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Religion and Faith: Important Allies in the fight against Gender- Based Violence?

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UK Faith leaders call for Istanbul Convention

“You cannot be a feminist and believe in religion”, a respected colleague who works with women from Middle Eastern and Afghani backgrounds, declared to me two weeks ago, a statement that hurt me a little but wasn’t surprised by as I have often heard it before. The following week I chaired a conference on intersectionality as part of the Strategic Partnership between the boroughs of Westminster, Kensington & Chelsea and Hammersmith & Fulham to tackle Violence Against Women and Girls. The conference discussed the importance of taking account of the differing facets of our identities, and where they intersect as a starting point of the support and service survivors of domestic and other forms of gendered abuse, receive from specialist organisations and charities.

“You cannot be a feminist and believe in religion”

It therefore follows that tackling any form of violence and abuse requires a nuanced and holistic approach that should be led by the needs and safety of survivors. Many of whom identify and align themselves with faith and spirituality.

Historically the women’s sector and those who work in supporting victims and survivors of domestic abuse or so called honour-based violence have been, at best and with good reason, ambivalent to engaging with religious and faith actors and or institutions that are part of a survivor’s social network and form and support a component of their sense of self. This failure, I believe, is leaving an unmet or misunderstood gap in supporting women who may view their faith or spirituality as a source of empowerment.

Conversely there is a sense of confusion and a real lack of awareness about the forms of support and practical help available to women experiencing domestic abuse and other forms of gender based violence, which can lead to suspicion and mistrust from community groups, community advocates and faith leaders that women turn to for help and advice. Often these women come from ‘hard to hear’ communities that experience multiple barriers such as gender and or racial discrimination, disability, poverty and ill health. Therefore, their local Imam or Pastor is the only source of support, who are unlikely to be the most qualified or knowledgeable about risk or appropriate and safe support for women and their children. On many occasions religious and faith leaders can knowingly or inadvertently collude with the abuse or abuser(s) and provide the veneer of religious justification for abuse.

“…those advocating for equality and an end to gender based violence can make faith and religious institutions relevant and important allies in the fight against violence against women and girls. “

It was therefore a welcome and important step for the campaign group ICChange to host ( along with Faith Action and Restored) and secure the support of UK Faith leaders in the call for the ratification of the Istanbul Convention which was launched at the House of Lords on 5 December. It brought together Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Sikh and Hindu faith leaders to call on the UK government to ratify the Convention on violence against women and for MPs to support the Private Member’s Bill by voting for it on 16 December. The launch is a great example of how those advocating for equality and an end to gender based violence can make faith and religious institutions relevant and important allies in the fight against violence against women and girls.

The Istanbul Convention, described as ‘the best thing you’ve never heard of’ is a set of life-saving minimum standards on tacking violence against women and girls that states should ensure when tackling this widespread phenomenon. If the UK government ratifies the convention it will enable a root and branch change in its response to support and protect women suffering violence and abuse. It will also be duty bound to prevent and tackle the root causes of violence as well as hold perpetrators to account through the criminal justice system. Four and a half years on from the government’s promise to make the Convention law we are still waiting for this to be realised.

Here at Standing Together Against Domestic Violence, we have long advocated for a more coordinated community response to gender based violence and domestic abuse in particular. The most effective and lasting solution is one that brings together as many agencies, services and civil society groups including community and the family to support the needs of survivors; puts them at the centre of the response to abuse and holds perpetrators to account.

Through our Safety Across Faith and Ethnic Communities programme (SAFE) we aim to address a gap in the response to domestic abuse. We know that most survivors of abuse will likely reach out to friends, family and community networks for help in the earliest stages of abuse.  The SAFE Communities project will ensure that domestic abuse and violence against women and girls are tackled holistically by targeting support to those who will be most likely to be the first approached by survivors for help. We believe that working with and empowering communities to understand, recognise and address domestic abuse is essential. Grassroots communities and faith groups have the power and potential to make a real difference in the lives of survivors and hold perpetrators to account.

