Community Women Against Abuse

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Free Shahidul Alam and All Detained Protestors: Stop Violence against Students and Journalists Immediately

The Teachers Against Abuse and Torture & The Transnational Friends of Bangladesh’s Joint Statement

 

Over the past few weeks Bangladesh has witnessed a new social phenomenon, a social movement spear-headed by a generation of students who may be called “the generation of the 2000s”. School children and university students in Bangladesh have come together to demand road safety, rule of law and justice. Students have carried innovative placards and festoons, written all by themselves and performed protest songs on the streets of Dhaka, day in and day out. They chanted slogans, such as, We Want Justice. While this was all going on very well, we note in horror that after the sixth day of continual protest, a spate of violent activities took hold of the streets of Dhaka, perpetrated by a number of different groups claiming association with the government. Their protests have been opposed, harshly, by the police, members of the Chatro League and security agencies. In deep shock we note how a peaceful social movement by the school and college students is being vilified and demonized, as alleged, by different functionaries affiliated to the ruling party. The political hooligans had, as reported, chased students, violently attacked on peaceful gatherings, molested female students and journalists, locked up students in different buildings, and also had physically assaulted students in broad day light and in front of police. On several occasions police had, as evident in the published reports, tear gassed students, shot rubber bullets and used water cannons to disperse processions and gatherings.

 

This is all that an internationally acclaimed photographer, an activist and a writer in Bangladesh, Dr Shahidul Alam, was documenting, using his veteran lens. He was doing what he does best, and what a veteran photographer should be doing in times of crisis. His lens was speaking truth to power. As an independent journalist and photographer, he was simply on duty, filming the machete wielding goons chasing down the unarmed students. At some point his camera was broken by goons who didn’t want to be filmed. A number of the other photo-journalists were reportedly attacked on August 4 and 5 in different parts of the city. Around midday on August 5, Dr Alam was interviewed online by Al Jazeera English where he provided his observation and analysis of the current situation in Dhaka.Within hours of airing the live report, late in the evening on the same day, he was forcibly abducted by 20-30 men from his house in Dhanmondi.

 

At the outset, it was unclear as to where he was taken to and who his abductors were. According to the security guards of the building, the intruders claimed to be from the Detective Branch (DB). They had, as reported, forcefully taken away the CCTV camera footage, and put scotch-tape on the CCTV camera. Dr Alam was allegedly forcefully put into a Hi-Ace microbus. Late in the night, the Additional Commissioner of the Dhaka Metropolitan Police, Abdul Baten has admitted to UNB (United News of Bangladesh) that a team from the Detective Branch of police has detained Dr Alam from his Dhanmondi residence for interrogation over his Facebook posts on the ongoing student protests. The family members of Dr Alam waited throughout that night in front of the DB office in Dhaka. It was only in the morning on August 6 that they were informed about his whereabouts. Later in the day he was produced to the Court and shown as arrested in a case filed by the Police under Section 57 of Bangladesh’s Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Act.

 

In a recent press conference held that morning by Dr Alam’s wife, who is also an anthropologist and a columnist, Rahnuma Ahmed asked:  “…Is the law enforcement force supposed to abduct him like this? It is the goons who abduct, we all know that. If the law enforcement force continues to pick up people from their houses forcibly, we have to re-think about the meaning of the term ‘Law Enforcement Force’ once again.”

 

Shahidul Alam’s lawyer, Barrister Sara Hossain, said that: “According to Section 33 of our [Bangladesh] constitution, if someone gets arrested it is customary for the force to provide information about the arrested person’s whereabouts, as soon as possible. Under  Section 43, a person’s house cannot be entered illegally or forcibly. The state is supposed to protect the communication and correspondence of every citizen. In this case, the state has violated both the sections.”

 

Echoing Rahnuma Ahmed, we condemn, unequivocally, the circumstances in which Dr Alam was (as alleged) abducted. This incident begs fundamental questions on citizenship rights and the rule of law. The incident shows how state institutions are engaging in victim-blaming and “violating law”. Is there any law? If not then how are they called law “enforcing agencies”? As citizens and transnational friends of Bangladesh, we deserve to know if it is the government’s responsibility to provide explanation to the citizens of Bangladesh. We ask the government why law enforcement forces are acting as goons. Why are the citizens being targeted and attacked one after another? Why are citizens being whisked away and made to disappear?

