Archive for the ‘women’ Category

Veil Ban in Europe – Gender Equality or Gendered Islamophobia?

Saturday, July 11th, 2015
Published March 2015
I was asked by the renowned International Georgetown Journal on Inequality to write an article about the face veil ban in Europe. In my contribution I examined the reasons routinely provided to justify face veil restrictions.  I questioned whether the motivations were genuine and whether Muslim women were denied procedural fairness during the process leading to legislation and whether any legitimate  concerns could be addressed without legislation.

The Struggles of Lesbian Muslim Women

Saturday, May 24th, 2014

Published on the Channel 4 website to go with their short documnentary  here on 24th May 2014

Muslim Women’s Network UK has always engaged with Muslim lesbians and included them in its membership.   However, most Muslims will argue that it is not possible to be gay and Muslim because homosexuality is against Islam.  Such attitudes ignore the Quran’s spirit of mercy and justice. There was more tolerance to homosexuals in Islamic history than there is now because they were not cast out of the folds of Islam.

Muslim lesbians are diverse in their dress and religiosity.  Some wear Western clothes and don’t cover their heads, while others wear the hijab, jilbab and even veil their faces.  I have met Muslim lesbians who are more steadfast in their 5 daily prayers than ‘straight’ Muslim women. If having their faith attacked is not bad enough, there is the added trauma of repercussions from families. Muslim lesbians have been beaten, forced into marriage or disowned.  Until mindsets change within Muslim communities gay Muslims will continue to live in turmoil, leading double lives just to please their families.

Should full-face veils be banned in some public places?

Monday, September 16th, 2013

Published on BBC website here

Women and girls should not be pressured to conform – it’s important they make autonomous choices about their lives and their bodies including what to wear and not wear. For this reason I oppose a complete ban of the face veil.

However, there are circumstances where the face should be seen – for example, pupils and teachers in schools, and in the courtroom when giving a testimony or being questioned. Communication without any barriers is paramount in these situations. Also it is important to show one’s face to verify identity for security reasons.

The vast majority of the 1.4 million Muslim women in Britain do not even wear the face veil, as it is not considered a religious obligation. The tiny minority that do are probably happy to remove the veil when required.

It is unfortunate that sometimes the odd Muslim woman is unreasonable and refuses to remove it. Such attitudes are contributing towards portraying their own faith negatively – Islam is not rigid and is flexible.

I wonder if their stance is really about religious freedom, or about making a political statement? The debate has now become so polarised that those people who didn’t care what Muslim women wore are now turning against the veil.

Muslim Women’s Dress: Let’s use common sense and proportion

Monday, September 16th, 2013

Published on MSN News website on 16th September 2o13

I welcome the judge’s decision today – the Muslim woman who refused to remove her face veil in court can stand trial in her veil but must remove it to give evidence.  He will allow her to be screened from public view but she has to be seen by judge, jury and lawyers.  I believe this is a very reasonable common sense approach.

Although I vociferously oppose a ban on the face veil, I believe there are particular circumstances in which it is necessary to show one’s face.  Giving evidence in a courtroom would be of those situations.  Studies show that much of communication is nonverbal. That means it’s not only what you say, it’s how you say it.  When being questioned in court the face therefore becomes an essential part of the communication process and should be seen to ensure justice is done.  This is not just about making an assessment on the truthfulness of an individual but also for their protection. For example, it would be important to know if the person being questioned is getting upset or being put under unfair duress.

Jeremy Browne MP has called for a national debate on face veils and wants them banned in schools and public places.  We do not need a national debate on such a minor phenomenon.  Let’s put things into perspective.  The Muslim population in Britain is 2.8 million and there are about 1.4 million Muslim women, the overwhelming majority of who do not wear the face veil.  No one has carried out any research on how many actually wear it and the figure could vary between a few hundred to perhaps a couple of thousand. So any kind of ban would be a disproportionate response to this issue.