Looking at the wider context, the current political climate promises long and protracted negotiations over our divorce from Europe and the rise of nationalist right wing politics across Western nations in America and Europe, the Private Members Bill which calls for the ratification of the Istanbul Convention, presents an important and narrow window of opportunity to safeguard more than thirty- years’ worth of advocacy, activism and hard fought battles to get us to the very lacking and imperfect state we are in today.

It is precisely when the perfect storm of fear, economic and social instability, and the rise in regressive politics that the threat of hijacking faith for intolerant or oppressive rhetoric and purposes must be repelled by all people of faith and non.

*If you would like to see the U.K. government ratify the Istanbul Convention, then contact your MP now and ask them to support it by attending the debate on Friday 16 December, and voting for it – details here. And you can sign this petition.*

By Huda Jawad

Huda has worked for over 21 years in the Third Sector. She has held various positions in local government, national and international NGOs and charities tackling a wide range of issues relating to social exclusion, justice, equality and conflict resolution.  Huda currently works as a Domestic Violence Housing Coordinator at Standing Together Against Domestic Violence. Read more about her work and achievements on her website.

Image courtesy of IC Change
Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.


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Impact of hate crimes on mental health

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In the UK the rates of depression and suicide are on the rise, with the last known statistic suggesting 1 in 4 adults experience a diagnosed mental health issue. The statistics suggest that 1 in 10 children and young people have a mental health problem including depression, anxiety and conduct disorder, with 70% of children and young people not having had an appropriate intervention at a sufficiently early age. This is worrying. What is more worrying is the constraints and challenges faced when attempting to access mental health services.

Having spent a decade working in the mental health field with children, young people and adults I have heard one too many narratives of how our community struggles to overcome the barriers and challenges which prevent people from accessing statutory mental health services. And for those who access services, the challenges they face are numerous.

Following the brutal austerity measures and financial crises here in the UK, as well as an increase in racist and Islamophobic hate crimes in a post Brexit society I question if we are experiencing further mental health distress. How does race intersect with the crisis people of colour experience at being disproportionately affected and diagnosed with the label of a mental health problem?

In July, several colleagues and I went to the streets of London and took part in a Black Lives Matter protest. Many of us were and still are outraged at the racial injustices towards our brothers and sisters. During the protest I felt at home with many of my black brothers and sisters and it reminded me of some of my driving forces. One of which is knowing that our mental health system has many flaws. More often than not, members of our community fall through the cracks or do not receive appropriate support. One way we have tried to tackle this issue is with the rise of grassroots community organisations.

With an awareness that our National Health Service continues to experience cuts, and staff are continually stretched I remain optimistic, although some might call me disillusioned. When we compare our mental health system with America for example, I consider the benefits of receiving therapy on the NHS. Many of my clients have often come from a lower socio-economic background which has meant that they would not be able to access therapeutic services if it was not for the NHS.

That said, people of colour face many challenges in accessing appropriate mental health support. We need a mental health system that acknowledges different knowledge systems and ontologies in order to better meet the needs of these communities. I believe that this can be achieved by inciting structural change within the systems which at times perpetuate the disparity of mental health care our cultural groups receive.

I have been fortunate to meet several psychologists and psychotherapists employed within the NHS tackling some of these concerns and encouraging a shift in white Western paradigms that are not always functional for people of colour. As well as working in the NHS, I also engage in independent work and through this avenue I am passionate for us to build safe spaces where we can have open and honest discussions about the difficulties and distress we experience as people of colour in Luton and Birmingham. If you are interested in self-care and taking care of your mental health please get in touch (author contact details below).

 

About the author

Dr Amirah Iqbal is a womanist, an advocate for equality, a counselling psychologist, a writer and an activist. She has worked with many disenfranchised groups in Birmingham, and more recently Bedfordshire, notably Black (African, Caribbean and Asian) communities. In her spare time she enjoys reading, travelling, painting (the key word being abstract), exploring, writing, meditation and prayer. She can be found on Twitter and Facebook.

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.

