব্যপক প্রচার প্রচারণা চালিয়ে জনসচেতনতা তৈরীই ছিল সংশ্লিষ্টদের পরবর্তী লক্ষ্য। হাইকোর্টও সেরকম নির্দেশ দিয়েছিল। কিন্তু দেখা গেল এ বছরটা ঠিক বিপরীত কাজটাই হল।

প্রথমত: যে ভয়াবহ কাজটি হল সেটি সরকার নিজেই করেছে আর তা হল “ঈভ টীজিং” শব্দটিকে আস্তাকুঁড়ে থেকে উদ্ধার এবং সমাজের দৈনন্দিন বাতচিতের মধ্যে এই হালকা শব্দটির পুনর্বহাল। নৃবিজ্ঞানী রেহনুমা আহমেদ তার লেখায় (eve teasing: of semantic shifts and criminal cover ups, 15.11.2010. New Age) এ নিয়ে বিস্তারিত আলোচনা করেন। তিনি এ বছরের বিভিন্ন সময়ে ঘটে যাওয়া ঘটনাগুলো উল্লেখ ও বিশ্লেষণ করে যুক্তি দেন যে মূলত: আওয়ামীলীগ ও যুবলীগের কর্মী বা ক্যাডারদের যৌন সন্ত্রাস ঢাকা দিতে এবং তাদের শাস্তির হাত থেকে রক্ষা করতে এটা করা হয়েছে। তিনি আরও যুক্তি দেন যে, ঢাকা বিশ্ববিদ্যালয়ের উপাচার্য রোভার স্কাউটদের সাথে নিয়ে “ঈভ টীজিংকে না বলুন” প্রচারণা শুরু করে এবং জুনের ১৩ তারিখকে “ঈভ টিজিং প্রতিরোধ দিবস” হিসেবে ঘোষণা দিয়ে যৌন নিপীড়নকে হাল্কাকরণ প্রক্রিয়ায় বাতাস দেন। একই লেখক (Thou spoke with a man’s tongue , Mananiya Prime Minister!, 13.12.2010. New Age) রোকেয়া পদক বিতরণ অনুষ্ঠানে দেয়া প্রধানমন্ত্রীর ভাষণের বিশ্লেষণ করে বলেন যে প্রধানমন্ত্রী নারী হলেও প্রকৃতপক্ষে তিনি পুরুষের ভাষাতেই কথা বলছেন। আপাত: দৃষ্টিতে আওয়ামী লীগের “শত্রু” হিসেবে চিহ্নিত জামায়াত-ই-ইসলামীর প্রধানের নারী বিদ্বেষী অবস্থানকেও প্রধানমন্ত্রী সমর্থন করছেন। উল্লেখ্য “ঈভ টীজিং” এর কারণ প্রসঙ্গে জামায়াত প্রধান মতিউর রহমান নিজামী বলেছেন মেয়েরা রাতে বের হয় বলেই এই ঘটনাগুলো ঘটে। একই প্রসঙ্গে কক্সবাজার জেলা ইসলামী ঐক্যজোটের সাধারণ সম্পাদক মাওলানা ইয়াসীন হাবিব বলেছেন, “ঈভ টীজিং” না থাকলে পৃথিবীর সব পুরুষ হিজড়া হয়ে যাবে। ঈভ টীজিং না থাকলে দেশে অরজাকতা সৃষ্টি হবে। অনেক মহিলা হালকা কাপড় পরে বের হয় পুরুষের দৃষ্টি আকর্ষণ করার জন্য। তারা নিজেদের কারণে “ঈভ টীজিং” এর শিকার হচ্ছেন।” (সূত্র: আমাদের সময়)। প্রধান মন্ত্রী শেখ হাসিনার “মেয়েদেরও শালীন ভাবে চলা উচিত” এই বক্তব্যের সমালোচনা করে রেহনুমা প্রশ্ন করেন- দেশের বড়লোক সমাজের মেয়েরা কি পোশাক পরে না পরে বা যৌন স্বাধীনতার নামে কি ফ্যান্টাসীতে ভোগে না ভোগে সেই প্রসঙ্গ টেনে এনে সাধারণ, কর্মঠ মেয়েদের (প্রকৃতপক্ষে যাদেরকে রাস্তাঘাটে দেখা যায়) প্রাত্যহিক সমস্যাকে কেন তরল করা হচ্ছে, যখন আমরা জানি যে যৌন নিপীড়নের কারণে মৃত্যুর (আত্মহত্যা, খুন) ঘটনা অগুনতি এবং স্কুল ছেড়ে দেয়ার হার উচ্চ?