Although I agree that girls in school should not be wearing the face veil because it would interfere with learning, I am concerned about the timing of Jeremy Browne’s comments and for wanting to see a ban in all public places.  Is this really about political point scoring? Muslim women’s dress is often used for that.  I question whether such rhetoric is really about the protection of Muslim girls and women as he claims. In fact, they are facing unprecedented levels of discrimination and hostility, which includes verbal abuse and physical assaults. I don’t hear politicians rushing to their defense when this happens.  It feels like that there are people who simply don’t like the look of the face veil, and finding excuses to ban it.  I am a Muslim woman and I don’t like the face veil either but that is not a good enough reason to ban it.

Where Is the Justice for Afghan Women After Spending $60-Billion in Civilian Aid?

Friday, July 13th, 2012

Published on Huffington Post (World Section) here

When I saw the horrifying footage of 22-year-old Najiba being publicly executed the first thought that came to my mind was, are Afghan women and girls ever going to get justice? Clearly not, considering the lack of interest shown by the Afghanistan government in women’s rights. The majority of men who have beaten, raped and killed women go unpunished. In April, Young Women for Change defied safety fears and came out in a public protest to highlight these cases. However, no government official could be bothered to come out and listen to their concerns. Perhaps this is not surprising when you consider what the Minster of Justice thinks about vulnerable women. Last month Habibullah Ghaleb claimed those living in women’s shelters are prostitutes. Despite calls from women’s NGOs, President Karzai has refused to fire the minister.

There should be zero tolerance of such attitudes amongst decision makers, particularly if they are in charge of spending budgets on improving the rights of women. Donor countries had the perfect opportunity to intervene. They had every right to demand the removal of Ghaleb. The U.S. alone is spending $110 million annually on the Afghan judicial system and this minister is making decisions on how some of these funds are used, which includes improving women’s access to justice. When he has shown he cannot be objective about women, why have all aid donors accepted that Ghaleb remains in charge of how their money is spent?

Despite such vast sums going into the judiciary, the rights of Afghan girls and woman continue to be abused both in national and local courts. Most are unaware of their legal rights and lack support to defend their rights through the judicial system. So what on earth is the money being spent on? The fact that the Taliban had the audacity to carry out Najiba’s execution so publicly (with 150 or so men watching) and only a few miles from the capital city of Kabul shows lack of government control. It raises the question, do the Taliban control everything outside of Kabul or are some government officials colluding with them?

So the only hope that women and girls have is the international community, and by that I mean all of us. We need to question our governments on why our money is not improving the safety of women and girls and providing them with justice. These questions should have been asked a long time ago, because “Afghanistan has received nearly $60-billion in civilian aid since 2002.”

Perhaps the image of Najiba kneeling down in the dirt and being shot several times at close range has finally outraged us enough to speak out. Stories of Afghan women suffering violence regularly make it into the news. How many times have we just ended up sharing them through social media and done little more than that? I have been guilty of that, too — but this time I was so angry that I felt compelled to do something and contribute in some way. Within hours of watching Najiba’s murder, I set up a petition calling on the governments of the UK, U.S., Germany and Japan to ensure the Afghan government not only bring Najiba’s killers to justice, but do more to protect Afghan women. You, too, can join in and take action by signing and sharing the petition.

I have targeted UK, U.S., Germany and Japan in particular as they will be the largest donors of the $16 billion of civil aid pledged to Afghanistan over the next four years. They should be ringfencing sufficient aid to ensure it is spent on measures that will increase women and girl’s safety and security and access to justice. Hollow pledges and public statements by senior government officials, particularly by Hillary Clinton, should no longer satisfy us. She has said, “Afghan women will not be abandoned” and “women’s rights must be an integral part of Afghanistan’s future” — but these are very broad statements. She has failed to back them with specific measures, firm action and stringent conditions to make them a reality.