Image credit:  Jon Grainger


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I got 99 problems, but judging people shouldn’t be one

haram police

It’s  difficult to be a Muslim online these days; if you’re not receiving backlash from Islamophobic trolls, then you can definitely rely on your own community to take the position of judge and jury when it comes to your morality.

Okay, so I’m being a little facetious. But I see it time and time again, and we need to stop it. Right now. Because although the Muslim community has its fair share of problems, one issue that we can fix ourselves is to stop judging other people. If we all took it upon ourselves to be less judgemental, the whole community would benefit. Judgemental attitudes in the community are definitely a major barrier to Muslims progressing in this modern media landscape.

Let me explain. It’s somewhat true that Muslims are misrepresented by the mainstream media. It seems rare that your average Muslim-neighbour next door gets a spot on TV, and more often than not, the position of representing the token Muslim view often goes to extremists, such as Anjem Choudary.

But, on one hand you can’t complain that Muslims never get a platform while simultaneously judging anyone who tries comes into the limelight. If we want more Muslim-next-door types to come forward, we need to stop being so judgemental.

The internet and blogosphere is perhaps the best example of this. There are lots of Muslims doing good things online. But given that there’s so much judgement from fellow Muslims, you have to ask yourself, who would want to put themselves out there and represent the Muslim view?

For example, any Muslim who doesn’t wear hijab or wears hijab with make-up, or doesn’t wear the right type of hijab or wears the “wrong” type of clothing or who puts pictures up of themselves enjoying a concert or music of any kind (etc. etc. etc. Yawn.) immediately gets a selection of comments from other Muslims who think they know better, who feel they are in the privileged position of deciding who’s good and who’s not. It’s no wonder Muslims are reluctant to step forward.

The truth is that we all pick and choose our actions to some extent and nobody can claim to follow the religion to the letter. We’re all struggling with our own internal conflicts and sense of morality. It’s hard enough trying to be a good person yourself without having to worry about anyone else’s path in life or relationship with God.

Furthermore, if deep down inside, you feel you’re doing the right thing, you need to have the confidence to be true to yourself. Life is too short to worry about what other people are thinking or to worry about the judgement of others. If you don’t feel something is wrong, why pretend otherwise, simply for the sake of others?

One of the most basic tenets of the Islamic faith is bismillah, the declaration: In the name of Allah, the most beneficent, the most merciful. If we really understood the essence of bismillah, then it really wouldn’t be possible for us to judge others are much as we do. If God is the most merciful, the most compassionate and the most just, then surely we need to leave judgement up to Him and Him alone.

If you believe in the justice of God, and you recognise your own pale insignificance in comparison, then logically, it cannot be possible for you to to judge anyone else. Because if you think you know just as much as God, then that has to be the highest form of arrogance. Moreover, by putting yourself on the level of being able to judge another human being, you’ve assigned partners to the Almighty. Therefore judging others surely leads you to committing a form of shirk. It’s a simple message; it’s basic, but please, let’s leave judgement up to the only one who we believe has the capacity to judge.

If we go one step further, it means that as Muslims we have no right to use anyone’s actions to judge who is a Muslim and who isn’t. In a recent interview, after being questioned about what it means to self-identify as a Muslim, Mona Eltahawy’s response was this:

“To say I’m a Muslim. That’s it … You see, when people ask you these observant questions, I know what the goal of this is, you’re trying to put people in a box and say oh you’re that kind of Muslim, oh you’re that kind of Muslim. All you need to know is that I’m a Muslim, and that’s essentially what the prophet said, that you’re a Muslim.”

All human beings are judgemental to some extent and it’s something we all struggle with. But if we want the Muslim community to be better, we must allow for different attitudes and try to avoid judging others. Afterall, diversity within the Muslim community can only be a good thing.

None of us truly know what pleases the Almighty or what anyone’s struggled with or what someone else’s true intentions are. If we believe Allah is just, we must leave judgement up to Him alone. Live and let live.

Image credit: http://www.quickmeme.com/Haram-police

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.