“I only hire beautiful birds” – Sexism in the British workplace

For those of you in the UK, you may remember hearing a few months back in the news about women being forced to wear high heels at work and one lady being told to go home for refusing to do so. The reality is that whilst we should all be smart (depending on your job!) and dressed respectably for work, wearing high heels does not equate professionalism. Such outdated sexist attitudes towards women are unfortunately still alive. The reality is that women face sexual harassment at work, discrimination in being hired due to their right to maternity leave and earn less than men for the same job. In some sectors such as high end City business firms and politics, women find themselves in a male-dominated sphere. This is the 21st century people, yet this is the shocking reality women in Britain today face:

50%

Shocking isn’t it?! More information on the statistics can be found here. However, I’d like to present some real-life testimony. Here’s the story of Steve*…

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Steve* works for an international business solutions company based in London* and has found that his work environment is very patriarchal. The women in the office face daily regular sexual harassment and bullying. Here’s what the women in his office encounter:

When my female colleagues talk in the office, the men say: “Shhh! Shut up! You’re in a business office – don’t be loud!”. But they’re not loud at all. They are treated like second class citizens and sex objects. On one particular occasion, after a work night out where my colleagues were drinking, one young male colleague named Ryan* got very drunk and couldn’t get home. My colleague Jane* offered for him to sleep on her sofa. The next day at work, she was told that she had “raped him” and that everyone “should watch out for her”. For about two weeks after, whenever she walked into the office, everyone would start “egging” Ryan on saying: “Go on Ryan! Go on Ryan!” She clearly did not find this funny and was not comfortable at all but they carried on bullying her anyway.

On a more day-to-day basis, my male colleagues call our female colleagues “birds” and talk about them in sexual scenarios, describing what they’d do to them sexually. They talk in their male groups but another female colleague can hear. Another male colleague called our colleague Caroline* “bitch” to her face as she wears mini-skirts to work. When Caroline walks in the office, my male colleagues make kissing noises. On another occasion, another colleague Bradley* sat within a small group of male colleagues and compared the breasts of his wife (who works in the office) to those of Jenny*. On this occasion, no women were witness to the conversation. Higher up the ladder, a senior figure in the company also informed the male member of the team that he “only hires beautiful birds” as he likes being in the company of “beautiful women”. One of the women he hired is from overseas and twenty years his junior and married with children. At work he intimidates her. One day he showed her pictures of fully naked women, telling her that he would like to have sex with these types of women. My colleague felt so uncomfortable that she took the following day off work. On a regular basis, he tells us male colleagues how he’d like to have sex with her.

Beyond vocal comments and discussions, at Christmas, Gary* (a married man and father) came back to the office drunk and actually forced himself onto Patricia*, kissing her on the mouth. Patricia did not say anything. She appeared to find this normal but for me: this is not normal.

I feel sorry for all of the women who work with us. In a 20th century working environment, no woman should be treated like that. I’m absolutely shocked by these so-called ‘English gentlemen’. The men I work with have showed their dark side and I have lost all respect towards them. Sexism in the workplace is a big problem and many women are constantly bullied. The women in my office are trapped because they cannot afford to lose their jobs. Action must be taken against these – to be blunt – chavs.

*Names and location have been changed to protect identity. Testimony co-written/edited by Voice of Salam (narrated). Please note: I have presented the testimony of a male witness due to availability of witness testimony. If any women would like to share their stories, please get in touch!

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So, ladies (and men – in reality anyone affected by discrimination in the workplace of any kind): please call out and report such behaviour!

For information and advice in relation to the UK please visit/speak to:

For those of you outside the UK – please seek help. Don’t put up with it! Call it out and get the emotional and legal support you need, deserve and are entitled to.

Credits and acknowledgements:

Thanks go to “Steve” for his time and assistance in providing his testimony. Best wishes go the ladies affected by the issues discussed.

Images:

Pat (Free Images.com) (featured image), graphics: Elizabeth Arif-Fear

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Why do we never hear so much about International Men’s Day…? Here’s why!

woman-704221.jpgIt’s International Women’s Day on March 8th. “Why do we never really hear about International Men’s Day?!” you and many others may ask. “If women and men are equal and human rights are universal then why do we have two separate days?!” others may profess…Well, you see the reality is this: human rights aren’t just a woman’s issue – they aren’t about men vs. women and are instead about universal rights as a global human issue. However, the truth of the matter is that such days raise awareness about different issues affecting the different sexes and as a whole women remain more vulnerable, more abused and at greater risk of exploitation than menInternational Men’s Day focuses on men’s health whilst International Women’s Day focuses on women’s achievements and calls us to keep on fighting the ongoing battle for equality.

That is the reality – women are not treated equally. The introduction of the United Nations Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) wasn’t to “prioritise women” – it wasn’t against the universal nature of human rights – it was to address needs specific to women and to fight against further abuses directly affecting women and girls. No one would deny that men are at risk (and in some cases at an increasing risk) of forced labour, sexual exploitation, poverty, abuse etc. but as it stands – women’s rights are a big issue that we still need to keep high on the agenda – and here’s a few reasons why…

Gender based human rights abuses

  • Reproductive rights/maternal healthcare – women need adequate access to contraception, pre- and post-natal care and facilities. According to the UN Population Fund: “[…] 830 women still die every day from causes related to pregnancy or childbirth. This is about one woman every two minutes”. Along with the right to life and health, States have to additionally ensure women’s/girl’s access to education and privacy (see here for more information).
  • Literacy rates – a lack of education and poverty go hand in hand and women remain severely disadvantaged due to economic, social and cultural barriers:

774 million adults (15 years and older) still cannot read or write – two-thirds of them (493 million) are women. Among youth, 123 million are illiterate of which 76 million are female. Even though the size of the global illiterate population is shrinking, the female proportion has remained virtually steady at 63% to 64%. (UNESCO)

  • Worker rights – women worldwide face battles with maternity pay, lower wages and access to employment (beyond simply being underrepresented in politics and business) due to discrimination and in some cases may face sexual harassment. The reality is this: “women make up 40% of the global workforce, yet make less than their male counterparts in every country on Earth” (ILRF).