Recently, British Foreign Secretary William Hague also made a public statement. He said he was “shocked and disgusted” by Najiba’s murder. He has even publicly called upon the Afghanistan government to bring the perpetrators to justice. However, once the publicity subsides, he and other world leaders will forget her. Najiba will just become another Afghan female statistic. We can make sure that world leaders do not forget this Afghan woman — her death can be used to help other women and girls get justice. Powerful images can turn history and perhaps Najiba’s video may do the same. In a country where demonstrations are rare, dozens came out in Kabul to protest against her killing and demand that the government take serious action to prevent violence against women.

The Afghan government depends almost entirely on foreign aid and I think it is time to say “if you want the money, you must show how you are protecting women’s rights.” The global public needs to ensure donor governments make that happen. If women’s rights are not improved over the next four years, the likelihood is that the most educated and skilled women will leave the country while the rest will be too scared to go out and continue to suffer in silence.

Muslim Women Leading Change – 10 Power Tools

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012

(My other Youtube videos can be viewed here)

Around the world, women have less power, money and less protection from violence. They also have less access to education, healthcare and justice. Despite these injustices, women everywhere (including Muslim women) are standing up to claim their rights and becoming powerful forces for change. They are amazingly determined and resourceful in their fight to achieve a better future for themselves, their daughters, their communities and for other women.

However, change does not happen by itself and will not continue to happen unless there is conscious action.  So to help women take that conscious action to make change happen, become empowered and help others to become empowered, I recommend 10 power tools. Women will already be doing some of these – but it is always useful and helpful to have a checklist.

These power tools are (listed in no particular order):

Power Tool 1 – Know Your History

It is important to remember those who came before us including the challenges they faced.  Not knowing your history is like having a tree without any roots.  History can be a source of empowerment because it will tell you that women were not confined to mothering and household duties.  There were female scholars, leaders, judges, philanthropists, scientists, businesswomen, poets, experts in medicine etc.  However, the achievements of these women go unrecognized even in Muslim countries today.  A  coinscious effort should be made to retell the stories of our sisters from the past. To find out more about such women, visit www.bigsister.org.uk and click on the ‘Big Sisters in History‘ section, where at least 50 women from different centuries and various fields of work have been listed.

Power Tool 2 – Know Your Islamic Rights

The roles of women in society and the barriers they face are determined socially and then justified through culture and religion. Some men and even some women will decide how they want women to behave and then they will package their opinions to make others believe they are the divine will of God. If women have Islamic knowledge, they can no longer be held hostage to patriarchal interpretations of their faith.  If they have knowledge then they can question opinions that limit  women’s lives and women’s choices.   However, it is important to investigate what the Quran says about women first. It is surprising the number of people that have not read the entire Quran in a language they understand and instead rely on secondary sources for their information.  Without reading the Quran how can women anyone know if the secondary sources are misleading or not – whether they are  objective or not? Remember that submission to God is more than carrying out ritual acts with the body. We must also submit intellectually and investigate God’s wisdom.

Power Tool 3 – Define What Power Means to You

Often women are afraid to become leaders because they associate it with power, which they in turn associate with negatives such as: corruption, disempowering others, oppression, gatekeeping, abuse, being obstructive etc.  However, if women start to define what power means to them and associate positive values with it such as: enabling, empowering, educating, giving agency, change catalyst, transformative – then women are more likely to be drawn to leadership.

Power Tool 4 – Define Your Own Goals

Don’t measure yourself by other people’s standards. Everyone can contribute to the best of their own abilities and strengths at different levels of society.  God has given us all different gifts and that means everyone does not have to go out and try and change the world!  You can make small changes happen and these are important too because collectively these lead to the bigger changes. Your goal may be to: go on a course to learn a new skill; express your views in a conversation; do voluntary work; bring up your sons and daughters equally; bring up your sons to respect women’s rights; give your daughters the choices and opportunities you did not have.  Whatever the change, no matter how small, is important.

Power Tool 5 – Have an Action Plan

Once that spark has been ignited and you have set your goals, you will need to give your ideas fuel.  This will come from an action plan – map out the steps you need to take to achieve your goals.  In that plan  define your own identity and create your own space.