 

We demand immediate release of Dr Shahidul Alam. Dr Alam was, reportedly, tortured in the custody and has been made so frail that he is unable to stand on his feet. While his family is saying that he needs medical attention, he has been taken back to the DB office in the afternoon of August 8. As well a new campaign against Dr Alam and his family members and friends has been launched by pro-government groups on August 9, which has created fear of further custodial torture and judicial harassment. We are outraged by the maltreatment that an internationally renowned photographer, a cultural activist, a writer and a veteran archivist has been forced to undergo.

 

We are therefore calling on the Prime Minister of Bangladesh to ensure:

  1. An independent inquiry into why the officials responsible destroyed property and threatened others.
  2. An urgent inquiry into why the security forces could not act within the bounds of the law.
  3. Provide an explanation as to why a peaceful movement for road safety was met with violence?
  4. Provide an explanation about why the university students (both public and private) are attacked by outside goons and why the goons were protected by the police? On August 7, 22 student protestors from different universities of Bangladesh have been remanded for 2 days in custody. According to confidential information, students are being harangued by the political party goons when taking shelter in private houses in some areas of the city. The figures in authority have stooped to talk down to children as if to threaten them into submission, showing how state institutions engaging in “victim-blaming”. The pupils have been threatened by the schools’ committees to be evicted from their schools.

 

Echoing students, we demand an answer to and legal action for addressing all of the above.

We call upon the Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, to ensure justice for both students and journalists, and an immediate release of Shahidul Alam and all those detained protesters.

 

Sincerely,

We, the undersigned:

(names are in alphabetic order of first names)

A-Al Mamun, Associate Professor and Chairperson, Mass communication and Journalism, Rajshahi University, Rajshahi.

Abdur Razzaq Khan, Associate Professor, Department of  Mass Communication and Journalism, Dhaka University, Dhaka.

Agnes Khoo, Ph.D. Independent Scholar, The Netherlands.

Ainoon Naher, Professor, Department of Anthropology, Jahangirnagar University, Savar.

Akhter Sobhan Khan, PhD. Sociologist and environmental activist, London, UK.

Alfredo Quarto, Director, Mangrove Action Project, USA.

Amena Mohsin, Professor, Department of International Relations, University of  Dhaka.

Anu Muhammad, Professor, Department of Economics, Jahangirnagar University. Savar.

Ariana Reines, Poet, Visiting Critic, Yale University, USA.

Arpita Roychoudhury, Fellow Writer, PEN Center Germany, & Editor Europe Chapter, Ongshumali, Berlin, Germany.

ATM Nurul Amin, Professor Emeritus, Asian Institute of Technology, Bangkok, Thailand.

Atonu Rabbani, Associate Professor, Department of Economics, University of Dhaka.

Asheek Mohammad Shimul, Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology, University of Dhaka.

Azfar Hussain, Professor, Liberal Studies/Interdisciplinary Studies, Grand Valley State University, Allendale, Michigan, USA.

Chaumtoli Huq, The City University of New York School of Law and Editor, New York.

Dr Bina D’Costa, Associate Professor, International Relations, the Australian National University, Australia.

Dina Siddiqi, Professor, BRAC University, Dhaka.

Ekramul Kabir, Filmmaker, Cinematographer.

Elora Halim Chowdhury, Ph.D. Professor & Chair,  Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Department, University of Massachusetts Boston,  USA.

Fahima Al Farabi, Lecturer, Department of Anthropology, Jahangirnagar University, Savar. 

Fahmidul Haq, Professor, Department of Mass Communication and Journalism, Dhaka University, Dhaka.

Farjahan Rahman Shawon, Research Assistant, Department of Curriculum and Instructions University of Idaho, Moscow, Idaho.

Farzana Boby, Independent film maker,  Broadcast Journalist at Deepto TV, Dhaka.

Gitiara Nasreen, Professor, Department of Mass Communication and Journalism, Dhaka University, Dhaka.  

Gita Sahgal, Director, Centre for Secular Space, London.

Hana Shams Ahmed, PhD Student, York University, Canada.