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  • Poverty – many of the inequalities and lack of care women face regarding reproductive health, education and work rights perpetuate further injustice. This isn’t simply having inadequate access to  bras and sanitary protection:

While both men and women suffer in poverty, gender discrimination means that women have far fewer resources to cope. They are likely to be the last to eat, the ones least likely to access healthcare, and routinely trapped in time-consuming, unpaid domestic tasks. They have more limited options to work or build businesses. Adequate education may lie out of reach. Some end up forced into sexual exploitation as part of a basic struggle to survive. (UN Women)

  • Sex trafficking – women are most affected by human slavery. This may involve forced labour but is most often forced prostitution. This is increasingly affecting men but women are still the main victims of sex trafficking (see here for more information). Women trapped in poverty may be offered “a way out” through the promise of a job in another country and find themselves trapped and “in debt” –  abroad, raped, beaten,  alone and scared.
  • Forced marriage – women and young girls  (children!)  are forced/sold into marriage.  1 out of every 9 girls under the age of 15 in the developing world is married.
  • Domestic violence – whilst men are also victims of domestic violence and other forms of domestic abuse (emotional, spiritual and financial abuse for example), it’s important to educate others about this. Women are still more likely to be victims of domestic violence.

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  • Rape – rape occurs within marriage (forced or non forced marriage), it can also be date-rape, forced prostitution or violent crime by strangers but it is also a weapon of war used to humiliate, control and physically, psychologically and emotionally abuse women and girls:

In Liberia, which is slowly recovering after a 13-year civil war, a government survey in 10 counties in 2005-2006 showed that 92% of the 1,600 women interviewed had experienced sexual violence, including rape. (UN Office of The High Commissioner (OHCHR))

  • Acid attacks – Acid attacks are a means to control and humiliate women. Perhaps she rejected your proposal, perhaps you don’t think she’s modest enough, perhaps you were jealous… Whatever the reason, wherever the place – they constitute a severe physical and physiological trauma and the worst part is that they aren’t rare . In the UK the number of hospital admissions for cases of acid attacks has almost doubled in the last 10 years.
  • Honour killings – Women aren’t only being abused by their partners sexually, physically, emotionally, spiritually and financially but are also being killed by their own families. Every year, 5,000 honour killings are reported worldwide (UN). Brothers, fathers, uncles, even mothers commit murder to maintain the “honour” of the family and thus the female relative’s blood is on their hands and her life is lost (see here for more information).
  • Female genital mutilation – across the women and young girls are having parts of their genitals cut and removed in order to control their sexuality, preserve their honour and thus increase their eligibility for marriage. This practice causes immense psychological and physical trauma and can even result in death. See my article on female genital mutilation for more information.

So, there it is – a brief summary of some of the discrimination and abuse that women face worldwide. In reality, whilst every human is endowed with civil, political, cultural, economic and social rights; women face a greater variety of barriers due to discrimination and differing needs – for example regarding reproductive rights and health care. Many factors go hand in hand. If a girl is married too young due to cultural customs and does not receive adequate health care, if a family is poor and struggling, she will no longer go to school and will stay at home caring for the family. As such she may not only be limited regarding work opportunities but in fact living in a cycle of poverty where she remains vulnerable to sexual exploitation and further physical and psychological harm.

While human rights are universal, putting this into practice in relation to women’s needs and the discrimination they face, requires fighting for women’s equality as a specific issue. Feminism and women’s rights movements are not about advancing women to a status above men but simply to the same position as men – which in itself is a still a position in a world of injustice. International Women’s Day is a day for the world to recognise women’s achievements and to remind us to fight for women’s equality against injustice.  We’re not one single sex but we are one humanity. It’s fundamental that men become more involved in the fight for women’s rights. Men, women, girls and boys must fight against injustice for each and every one of them. Equality is the end goal. Men and women are different. Reproductive rights is just one evidence of this but we are equal; equal in dignity and equal in humanity.

Salam!

Image credits:

Megara Tegal (Flickr) (CC) (feature image), Alexandra Loves (Pixabay) (CC), Carlos Lorenzo (Flickr) (CC), Gregory Kowalski (Flickr) (CC)

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Gender Jihad – misogyny vs. Islam

middle-east-travel-4-1513825What is “Gender jihad“? It’s not about ISIS and their sexual deviancy. “Gender jihad” is a term I’ve taken from Islamic feminist Amina Wadud’s book entitled: Inside the Gender Jihad: Women’s Reform in Islam (2006, OneWorld Publications). There is a lot of debate surrounding Amina Wadud and her “approach” to Islam. I do not advocate all of her beliefs/practices (that is another issue in itself which is not the focus of this article) but none the less I believe she does raise some valid points and quite rightly coined the term gender jihad.

Jihad means “struggle”. One’s personal jihad – our own moral battles – could be to stop smoking, to suppress one’s anger, to look after our health better – in essence: to do anything that brings us closer to God and which fits His commandments. Collective jihad is to fight suppression. So, therefore what exactly is “gender jihad”? Quite simply, it´s the struggle and movement to advance women´s rights within Muslim communities in regards to the behaviours and the realities which Muslim women face and to look at current Islamic interpretations of scripture and resulting practices to re-interpret these/re-educate Muslims to move from a current socio-cultural patriarchal perspective to one that is more egalitarian and in line with true Islam.