এ বছরই আমরা দেখতে পেয়েছি সরকারের অপারেশন রোমিও হান্ট নামে র্যা ব প্রকল্প এবং কিশোরদের গলায় “বখাটে” সাইনবোর্ড ঝুলিয়ে ছবি তুলে পত্রিকায় প্রকাশ। এ বছর মোবাইল কোর্ট বসিয়ে “বখাটেদের” “ঈভ টীজিং” করার দোষে শাস্তিও দেয়া হয়েছে। কিন্তু সরকার নিজেই যেহেতু বিভ্রান্ত আর পক্ষপাতদুষ্ট তাই এই উদ্যোগগুলো নিয়ে প্রশ্ন তোলাটা গুরুত্বপূর্ণ। সাংবাদিক শামীমা বিনতে রহমান তার লেখায় (ইভটিজিংয়ের বিস্তার ও মিজানুর রহমানের প্রতিবাদের খেসারত, ২২.১০.২০১০, bdnews24.com) তুলে ধরেন কিভাবে নারীদের পাশাপাশি পুরুষরাও সরকারের এই তরলীকরণ প্রক্রিয়ায় জীবন দিচ্ছেন। তিনি লেখেন যে মিজানুর যৌন নিপীড়নের প্রতিবাদ করতে গিয়ে যখন মৃত্যুর সাথে পাঞ্জা লড়ছিল তখন স্থানীয় মানুষের সংগবদ্ধ উদ্যোগে (পুলিশের নিষ্ক্রিয়তায় তারা ক্ষুব্ধ হয়ে উঠেছিল) একজন আসামীকে স্থানীয় এক আইনজীবির বাসা থেকে পাকড়াও করা হয়। এই ঘটনাগুলো প্রমাণ করে যৌন নিপীড়নের আসামীদের রক্ষার ব্যপারে স্থানীয় রাজনৈতিক ক্ষমতাও কার্যকর ভূমিকা পালন করছে। তিনি বলেন, “ নাটোরের বাগাতিপাড়া উপজেলার লোকমানপুর কলেজের রসায়ন বিভাগের ৩৬ বছর বয়সী শিক্ষক মিজানুর রহমানের ঘটনা কেবল যৌন উৎপীড়ক, পুরুষালী মানসিকতার বিরুদ্ধে প্রতিবাদের দৃষ্টান্তই নয়, ইভটিজিংকে হাল্কাভাবে নেয়ার সরকারী সিদ্ধান্তের অসারতা উন্মোচনেরও দৃষ্টান্ত।”

এবারে আসি যৌন নিপীড়ন বিরোধী তৎপরতায়। যৌন নিপীড়ন বিরোধী নীতিমালা বাস্তবায়নের সমস্যা নিয়ে বরাবরের মত এ বছরও জাহাঙ্গীরনগর বিশ্ববিদ্যালয় সোচ্চার ছিল। জুন মাসে হাইকোর্ট বিশ্ববিদ্যালয়টির উপাচার্য ও রেজিস্টারকে যৌন নিপীড়ন বিরোধী নির্দেশ মালায় নির্দিষ্ট করা গাইডলাইন লংঘন করার কারণে শমন জারি করে। সূত্র : Press Release: High Court Orders Vice Chancellor and Register in Charge of Jahangirnagar University to Show Cause Re Contempt for Disclosing Identity of Complainant. date : 3.6.2010. link : http://solidarityworkshop.wordpress.com/2010/06/03/pr-hc-ju-contempt/) উল্লেখ্য, হাইকোর্টের নির্দেশের অনুচ্ছেদ ৮(ক) এবং ১০ (৩) অনুযায়ী অভিযোগ প্রমাণের আগ পর্যন্ত অভিযোগকারী ও অভিযুক্তের পরিচয় গোপন রাখার কথা বলা আছে। কিন্তু বিশ্ববিদ্যালয়টির কর্তৃপক্ষ সেটি লংঘন করে তদন্ত প্রক্রিয়াধীন একটি যৌন নিপীড়নের ঘটনার অভিযোগকারী শিক্ষিকার নাম বিভিন্ন জাতীয় পত্রিকায় (২৭ এপ্রিল) বিজ্ঞাপনের মাধ্যমে প্রকাশ করে।