Hasan Jamil, PhD. University of Idaho, Moscow, Idaho.

Imtiaz Ahmed, Professor of International Relations, University of Dhaka.

Kaberi Gayen, Professor, Mass Communication and Journalism, Dhaka University, Dhaka.

Kazi Maruful Islam, Professor, Department of Development Studies, University of Dhaka.

Kajalie Shehreen Islam, Assistant Professor, University of Dhaka, Dhaka.

Laura Wagner, PhD. Archivist, Duke University, Durham, NC, USA.

Mahmudul H Sumon, Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology, Jahangirnagar University, Savar.

Maidul Islam, Department of Sociology, Chittagong University, Chittagong.

Manosh Chowdhury, Professor, Department of Anthropology, Jahangirnagar University. 

Masood Imran Mannu, Associate Professor, Department of Archaeology.

Maryam Namazie, Spokesperson, One Law for All and Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain.

Meher Nigar, Assistant Professor, Department of Bangla, University of Dhaka.

Dr Max Farrar, Sociologist and Emeritus Professor, Leeds Beckett University, UK.

Mirza Taslima Sultana, Professor, Department of Anthropology, Jahangirnagar University. Savar.

Miriam Rose, Co-Chair, Foil Vedanta, UK.

Munasir Kamal, Assistant Professor, Department of English, University of Dhaka

Mohammad Tanzimuddin Khan, PhD. Associate Professor, Department of  International Relations, University of Dhaka.

 Moshahida Sultana, Associate Professor, Department of Economics, University of Dhaka.  

Nasrin Khandokar, Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology, Jahangirnagar University.

Nira Yuval-Davis, Professor of Sociology, University of East London, London.

Md. Nur Khan, Human rights activist, Dhaka.

Parvin Jolly, Associate Professor, Department of History, Jahangirnagar University, Dhaka.

Parsa S. Sajid, Writer, Editor and Researcher.

Piya Mayenin, Solicitor, London.

Paul Dudman, Archivist and Civic-Engagement Lead, Refugee Council Archive, University of East London, London.

Peter Marshall, Photographer, London , UK.

Peter Redfield, Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, President, Society for Cultural Anthropology, USA.

Qazi Arka Rahman, Assistant Professor (on leave), Department of English, Jagannath University, Dhaka.

Qazi Mamun Haider, Department of Journalism, Rajshahi University, Rajshahi.

Rafida Ahmed Bonya, Bangladeshi-American author, humanist activist and blogger, USA.

Rahila Gupta, Author, activist and journalist,  London.

Rayhan Rhyne, Associate Professor, Department of Philosophy, Jahangirnagar University.

Rezwana Karim Snigdha, Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology, Jahangirnagar University, Savar.

Reetu Sattar, Artist, Britto Arts Trust, Prachyanat.   

Rezaur Rahman Lenin, Academic Activist, Eastern University of Bangladesh & Committee for the Protection of Fundamental Rights, Dhaka.

Ridwanul Hoque PhD,Professor of Law, Department of  Law, University of Dhaka, Dhaka.

Robayet Ferdous, Professor, Department of Mass Communication and Journalism, University of Dhaka, Dhaka.  

Roger Moody, Research Director, Mines and Communities, UK.

Rumana Hashem, Political Sociologist and Chair, Community Women Against Abuse, London.

Rushad Faridi, Assistant Professor, Department of Economics, Dhaka University, Dhaka.

Sadaf  Noor E Islam, Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology, Chittagong University, Chittagong.

Sadia Arman, Practicing laywer and former-teacher, Dhaka.

Safia Azim, Photographer and Psychologist, Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Salim Reza Newton, Professor, Mass communication and Journalism, Rajshahi University.

Samina Luthfa, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, University of Dhaka, Dhaka.

Samarendra Das, Environmental Activist and Chair, Foil Vedanta, London, UK.

Shapan Adnan , PhD.Former Teacher of National University of Singapore, Singapore.

Soumya Sarker, Assistant Professor, Department of English, University of Dhaka

Sayeed Ferdous, Professor Department of Anthropology, Jahangirnagar University 

Sayema Khatun, Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology, Jahangirnagar University, Savar.