Islam vs. misogyny

As a Muslim convert who has been brought up in a stereotypically “non-Muslim” culture but has Muslim friends of a variety of nationalities, has also married into a North-African Muslim family and also lived, worked and travelled in various Muslim and non-Muslim countries – I’ve come to various conclusions. Whilst people often warn you when you first convert about the difference between Islam and Muslims, and whilst no-one is perfect except Allah Himself, at times you can become rather frustrated and disappointed by other people´s cultures and behaviour encroaching on your religion and your religious rights/freedoms – especially as a woman. “The non-Muslim West” is often seen as the “land of the non-believers” as opposed to Muslim countries where Muslim culture is the norm. In fact, this is often the opposite; marred with contradictions, stereotypes, frustrations, cultural clashes and shocks when seeing the reality in certain Muslim countries or Muslim communities at home or abroad. Before I even converted to Islam, one sister told me that the UK was a better example of the spirit and rights of Islam (but that is another story and no – I’m not a nationalist at all). The reality is that most converts are women from similar backgrounds as myself – “Western”, under the age of 30 and from a stereotypically “non-Muslim” culture (although there is a wide diversity among converts). Such young women are drawn to Islam not only for its spiritual monotheism but also for the rights it ordains on women,  discovering that feminism and Islam are at one with each other.

Feminist discourse is often defined in “Western” secular terms. Muslim women who classify themselves as feminists have often been seen to have “liberated” themselves from not only their society but from Islam and its symbolism – how many wear headscarves (yet that is another debate as I cannot completely guess their reasoning)? How many have come from theocratic regimes and appear to have turned their back on Islam? Feminist discourse has however shifted from simply “Western feminism” and secular “Muslim” feminists to the rise of Islamic feminists who do not see the issue of women’s rights and Islam to be in direct contrast to one another – in fact, quite the opposite. It’s about liberating women within Islamto be respected and receive all of their rights as Allah ordained upon them according to the Qur’an and Sunnah (teachings of the Prophet Mohammed (pbuh)). The often notable difference between what Islam is and what Muslims do can be due to deviancya lack of Islamic education, cultural practices/behaviour and/or extremism and intolerance entwined with each other. Mindsets and national cultures affect people´s views, as does a lack of understanding of Islam itself which becomes equated with their socio-cultural reality and therefore their interpretation and practice of Islam and  how they treat others – including women. Islam is a faith – not a culture – which crosses linguistic, ethnic, cultural and national boundaries. Muslims belong to a vast rich multicultural family. In Islam, Muslims are one ummah (community) made of a rich mix of believers of diverse cultures and  nationalities. Cultural diversity and traditions are what make the world rich, vibrant and so excitingly varied and within Islam itself, racism is forbidden. Yet a Muslim is supposed to believe in and prioritise God and Islam first and foremost. 

Bearing this in mind and as a follow-up to a previous post I wrote on  women’s equality in Islam looking at textual sources, in this post I’d like to look at the juxtaposition between Islam, culture and misogyny. In other words: how Islam often becomes misrepresented not just by certain minorities but also on a wider scale within many cultures/Muslim countries. Firstly, I am not “anti-culture”. Respect for and interest in other cultures and religions is what has led me to where I am today. I am not attempting to stereotype, judge or generalise against Muslims, nor cultures – but there are issues. In fact, culture, intolerance and extremism does not encroach just on women´s rights in Muslim communities/societies – but that is a wider issue. This is about spreading the real message of Islam – re-establishing Islam principles and behaviour, shunning Islam of cultural baggage, misogyny and issues which are not only falsely associated with Islam by non-Muslims but also by Muslims themselves. Some of the issues addressed are openly recognised and denounced as cultural/minority issues not Islamic issues themselves, whilst others are not adequately dissociated with Islam and in fact unfairly affect or “dictate” how Islam is practiced: how Muslims live, treat others and practice their faith in a way that is contrary to the morals and rights Islam ordains. Islam itself doesn’t need to change. As Muslims we believe that God is perfect and has perfected faith. No, this is about culture, misogyny and extremism – how Muslim girls and women are being failed, denied their rights, mistreated and abused – vs. the essence of Islam – its morals, its spirituality, its meaning and the rights and respect it offers women.

Not in the name of Allah

  • Double standards regarding sexual morality – zina (pre-marital and extra-marital sex) is forbidden in Islam for both men and women. As such this is usually illegal in Muslim countries. Yet there appears to be certain double standards in some societies/circles, where men expect a virgin wife but some do not remain virgins themselves and families turn a blind eye to their sons’ behaviour.
  • Honour killings/violence – this is simply individuals’ barbaric delinquency and does not represent Islam. Such activities constitute “major crimes” (The Islamic Supreme Council of Canada).
  • Forced marriage – this is haram (forbidden). A marriage is not permissible without the women’s consent. Furthermore, men and women are encouraged to think carefully about their future spouse and their compatibility. It must also be remembered that arranged marriage is not forced marriage. Marriage in Islam can be a love match or arranged but in all cases the women’s consent is required.

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  • Female genital mutilation – FGM is a cultural practice that pre-dates Islam and has been denounced as un-Islamic by many scholars/groups including The Muslim Council of Britain but is still ongoing through a lack of education, cultural traditions and misconceptions about Islam. Women have sexual rights and bodily rights. Muslims have a duty to preserve their health and prevent bodily harm and both men and women have the right to sexual pleasure within marriage. FGM is contrary to Islamic principles and unacceptable. See here for more information about FGM.
  • Sexual harassment, rape and the stigmatisation of rape victims – rape and sexual harassment are both forbidden in Islam and are grossly immoral (marital rape is of course forbidden). Furthermore, victims of rape can end up becoming grossly stigmatised or accused of committing zina. Once a woman is seen as “tainted” it is very hard for her to find a husband. One Moroccan woman named Amina Filali committed suicide in March 2012 after being forced to marry her rapist. Fortunately Amnesty International later won the battle in 2014 to ban such law in Morocco which allowed male rapists to escape punishment if they married their victim. Women in Egypt (where there is an incredibly high rate of sexual harassment in the street) have also started fighting back under the Pink Revolution“. This quote pretty much sums it up: “Teaching your sons to lower their gaze is just as important as teaching your daughter to cover up”. Victim blaming in the name of misogyny is immoral and un-Islamic.
  • Ideas of male “superiority” when having children – the pressure to have a baby boy or selective abortion is immoral and un-Islamic. In the UK a group of 25+ religious bodies (Muslim, Sikh and Hindu) including The Muslim Women´s Network came together to discuss the issue and called for sex selective abortion to be banned in the UK – having “witnessed at ‘first hand’ the pressure that women come under to abort daughters”. In the time of Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) people used to kill their newly born daughters – Islam specifically outlawed this. The Prophet was an affectionate father who taught great respect for one’s daughters. He said: “Lucky is the woman whose first child is a daughter”. Of his daughter Fatima he stated: “Fatima is part of me, whoever harms her, harms me.”