২৭ নভেম্বর নিপীড়নের বিরুদ্ধে জাহাঙ্গীরনগর একটি গোলটেবিল আলোচনা করে ঢাকা রিপোর্টার্স ইউনিটিতে। বিশ্ববিদ্যালয়টির সরকার ও রাজনীতি বিভাগের শিক্ষক নাসিম আখতার হোসেইনের আহবানে সেখানে উপস্থিত হন সাংবাদিক এবং যৌন নিপীড়নের বিরুদ্ধে সক্রিয় শিক্ষক, প্রাক্তন ছাত্রী-ছাত্র ও বিভিন্ন নারী সংগঠনের নেতৃবৃন্দ। বিশ্ববিদ্যালয়টির ১৮ বছরের (দেখুন ধর্ষণ বিরোধী ছাত্রী আন্দোলন, জাহাঙ্গীরনগর বিশ্ববিদ্যালয়ে ’৯৮ তে সংগঠিত আন্দোলন নিয়ে প্রকাশনা সংকলন, অশুচি, ১৯৯৯) যৌন নিপীড়ন বিরোধী আন্দোলন সংগঠন ও যৌন নিপীড়ন বিরোধী নীতিমালা প্রণয়নে সক্রিয় অংশগ্রহনের অভিজ্ঞতার আলোকে ঐ গোল-টেবিলে আলোচনা করা হয়। যেমন: যৌন নিপীড়কদের শাস্তি প্রদানের সফলতা (বিশ্ববিদ্যালয় থেকে চাকুরিচ্যুত করা গেছে বা পদাবনতি করা গেছে কিন্তু রাষ্ট্রের সাধারণ আইনের কাছে তাদের সোপর্দ করা যায়নি) থেকে দেখা গেছে যে “আইন তাদেরই ধরে যাদের ক্ষমতা নেই। যখন অপরাধীর সাথে ক্ষমতার সাথে, রাজনৈতিক দলের সাথে, শিক্ষকদের ভোটের রাজনীতির সাথে সম্পর্ক থাকে তখন তাকে আর শাস্তি দেয়া হচ্ছে না ( বক্তা: নাসিম আখতার হোসেইন)। তিনি আরও বলেন যে হাইকোর্টের নির্দেশ অনুযায়ী সকল শিক্ষাপ্রতিষ্ঠান এটা নিয়ে সক্রিয় হবার কথা কিন্তু কেবল মাত্র জাহাঙ্গীরনগর বিশ্ববিদ্যালয়ে কিছুটা কাজ হচ্ছে। এই সফলতায়ও খুশী হওয়া যাচ্ছে না কারণ আইন সেখানে কার্যকর হচ্ছে না। বিশ্ববিদ্যালয়ের অর্থনীতি বিভাগের শিক্ষক আনু মুহাম্মদ যৌন নিপীড়ন প্রতিরোধে সরকারের এ বছরের কার্যকলাপকে অস্থায়ী সমাধান হিসেবে আখ্যায়িত করে স্থায়ী সমাধানের জন্য কি করা যেতে পারে সেটা আলোচনা করার জন্য গোলটেবিল বৈঠকটি সঞ্চালন করেন। আলোচনায় উঠে আসে যে হাইকোর্টের নির্দেশ অনুযায়ী জাহাঙ্গীরনগর বিশ্ববিদ্যালয়ে অভিযোগ সেল গঠন করা হচ্ছে ঠিকই কিন্তু এই সেলের সদস্য তারাই হচ্ছে যারা প্রশাসনের সাথে যুক্ত বা অনুগত ব্যক্তি। ফলে অভিযুক্ত ব্যক্তির বদলে অভিযোগকারীর দোষ নিয়ে তারা বেশী আগ্রহী। নারীর জন্য সুবিচার নিশ্চিত করতে অভিযোগ সেলে শুধু নারী সদস্যের অন্তর্ভুক্তিই যথেষ্ট নয়। কারণ তারাও এই ব্যবস্থার বাইরে কাজ করে না। যেমন এ বছরে আলোচিত আব্দুল্লাহ হেল কাফী কেইসের তদন্ত রিপোর্টে অভিযোগকারীর সমস্যা হিসেবে উল্লেখ আছে যে তার ব্যক্তিত্বের সমস্যা আছে, সে অস্থির মতি, চঞ্চল প্রকৃতির এবং তার দ্রুত ধৈর্য স্খলন ঘটে। এই “অপরাধগুলো”র কারণে অভিযোগকারী শিক্ষিকারও চাকুরিতে পদাবনতি ঘটে। দেখা গেছে যৌন নিপীড়নকে চিহ্নিত না করে সেটাকে “অসদাচরন” আখ্যা দিয়ে বিষয়টিকে হালকা করা হয়। যেমন একই তদন্ত রিপোর্টে বলা হয়েছে অভিযোগকারী অভিযোগ “বাড়াবাড়ি”। ঢাকা বিশ্ববিদ্যালয়ের শিক্ষক কাবেরী গায়েন বলেন, “অসৎ চরিত্র ও অদক্ষতা যে যৌন নিপীড়ন থেকে আলাদা বিষয় এটা বিশ্ববিদ্যালয়ের প্রশাসনকে বুঝতে হবে”। “যৌন নিপীড়নের শক্ত প্রমাণ নেই” যুক্তি দিয়ে অনেক মামলা খারিজ করা হয় প্রসঙ্গে বিচারপতি গোলাম রাব্বানী নারী নির্যাতনের স্বাক্ষী নিজেই, অর্থাৎ তাকে ইনজুরড ইউটনেস হিসেবে ধরতে হবে এই সুযোগ আমাদের দেশের আইনেই আছে এবং সেটার চর্চা তিনি নিজেও করেছেন (তিনি আরও দেখতে বলেন BLD 16, Vol 230)

