Why The Fairer Sex
mad as hell and I’m
not going to take it anymore!’
And herein lies my predicament: In past months I have watched TV reports
on honour killings, read Facebook posts on the trafficking of women into
Syria, viewed a lecture on the women violated in Tahrir square by armed
forces, received emails on domestic violence fatwas, and then a report on
female infanticide in India. It
seems the trajectory of violence against women can start from birth and,
in the instance of pre-natal screening technologies in India and China,
lead to selective abortions, sometimes even before birth.
momentum continues: a UN forum
commemorates the International Day for Zero tolerance of Female Genital
Mutilation, the next day a seminar on the UN Convention Against Torture
and how it can be used to combat violence against women. Other abuses
include forced marriages and acid burnings. The resources available to
investigate and prosecute offenders are inadequate. This only confirms the
systemic prejudice against women and abuse of their human rights that
becomes validated by the State. Women and violence - two issues
inextricably linked across borders, politics and faith. Throw in the ‘Muslim’
factor, and you have guaranteed the tabloids a ‘Good
most weeks of the year.
appears that none of these issues are occurring with any immediacy in our
Australian backyard. And yet this gives me cold comfort for, on closer
inspection, my complacency is undermined. One assumes that Muslim women,
who may have encountered violence in their past lives, leave such
experiences behind after moving to the ‘West.
But the reality suggests otherwise.
statistics show that, with regard to domestic violence in Australia,
Muslim women are over represented in the welfare sector as users of
emergency services. The percentage of women from Arabic, and
Turkish-speaking communities are numbered in the top percentage amongst
migrant women from cultural and linguistically diverse backgrounds who
access refuges or shelters. Similarly,
when analysing service users of the Australian Muslim Women’s
Centre for Human Rights (AMWCHR), the client data indicates that between
2005-2008 over 42% of clients were women seeking assistance because of
family violence. By 2009-2010, that average rose to 80%.
continuum of violence understood as domestic or family violence, manifests
itself in numerous forms. In Victoria, the Family Violence Act defines
family violence as a behaviour by a person towards a family member that is
violent, or threatening. Other examples include injury to a family member,
damage to property, forced isolation and other threatening behaviours. The
Act further includes the incidence of sexual, social, emotional/
psychological and economic abuse within this framework. In the
overwhelming majority of these cases, the perpetrators are male and the
AMWCHR, the definition of family violence extends also to religious/
spiritual abuse, an issue pertinent to Muslim women. In this instance, it
is generally men who manipulate religion to normalise their abusive
behaviours to claim superiority in the relationship and exert dominance.
This may occur when men threaten to take a second wife, give their wife
incorrect religious information in order to further their personal
interests, prevent their wife from practising
her spiritual beliefs, ridicule their wife’s
polygamy in a country where it is illegal, or force their daughter into
early marriage. These practices are included within the framework of abuse
because their incidence reflects the casework reality of AMWCHR.
controlling violent behaviours are inflicted on an individual, it’s
important that such behaviours
are understood to be human rights abuses. We wouldn’t
tolerate such transgressions against Muslim women in the workplace, on the
street or on public transport. Yet when they occur within the domain of
the Muslim community has reacted largely at one of three levels:
a deliberate or unwitting ignorance of the issue,
to minimise the perceived impact of the violence,
the third, and most disconcerting level - sanctioning such abusive
behaviours as culturally or religiously mandated.
or not the catalysts for domestic violence in our society are borne of
cultural imperative or ‘men
there remains a need for critical engagement with men, especially from an
early age. Deploying a pre-emptive approach to ending violence starts with
in childhood and adolescence about respect and equality of sexes, grounded
in secular and Islamic sources, as well as positive male role models.
These remain proven methods for dealing with domestic violence in the long
level, laws that criminalise
and punish perpetrators of violence afford victims some restitution. In
Pakistan provincial assemblies are currently debating a Senate approved
bill: the Domestic Violence Against Women and Children Bill 2012. If
passed, domestic violence in Pakistan would be treated as a criminal
offence punishable by imprisonment and hefty fines (Daily Times, February
23, 2012). However, the
bigger picture of affecting change in communities’
cultural mindsets may take generations to alter—if
the prevalence of domestic violence within our community is difficult, but
unequivocally remains the starting point towards contending with this
problem. A promising start would be to involve men prepared to step up and
take responsibility for their fellow man’s
culpability. We also need to
co-opt imams and community leaders who are willing to address this issue
in both Friday Khutbas and
public forums on a regular basis, and not only once a year on the
International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.
need to push for approaches to Islamic interpretations that are both
authentic and enlightened, stemming from equality and social justice.
Forget gender balance: let’s
start with gender presence in the equation. The drivers for change that
make us question our ethics and gendered roles must begin.
February 26th, Pakistani social activist and filmmaker, Sharmeen
Obaid-Chinoy, became the first Pakistani national recipient of an Academy
Award for her short documentary ‘Saving
chronicling the life of acid burn victims in Pakistan. In her acceptance
speech, she paid tribute to ‘all
the women in Pakistan who are working for change’.
To celebrate her wonderful achievement, and in honour of all women
continuing to resist the tide of female exploitation by their 'menfolk',
let us extend this sentiment to women across the globe. We do not need
platitudes. We deserve and demand respect.
-Australian Muslim Women’s
Centre for Human Rights
(Daily Times Feb 23, 2012)
(Amna Nawaz, Feb 23, 2012, World Blog NBC)
you have some concerns about your personal welfare or that of another
Muslim women, please visit this site for the AUSTRALIAN MUSLIM WOMEN'S
CENTRE FOR HUMAN RIGHTS