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  • A lack of women’s religious facilities – I´ve been to mosques in both Muslim and non-Muslim countries where I´ve found frustrating saddening realities. One one occasion I was in another town and needed to pray and found the women´s prayer area to be locked because “women in this area don’t go to the mosque to pray”. I have also found myself unable to pray due to the upset caused by other men stemming from a lack of (open) facilities and an unfamiliarity with the concept of women coming mid day to the mosque to pray. It is my right to be able to pray in the mosque in peace whenever I like, as long as I pray in the correct clothing, have performed ablution and behave respectfully. The authentic hadith (Al-Buhkhari) states the words of Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) as following: “Do not stop women servants of God from the mosques of God.” It is the mosque’s right to provide an adequate women’s only area to pray in with the appropriate entrance and without grief/harassment from other (male) members of the community.
  • A lack of women’s education – education gives power, wealth and independence yet there are high rates of female illiteracy and low levels of education in some Muslim countries due to social, economic and cultural factors and extremist (mis-)interpretations of Islam – in complete contrast to Islamic teachings. In some societies it is thankfully the opposite. In Algeria for example, there are a higher number of female graduates than males (see here and  additionally here for literacy rates). In Islam, we are encouraged to read, study and learn. It was in actual fact a Muslim lady named Fatima al-Fihri who founded the oldest university in the world – The University of Qarawiyyin (Morocco). Those who are being denied an education are not being done so because of (true) religious doctrine. Women are often caregivers, mothers and wives but they are no means denied the right to an education or a career if they wish and if the needs of the family are met. In the words of Malala Yousefzai: “Extremists have shown what frightens them the most: A girl with a book.”
  • Domestic violence – time and time again this issue comes up. Domestic violence (or any form of abuse) is not permissible. Looking at my previous post on the equality of women in Islam, a man who mistreats woman cannot be a “good Muslim” – in fact, the very opposite. Islam encourages love, equality, trust and gentleness towards others and ones spouse. The Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) never hit any woman in his lifetime. He said: “How can you beat your wife like a slave and then sleep with her in the night?” (Mishkat al-Masabih, No. 3242). Shurayḥ an-Nakha’i Rahimahullah also said: “May my hand be paralysed if I ever hit my wife.” (Al-Ahkam 1/462). See the fatwa on honour killings, misogyny and domestic violence: “Honour Killings, Domestic Violence and Misogyny Are Un-Islamic and Major Crimes” (Islamic Supreme Council of Canada).

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  • Forced covering/uncovering – In some families/societies some women are pressured/forced to cover, whilst in other circumstances women are not free to cover or are subject to criticism or ridicule. This could includes both headscarves and face veils. The misconception that women are forced to cover in Islam is wrong. I freely choose to cover and will not cover or even uncover for anyone. The same goes for other women including those who wear face-veils. In Islam, actions are to be done out of one’s free will and as worship directed to Allah for His sake alone. Allah commands women to cover (however one interprets that) and thus to cover should be for Him and Him only. A man cannot force his wife to cover and to force her to un-cover is to stop her obeying Allah and thus in such case she is obliged to ignore such wishes. As previously highlighted, just as women are obliged to cover and be modest, men are also obliged to lower their gaze towards women and be modest.
  • Abusing the right to polygamy – polygamy is sunnah (a practice of the Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) and is not an obligation: “Islam neither orders nor prohibits polygamy. It only permits it when it is necessary” (Questions on Islam, see here for more information). Islam lowered limited the number of women a man could marry and has set forth marital rules and rights for both men and women. These include strict conditions which you must be able to fulfill in order to have more than one wife. A man must treat each of his wives equally and grant them of all their rights: spiritual, sexual, emotional, financial etc.- providing for each one for them. Therefore polygamy is not an option for everyone.
  • Domestic slavery/servitude – wives in Islam are not maids, cleaners and domestic servants but partners and equals. The Prophet  Mohammed (pbuh) sewed, cooked and cleaned (see fatwa). It is a husband’s duty to provide financially for his wife but that does not mean not lifting a finger in the house. Sadly, this has been forgotten by many: “Be kind and considerate to your woman. She is a tender flower, and not your household slave.” (Ali Ibn Abu Talib (R.A)) (see here for more information).
  • Limited leaving the house – Muslim women are not supposed to imprison themselves in their homes. Visiting family, outdoor activities, work, education  etc. are all permissible – simply women must ensure that the home is not neglected and that they  observe proper conduct outside the home (hijab etc.).
  • Lack of support for divorcees, widows, single mothers, unmarried women – it can often be difficult for women who are not “young fresh virgins” to find a husband and those who are unmarried can find it hard within the community. Being a single mother or losing a spouse is not easy. In the Prophet Mohammed’s era a woman did not have to be a twenty something unmarried virgin to find a husband: “A divorced woman or widow never had any issues getting married in the time of the companions. In fact, she would have a hard time choosing which proposal to accept since there were so many great men asking for her. She was never made to feel like she was a burden on her family/society, nor was she told that she’d have to marry anyone that’d be willing to propose to her.” (Shaykh Omar Suleiman).