২০০০ দশকের শুরুটা হয়েছিল ঢাকা বিশ্ববিদ্যালয়ের মিলন চত্বরে মিলেনিয়াম উৎসবে দুই শতাধিক তরুনের দ্বারা একজন নারীকে বিবস্ত্র করার মাধ্যমে। এই বছরের শুরুটা হয়েছে জন সমক্ষে যৌন নিপীড়ন করায় পিংকির আত্মহত্যার খবর দিয়ে। ২০১০ এর পহেলা বৈশাখ উদযাপন হয়েছে ছাত্রলীগের কর্মীদের দ্বারা কনসার্টে মেয়েদের শরীরে সংগবদ্ধ যৌনজ আক্রমন করে। নতুন বছর শুরু করতে যাচ্ছি আমরা। শুরু করতে যাচ্ছি একবিংশ শতাব্দীর দ্বিতীয় দশক। যৌন নিপীড়নের মত জটিল একটি বিষয় সরলীকরণ করার প্রকিয়া বন্ধ হোক সেই আশাই করি। আর নারীদের এগিয়ে যাওয়ার, ঘরের বাইরে বেরিয়ে আসার যে ধারাবাহিক আন্দোলন চলছে সেটা আরও শক্তিশালী হোক সেটা দেখার প্রত্যাশা করি। “পুরুষেরা – যাহারা নানা প্রকার দুষ্টামি করে, বা করিতে সক্ষম, তাহারা দিব্য স্বাধীনতা ভোগ করে, আর নিরীহ কোমলাঙ্গী অবলারা বন্দী থাকে! অশিক্ষিত অমার্জিত-রুচি পুরুষেরা বিনা শৃংখলে থাকিবার উপযুক্ত নহে। আপনারা কিরূপে তাহাদিগকে মুক্তি দিয়া নিশ্চিন্ত থাকেন?” – ১৯০৫ সালে সুলতানার স্বপ্নে বেগম রোকেয়া যে প্রশ্ন করে আমাদের বিব্রত করে রেখেছেন তার অবসান হোক।

ফুটনোট:
যৌন নিপীড়ন বলতে যে বিষয়গুলোকে হাইকোর্টের নির্দেশনামায় অন্তর্ভুক্ত করা হয়েছে সেগুলো হল:
a. Unwelcome sexually determined behaviour (whether directly or by implication) as physical contact and advances;
b. Attempts or efforts to establish physical relation having sexual implication by abuse of administrative, authoritative or professional powers;
c. Sexually coloured verbal representation;
d. Demand or request for sexual favours;
e. Showing pornography;
f. Sexually coloured remark or gesture;
g. Indecent gesture, teasing through abusive language, stalking, joking having sexual implication.
h. Insult through letters, telephone calls, cell phone calls, SMS, pottering, notice, cartoon, writing on bench, chair, table, notice boards, walls of office, factory, classroom, washroom having sexual implication.
i. Taking still or video photographs for the purpose of blackmailing and character assassination;
j. Preventing participation in sports, cultural, organizational and academic activities on the ground of sex and/or for the purpose of sexual harassment;
k. Making love proposal and exerting pressure or posing threats in case of refusal to love proposal;
l. Attempt to establish sexual relation by intimidation, deception or false assurance.
(http://www.dpiap.org/resources/article.php?id=0000194&year=&genreid=05, লিংকটি সর্বশেষ দেখা হয়েছে ২৭/১২/২০১০ তারিখে)