Power Tool 6 – Have Courage

You will need courage to: challenge the status quo; speak out against injustices and discrimination; and push boundaries. And you will need to do all these things if you want to see change happen so your daughters and future generations of women can have a better life.

Power Tool 7 – Be Open Minded

Listen to and learn from the wisdom of others and think critically.  We should be listening more than talking.  God has given us two ears and one mouth so we should be listening twice as much as we are talking. We may find solutions and wisdom from the most unexpected places and people.  Be open to learning all the time no matter how old you are and no matter what your status is.

Power Tool 8 – Building and Joining Networks and Movements

You are not alone – remember there are many other women who think like you and have the same aspirations. So connect with other women through networks whether local, regional, national or even global.  If there is no network locally – set one up!  A critical mass of women’s voices is likely to have a greater impact. Through networks, it is easier to: spread messages, and ideas; learn from others; and share experiences and knowledge.  Partnerships, coalitions and movements are usually the driving force to changing attitudes and behaviours.

Power Tool 9 – Make Use of Internet Tools

Because of the internet, you can have an impact without leaving the house.  Find out about all the tools that are available and use as many as you can or need.  There are so many ways to share information through social networks and media such as:  Facebook, Twitter, My Space, Youtube, Vimeo, Tumblr, Pinterest, Instagram, Digg, Reditt, Yahoo buzz etc.  These are just a few ideas! You can even participate in or run your own online training sessions through Webinars (online seminars).  You can even deliver lectures through Skype to people in other cities or even countries! Many websites also allow you to create your own free online petitions in minutes. Free applications allow you to create posters, cartoons and animations that can be used to spread your ideas. So go and explore what is available.

Power Tool 10 – Have a Motivational Slogan

Think of a favourite phrase that you can use as your mantra.  This can be your innermost motivation when you need it.  There will be times in your life journey where you get disappointed because things don’t go your way or you may lose momentum.  Every step toward fulfilling your goals may be draining.   Make sure you have something that you can pull out of the bag to uplift you because your friends cannot be there all the time.

Change doesn’t just happen, we collectively make it happen.  So once you find your own path, lead others to find theirs!

Age No Bar for Action!

Sunday, May 20th, 2012

My daughter Aaliyah Gohir gets her first article published in Eastern Eye – 18 May 2012.  She interviewed the following activists from around the world:

  • Fawzia Koofi (MP from Afghanistan)
  • Zainah Anwar (Director of Musawah, a global Muslim women’s movement – Malaysia
  • Lydia Alpizar Duran (Executive Director of AWID – Mexico)
  • Anna Pelagie (activist – Cameroon)
  • Ester Jarome and Mwandiwe Kali – (farmers from Tanzania)
  • Zoe Blumenfield (Communocation Officer from Global Fund for Women – US)
  • Nannyondo Sarah (student activist – Uganda)
  • Dr Tahmineh Danioli (activist – Iran)

And she interviewed me too! I am so proud of her!

Interview with Afghan MP Fawzia Koofi

Sunday, May 20th, 2012

My 9 year old daughter, Aaliyah Gohir, interviews Afghan MP Fawzia Koofi at the AWID forum in Istanbul April 2012.

Mother’s Day – No bigger heart than the heart of a mother

Sunday, March 18th, 2012

There is no bigger heart than the heart of a mother.  She will go hungry and feed her children.  She feeds the world too as they grow half of the world’s food – yet she does not have enough to eat herself. Her domestic work is invisible, unpaid, undervalued and unrecognized – but is vital work. When employed, she carries out the most time consuming and manual activities while men get to do the less contraining mechanized work.  When her income increases, she spends more on children than fathers do.  Mothers do all this while carrying the future in their bellies. Indeed, there is no bigger heart than the heart of a mother!

Muslim Women Reclaiming Islam – Understanding Quran for themselves

Sunday, January 29th, 2012

My Youtube talk explores the importance of Muslim women reading, understanding and interpreting the Quran so they are informed of their rights and can robustly challenge misinterpretations and increase accountability.

You can view other videos on my Youtube channel here