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  • Views on working women – as already highlighted, a woman has the choice to work or not. The husband (as the one who does not have children!) has to be the provider regardless of whether his wife works or not. A Muslim woman has choices. She by no means has to be some “meek” figure to find a husband: “Many Muslim men will pass over talented, educated women who are willing to put their careers and education on hold, if need be, to commit to a family. As a result a significant number of our sisters, despite their beauty, talent, maturity, and dynamism are passed over for marriage in favor of an idealized, demure “real” Muslim woman. […] Our Prophet was surrounded by strong, assertive and independent women” (Imam Zaid Shakir). The Prophet Mohammed’s first wife Khadeeja was an entrepreneur whom he loved dearly and had a very happy marriage with. Such examples should be inspirations for Muslims: “Its strange that Some Muslim men believe that one should not marry a working woman because they think she will not respect her husband if she is working. But Khadeeja (May Allah be please with her) was working woman and yet she was very respectful wife and an awesome companion of our Prophet” (Imam Asif Hirani).
  • Lack of female scholarship in Islam – it’s a sad reality that when a woman needs to seek advice regarding prayer and “female issues” that she has to talk to a man who does not understand. It would be very hard for him to understand as he is not a woman himself! That is by no means designed to be disrespectful but the result for women is conflicting, confusing advice – not to mention the fact that perhaps some women may not want to address such personal issues with an (unrelated, unknown) male. The Prophet’s wife Aisha was a scholar and there are and have been female lecturers, authors, writers, activists, and religious and spiritual leaders but on the whole this area is sadly lacking in comparison to males.
  • Views of women’s sexuality – Muslim wives have the right to sexual pleasure just as husbands do. However, literature and talk of sex and women’s sexual rights is often lacking. If you ask any scholar they will tell you that a Muslim wife has sexual rights and it is her husband’s duty to fulfill these rights within a loving consensual sexual partnership. Such rights/teachings include foreplay, affection and mutual orgasm. Read more about the issue here as part of the #TakeBackIslam campaign.

So having looked at the issues – Islam is often misunderstood and misrepresented as “misogynistic” and “sexist” through people’s misinformation/lack of information, the unfortunate behaviour of some individuals, the attitudes of certain societies, the media and Islamophobes. This is in direct contrast to Islam itself, which is an egalitarian faith. 

The oneness of God, the oneness of humanity

Allah created all human beings equal. In Islam you are only differentiated by your faith. Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) said: “Women are the twin halves of men” (Al-Tirmidhi). Islam – as a spiritual connection and devotion to God – does not teach or promote in its spiritual essence misogyny, sexism or inequality. As Muslims, we do not need traditional “Westernised” feminist orientalist discourse and secular “Muslim feminists” preaching about “veiling”, polygamy, etc. dominating and dictating to Muslims what is and what isn’t acceptable. We need a voice from within – from within the Muslim community itself to tackle these issues of cultural baggage, delinquency, intolerance, extremism, misinformation and misogyny. Islam is not for men; it’s for all of mankind – regardless of one’s gender, nationality, ethnicity, economic status, level of education etc. It’s for those who believe that God is just, God is merciful, God is The One – the sole complete Creator of the Universe. 

So, make a stance and fight the gender jihad:

  • woman-46899If you’re non-Muslim, I hope you’ve found this article interesting. Feel free to comment and ask questions
  • If you’re Muslim – brothers and sisters: make sure that are proper prayer facilities, educational facilities and social activities in your community for women and girls. There should also be access to social services for women in desperate financial situations and for those who find themselves in abusive relationships. Make sure the mosque is a safe haven for them and a place to learn. Brothers – they are your sisters in Islam

Salam!

Photo credits:

Cover image – Steve Bidmead (pixabay.com)

FreeImages.com/Yi Nam Jahe

FreeImages.com/Jonathan Kendrick

Bayu Aditya (Flick) (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Christine Olson (Flickr) (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Pixabay.com (bernal 1)

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Cutting away their childhood – the facts about #FGM

gender-symbols-1161576.jpgFebruary 6th is International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). FGM includes: “procedures that intentionally alter or cause injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons” (WHO, 2016). This usually involves cutting and removing parts of a girl’s/woman’s genitalia with razor blades, scissors, nails and glass without anaesthetic. There are no health benefits whatsoever to these “procedures”- in fact the reality is very much the opposite. It’s a sad reality for the millions of girls and women worldwide who face confusion, pain, suffering and violation through the practice of FGM as parents, family members and the wider community attempt to suppress girls’ sexuality, preserve their “honour”, adhere to social pressure and increase their  daughters’ “eligibility” as brides by adhering to male demands, outdated traditional cultural practises and a false/differing interpretation of religion. More than 125 million girls and women have been cut in the name of FGM across 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East with 3 million at risk each year (UNICEF, 2013; WHO, 2016). Educating communities and spreading the word are key to putting an end to this barbaric practice. So, let’s bust the myths and get the key facts about what exactly FGM is, how, why and where it happens and look at how you can campaign against this gross violation of human rights.

Busting the myths

1. FGM is the female equivalent of or can be compared to male circumcision 

FALSE: Female genital mutilation is sometimes also referred to as FGC (Female Genital Cutting) and also incorrectly labelled as “female circumcision” by certain people but this is totally inaccurate. Whatever your stance on male circumcision – FGM is entirely different. It is child abuse, violence and torture aimed at controlling a female’s sexual behaviour, denying her sexual pleasure within marriage itself and preserving her “honour” for the sake of others according to certain social-cultural beliefs and norms regarding marriage and female sexuality.

2. FGM is an Islamic practice

FALSE: Whilst unfortunately there have been certain so-called “scholars” who support FGM, FGM is un-Islamic. Not only does it pre-date Islam as a cultural practice, it is neither “required” according to Islamic standards and goes against Islamic principles such as health, not inflicting bodily harm, free will and a  woman’s right to sexual pleasure within marriage. The Muslim Council of Britain for example has specifically denounced the practice as un-Islamic. FGM is a cultural issue not a religious requirement. It is misunderstood in religious terms, misplaced, misused and therefore practiced by some Muslims, Jews and Christians and also some animists.