Dr. Saydia Gulrukh, Journalist and Researcher, Dhaka.

Sanjeeb Drong, General Secretary, Bangladesh Indigenous Forum, Dhaka.

Seema Amin, Lecturer, BRAC University, Dhaka.   

Seuty Sabur, Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology, BRAC University, Dhaka.

Shaswati Mazumder Lecture, Fine Arts, Department of Anthropology, Jahangirnagar University, Savar.

Shahana Hanif, Community Organizer, Co-Founder of the Bangladeshi Feminist Collective, New York City, New York.

Shusmita Chakravarti, Professor, Department of Folklore, Rajshahi University, Rajshahi.

Spyros Themelis, Senior Lecturer and Sociologist, School of Education and Lifelong Learning, University of East Anglia, Norwich.

Thahitun Mariam, Bangladeshi-American Writer, Community Organizer and Activist. New York City, USA.

Tapan Bose, Filmmaker & human Rights defender, New Delhi.

Taslima Akhter, Photographer and Documentary Filmmaker, Dhaka.

Tahmina Khannam, Assistant Professor, Department of Management, University of Dhaka.

Tasneem Siraj Mahboob, Associate Professor, Department of English, University of Dhaka.

Tomas Munita, Independent Photographer and New York Times contributor, New York.

Tsitsi Jaji, Associate Professor, English and African & African American Studies, Duke University, USA.

Vanessa Lye, Practitioner and Researchers, London.

Veronica Saba. PhD researcher and women’s rights activist , Trieste, Italy.

Vishnu laalitha Surapaneni, Assistant Professor of Medicine, University of Minnesota, USA.

Yasmin Rehman, Women’s rights campaigner, Centre for Secular Space, London.

Yasmine Eid-Sabbagh, artist, president of the Arab Image Foundation.

Ziaur Rahman, Advocate, CEO and Legal Adviser, International Institute of Technology and Management, Dhaka.

Zobaen Sondhi, Fellow Writer in Exile, PEN Centre Germany, Berlin.

Zobaida Nasreen, Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Dhaka.

 

Dr Shahidul Alam waves hand to his fellows from the Detective Branch Police Van on 8 August, 2018. Copyright: Sabuj Shahidul Islam

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Tracing your Female Ancestors and Electoral Registers

This post is not about abuse of women or men as such, but we re-blogged the article with thanks to the Archives+ Blogspot because it addresses important questions in relation to Electoral Registers and Tracing Female Ancestors.”Can we use these register’s to find women prior to the Representation of the People Act 1918? How do you search the Electoral Register?” See below for answers:

This blog is the seventh in a continuing series of posts written by members of the Manchester and Lancashire Family History Society.  In this blog, we turn our attention to Electoral Registers  specifically trying to trace our female ancestors.  Can we use these register’s to find women prior to the Representation of the People Act 1918?  How do you search the Electoral Register?

There are many ways in which we can continue to draw and add to the profile of our female ancestors.  After 1918, and the enfranchisement of women over 30 (who met the minimum property qualifications), we can now start to consider the use of Electoral Registers in order to better place our female ancestors.

First let’s look at the interesting story of  Lily Maxwell, who become the first women to a vote in a Parliamentary election.

Lily Maxwell

Lily Maxwell, was born in Scotland about 1802 and…

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


 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

We demand:

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

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

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


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One Law for All coalition rejects Independent Sharia Review

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

 

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

 

Rt Hon Amber Rudd MP

Secretary of State Home Office

2 Marsham Street

London SW1P 4DF

6th February 2018

Dear Right Hon Amber Rudd, MP,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We look forward to your response,

Sincerely,

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

Pragna Patel, Director Southall Black Sisters

Diana Nammi, Executive Director IKRWO

Houzan Mahmoud, Culture Project

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

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

Nasreen Rehman, Human Rights Advocate

Gina Khan, Spokesperson, One Law for All

Maryam Namazie, Spokesperson, One Law for All


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Signatories:

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

 

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

For further information, contact:

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

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


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

PRESS RELEASE  By Southall Black Sister

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For Further Information Contact:

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

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

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


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

By Pushpita Gupta 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

widow-of-roy-dec-2016.pdf

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

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

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

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

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

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

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