3. FGM is only an African/Middle Eastern issue

FALSE: FGM is instead a global issue. It is prevalent and most common in Africa (27 countries in the African subcontinent to be precise), including Egypt in North Africa and many sub-Saharan countries such as Somalia, and also in Middle East (e.g. Kurdistan, Oman, Yemen and Jordan). However, FGM also occurs in both Malaysia and Indonesia and within migrant communities in Europe, the USA and Australia. UNICEF has now reported that FGM is practised in Indonesia although in a less “severe” form of scratching rather than in the form of slicing off flesh. FGM firstly does not represent (any one) culture or people as a whole – even though it does form part of certain socio-cultural traditions amongst some people. Secondly, due to migration, FGM affects girls and young women whose older family members are migrants  but they themselves are not e.g. young American and British born girls whose parents previously migrated abroad. In an increasingly globalised world and in a world where we should all be fighting injustice, this is a global issue.

4. FGM is always carried out by non-medically trained relatives/community members 

FALSE: In most cases this is the case. Paid/unpaid “cutters” do the job with rusty nails, scissors, pieces of glass and razor blades. However, FGM is also performed by professional health care providers in certain countries (believe it or not…). This is often due to the belief that it is “safer” (UNICEF, 2013). In Indonesia, FGM is carried out in hospitals – although it is claimed that the female genital cutting which is carried out is not “mutilation” in the way we commonly give reference to (but in any case it is classified as FGM according to WHO guidelines).

5. Criminalising FGM in countries such as the UK and USA has outlawed and stemmed the practice entirely

FALSE: Living in a country where FGM is illegal does not mean you are “safe”. Not only does FGM occur illegally behind closed doors, parents also take their daughters abroad to get them cut instead – known as “holiday cutting“. A young girl may be “going to holiday” when in reality, she will leave the UK uncut and come back as an unfortunate silent victim of FGM at the hands of her family and community members in her parents’ home country.

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FGM – the facts

1. There are four types of FGM

Type 1: Clitoridectomy: the partial or total removal of the clitoris […] and, in very rare cases, only the prepuce […].

Type 2: Excision: […] the partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora […], with or without excision of the labia majora […].

Type 3: Infibulation: […] the narrowing of the vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal. The seal is formed by cutting and repositioning the labia minora, or labia majora, sometimes through stitching, with or without removal of the clitoris (clitoridectomy).

Type 4: […] all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, e.g. pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterizing the genital area.

Source: WHO (2016)

Once a girl has been cut, for obvious reasons the procedure is irreversible – although she can be “unstitched”. “Unstitching” (deinfibulation) may occur to benefit the victim’s health, allow her to have sex or to help with childbirth (WHO, 2016). Girls are usually cut between the ages of infancy and 15 years old but FGM can also include adult women (ibid.).

2. Sex, urinating and childbirth can be incredibly painful and complicated for women who have been cut

There is also the risk of infection, cysts, death from blood loss, infertility and a higher risk of infant mortality concerning the death of newborn babies born from mothers who have been cut (WHO, 2016). For women who have undergone forms of FGM categorised as type three, periods and urinating are obviously particularly unpleasant and painful. Women also suffer from emotional and psychological issues such as depression and PTSD.

3. FGM is not a “medical procedure” but simply a means to control women biologically, emotionally, physically, socially and sexually

In communities where FGM is “the norm” or “prized”, “uncut” women are seen as “dirty” and potentially “promiscuous“. Cut women cannot expect sexual gratification from their husbands but are indeed expected to “perform their wifely duties” despite the pain involved in sexual intercourse and later in childbirth. Her body become solely his. There can be no soulful, spiritual, loving, emotional “oneness” between such two spouses – simply enslavement. However, within communities opinions on FGM differ and make no mistake – not all young (single) men are in favour of it.

4. FGM is a clear, gross violation of human rights

FGM violates 
women and girls’ right to life and physical integrity including freedom from violence (including torture) and the right to health, in direct contradiction to human rights legislation including:The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), The International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and The International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

5. The fight against FGM is working as the number of cases is decreasing but we need to keep on fighting!

Criminal legislation has already been introduced in a number of countries and further to this, new legislation in the UK for example aims at controlling parents and specifically stopping them from taking their children abroad if there is significant concern that the purpose is for “holiday cutting“. Doing so is a criminal offence – not just performing FGM itself within the UK for example. Whilst the UK for a long time has been slow on the issue of FGM within the UK and regarding criminal convictions, France for example has already made several convictions. States are taking action and the focus has shifted onto not merely where FGM is being practiced but where its victims are being brought from and how and where cutters are being aided.

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Campaigning – Join the fight against FGM

FGM has to stop and the fight must go on. So how can we get involved in eliminating this practice and helping its tragic victims?

There are already (as expected!) lots of bodies, people and organisations involved in this area. The Guardian has been running their End FGM Guardian Global Media Campaign for several years now. They were successful in their work supporting Fahma Mohamed – a young British Muslim who created a petition directed to UK Education Secretary Michael Gove asking him to raise awareness of FGM in schools. She successfully highlighted the issue on a global level. Her campaign was met with approval by UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon and her work sparked change. This all started with her collaboration with the UK NGO Integrate Bristol. Small steps lead to big things. Raising awareness and petitioning does work!

Here’s a few places to start:

  • If you are a teacher or you work closely with children – learn about FGM and speak to relevant staff and authorities if you are concerned about a child being at risk of FGM. Read and pass on the following info for UK based teachers
  • There is a free UK 24-hour NSPCC FGM helpline for those that need advice or to make referrals if you’re worried about a child being at risk. You can call 0800 028 3550 or email fgmhelp@nspcc.org.uk. Contact the police or crime stopping services/agencies in your area if you in trouble or if you have to report abuse
  • If you’ve been a victim of FGM or worry you may be at risk – seek help and support from specialised organisations in your local area. Those in the UK can contact The Dahlia Project on 020 7281 8920 or 020 7281 7694 which helps victims of FGM. Services are free
  • A list of specialist FGM clinics in the UK is available here

FGM must stop. Such torture cannot carry on. Attitudes, beliefs and practices must change. Raise your voice and speak out in the fight to #EndFGM!

Sources and credits:

A list of sources and further information is available to download here

Image credits:

Amnesty International (feature image – edited), Dominik Gwarek, Jaime Cooper, Jeffrey Clairmont

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12 Quotes Depicting Women’s Equality in Islam

There’s a lot of misconceptions about Islam – especially in relation to women and feminism. Alongside traditional “Western feminists”, there’s two common branches of Muslim feminists: “secular Muslim feminists” and “Islamic feminists“. As a Muslim woman and an Islamic feminist, I believe in feminism within Islam – both being not only compatible but mutual. In Islam men and women are different yet equal. Women are treasured in all forms – as humans beings, believers, daughters, sisters, mothers, wives…

To give a brief introduction, here are 12 quotations depicting women’s equality to men and status in Islam – belonging to the Qur’an and the ahadith (sayings/teachings) of the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH).

  1. “The most complete believer in faith is the best in morals, and the best among you is the best to their wives.” (Tirmidhi)
  2. “And among God’s signs is this: He created for you mates from amongst yourselves (males […] for females and vice versa) that you might find tranquility and peace in them. And he has put love and kindness among you. Herein surely are signs for those who reflect.” (Qur’an, 30: 21)
  3. “They (your wives) are your garment and you are a garment for them.” (Qur’an, 2: 187)
  4. “O Messenger of Allah! Who is most deserving of my fine treatment?” He said, “Your mother, then your mother, then your mother, then your father, then your nearest, then nearest.” (Narrated by Abu Hurairah – Bukhari and Muslim)
  5. “Observe your duty to Allah in respect to the women, and treat them well.” (Prophet Muhammed’s  Last Sermon)
  6. “I went to the Apostle of Allah (PBUH) and asked him: What do you say (command) about our wives? He replied: Give them food what you have for yourself, and clothe them by which you clothe yourself, and do not beat them, and do not revile them.” (Narrated by Mu’awiyah al-Qushayri – Abu Dawud)
  7. “Verily, women are the twin halves of men.” (Abu Dawud, Tirmidhi)
  8. “And for women are rights over men similar to those of men over women.” (Qur’an, 2: 228)weddind-rings-1419286 (2).jpg
  9. “Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty: that will make for greater purity for them: and Allah is well acquainted with all that they do. And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms.” (Qur’an, 24: 30-1)
  10. “When one of them gets a baby girl, his face becomes darkened with overwhelming grief. Ashamed, he hides from the people, because of the bad news given to him. He even ponders: should he keep the baby grudgingly, or bury her in the dust. Miserable indeed is their judgment.” (Qur’an, 16: 58-59)
  11. “Their Lord responded to them: “I never fail to reward any worker among you for any work you do, be you male or female – you are equal to one another.” (Qur’an, 3: 195)
  12. “The believers, men and women, are helpers, supporters, friends and protectors of one another, they enjoin all that is good, and forbid all that is evil, they offer their prayers perfectly, and give Zakah (obligatory charity) and obey Allah and His Messenger. Allah will bestow Mercy on them. Surely Allah is All-Mighty, All-Wise.” (Qur’an, 9: 71)

So there you are – it’s a vast topic but I hope that’s given some insight into the beauty of being a Muslim woman. Abuses against women in the name of culture and through ignorance and a lack of understanding of Islam, do not represent Islam and are contrary to the rights that Allah had ordained and bestowed upon women.

Salam!

*Images are re-published under a Creative Commons licence

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10 Reasons Why We Need Human Rights

This 10th December is Human Right’s Day – marking the date when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was adopted in 1948. It’s often been said that many of us take our rights and freedoms for granted. The term “human rights” has become a bit of a “buzz word” amongst the kind of people who love to add their comments to Daily Mail articles or on Facebook articles: “Oh not the EU and human rights!” What springs to their mind is: “terrorist extremists sponging of the state along with their families” or “we’re bending over backwards for minorities”.

Well that’s not what human rights are. Human rights offer us safety, freedom and protection. Here’s ten reasons why we NEED human rights legislation, courts, lawyers and campaigners. Of course, there are hundreds of thousands of reasons and cases but here’s a few to get us going (in no particular order).

1. Slavery, human trafficking and sexual exploitation

Forced labour, imprisonment, prostitution and human trafficking are grave issues. Slavery may have already been abolished but it’s still going on today – WORLDWIDE. According to the West Midland’s Police (UK):

Human trafficking is the most profitable crime in the world, second only to drugs. It is also a growing crime in the UK with victims exploited in four main ways – forced labour, sexual exploitation, domestic servitude and benefit fraud.

One recent new story is of Karla Jacinto – a victim of human trafficking who was lured away at the age of 12, having already been subjected to sexual abuse since the age of five by a family member. Karla was forced to work as a prostitute in Mexico and was eventually rescued by police in 2008 as part their anti-trafficking work. She confesses she was raped 43, 200 times. The horror is unimaginable.

2. Violations against freedom of speech, expression, assembly and association

lmagine living in a country where you’re unable to express your own personal and political beliefs, unable to go on peaceful demonstrations, unable to “hold an opinion”… No protesting the Syrian war, no protesting benefit cuts, no having your say… Worldwide, it’s happening – China, Venezuela, Crimea, the USA even… Take Venezuela as an example – 2014 was quoted as being “the worst year for freedom of expression” with 350 cases and 579 violations (the highest figure in 20 years) affecting journalists and those working in the media as well as members of NGOs, human rights activists and civilians:

As far as the attacks and threats against journalists and photo journalists went, the report indicated that the majority came while covering public protests. These acts of aggression included beatings, pellet shots, tear gas attacks, detainments, the confiscation of cameras and cellphones, the destruction of audiovisual and photographic material, and intimidation.

This is not an unfamiliar site if you switch on the TV news and do some research.

3. Torture, arbitrary arrest, detention or exile and restrictions against freedom of movement within and outside your own country  

Following online and offline activism – peaceful protests, blogging online, newspaper journalism, political activism – human rights defenders and regime opponents or those simply in the wrong place at the wrong time could end up being locked up and subject to torture (physical, emotional, sexual and spiritual abuse/neglect) including sexual assault and malnutrition. There’s also the case of those who are never brought to trial – whether guilty or innocent of their supposed crime(s).

Let’s take Guantanamo Bay as an example. May inmates have even never been taken to trial, are subject to torture and continue to protest their innocence. The latest news story was that of Shakeer Aamer. Shakeer was imprisoned in Guantanamo for 14 years without trial and subject to torture. Shakeer always protested his innocence – he was detained when working in Afghanistan for an Islamic charity. He was recently able to return home to the UK to be with his family. For the first time in his life he was able to meet his youngest son – aged 14.

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4. Asylum seekers

You’re fleeing religious or political persecution, torture and death, war, genocide – no safety, no peace, no security, no home… You’re a political opponent, a victim of war, a persecuted minority… British Red Cross figures from 2014 state that 52% of the worlds refugees come from four countries – with the numbers of people per country as following:

  • Syria:3 million
  • Afghanistan:7 million
  • Somalia:1 million
  • Sudan:670,000
  • South Sudan:508,000

The conflict in Syria has been and continues to be devastating, as in various other countries with ongoing conflict. Some asylum seekers however flee their countries for fear of their life due to political oppression. There are many stories – for example that of Berthe Patricia Nganga from Congo Brazzaville who fled her country in 2003 and was granted leave to remain in the UK in 2011. Berthe and her family were subject to political persecution.

“[…] being an asylum seeker is not an easy life.  I was a paediatric nurse in Congo Brazzaville, working in the local hospital and in my mother’s chemist. She was killed by the government because she didn’t support them. Then in 1998, my husband fled the country, because he was part of the opposition party too. […]People were after me […] so I had to get away.”

Once a refugee arrives in a host country, they can legally apply for asylum. Whilst seeking asylum, you cannot work but you are not “illegal” or undocumented (see further asylum seeker myths here). There are many more cases. Those at risk and in danger deserve a safe home. #refugeeswelcome

5. Discrimination and unequal protection before the law 

Restrictions of any humans rights based upon race, ethnicity, religion, etc. include:

  • The situation of the Roma and their (lack of) rights and provisions regarding housing and education in Romania.
  • The rights of the Rohingya in Myanmar and their lack of citizenship as just one example.

6. Violations to the right to privacy

There’s been a lot of concern concerning government “snooping” and anti-terrorist measures. Recently, an EU court declared that The National Security Agency is “violating the privacy rights of millions of Europeans”.

7. Divided families

At this very moment across the UK, Europe and worldwide, (potential) husbands, wives, mothers, fathers and children are separated – with their right to marriage and family life violated – due to visa restrictions. They are Divided families – Skype families. There’s an array of families who are divided due to financial restrictions. In the UK for example you need to earn minimum £18,600 (excluding added “fees” per each child) to be eligible to sponsor your spouse to come to the UK. Third party sponsors are not permitted and property and job status are not taken into consideration (there are exemptions however if you are a carer or disabled). For many, marriage is the odd holiday the couple can afford, text messages, phone calls and Facebook, Skype and What’s App time.  Many children are separated from their mommy or daddy.

8. Restrictions on religious freedom

Many religious communities worldwide are not free to practice their religion and follow their religious and spiritual beliefs. One example is China’s Muslim minority – the Uighur Muslims in the autonomous region of Xinjiang who have felt the increasing level of religious restrictions. Last Ramadan, government workers, teachers, professors and students were “banned” from fasting and “banquets” were held to “test” if Muslims were fasting or not. Women are also banned from wearing face veils, men are not permitted to have beards and shopkeepers are forced to sell alcohol.

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9. Inadequate social provision/recognition of disability

Due to the global economic crisis, government budgets have tightened – including the lowering of social security provisions. There has been a lot of concern concerning welfare provisions in the UK and a series of deaths (including suicide) of vulnerable adults. The UDHR underlines the right to an adequate standard of living and security including food, clothing, social and medical care – outlining cases of unemployment, disability and old age etc. (Article 25). Whilst many countries have no social security systems and/or a lack of care, it has been confirmed  by the UN that the UK has violated the rights of disabled citizens. In fact, figures from the UK Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) state that:

Nearly 90 people a month are dying after being declared fit for work.

The figures are truly shocking. The State is obliged to care for and protect its citizens.

10. Child soldiers and child labour

Children should be in school, enjoying their younger years. According to the UDHR, they are entitled in minimum terms to free (compulsory) elementary education (Article 26). Children do not belong in war. Children are being used as spies and suicide bombers in Afghanistan and soldiers in Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic (to name just a few examples).  In addition, although the number has decreased, there are 168 million children worldwide working in child labour.

So there we have it – ten of just many reasons why human rights legislation, courts, protocols and campaigners are essential. So, what can you do to help you may ask?

  • Sign online petitions, blog, tweet and and right letters (see my article about Amnesty International’s Write to Rights Campaign this month)
  • Organise talks and events
  • Fundraise and donate to NGOs
  • Volunteer your time and skills within NGOs
  • Join local and university human rights groups to collaborate together
  • Start a career in human rights – become a human rights lawyer, campaigner, fundraiser etc. or you could lend your skills to bodies and organisations through other professional means – translation, interpreting and journalism to name just a few roles.

Research your cause, brainstorm, design your strategy and make a set of goals. Get out there or online and spread the word and raise awareness! Happy campaigning folks!

Salam!

For information on human rights law see:

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

The European Convention of Human Rights

The United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime

Convention on the Rights of the Child

The Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict

Image credits:

Images are shared under a Creative Commons licence

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