I wish I had a nickel for all the times I’ve said, “Where are the feminists?,” but here’s one. “Deborah Orr: It’s all very well to be sensitive to Islam, but we cannot ignore the suffering of women,” from The Independent (thanks to all who sent this in):
[…] There may no longer be much in the way of ideological enthusiasm for what can be described as multiculturalism. But in practice it gathers pace anyway, and there remains an unwillingness to take even a normative stance against it. Tony Blair may have declared that he considered the veil to be “a sign of separation”. But there is little sign of any appetite for issuing any formal guidance that might suggest that such dress is not in keeping with the values and aspirations of modern British life. Anyway, as it was learned then, the venting of any disgruntlement over strict Islamic practice in Britain tends to give courage to those who prefer to vent their disapproval personally, and with little regard themselves for that beloved “rule of law”.
In a report for the now-defunct Equal Opportunities Commission in 2005, into some pilot projects investigating the practicalities of enforcing the public sector gender duty, it was noted that the rights of Muslim women might “be termed a high-awareness, low-action area”. Never a more true word was said. The Independent on Sunday reported this weekend that the police estimate that there may be as many as 17,000 acts of violence perpetrated in the name of “honour” against Muslim women each year. Yet, for all its supposed commitment to the rights of women, the Government shied away from framing legislation designed to tackle so-called “honour” violence, even though the mainstream of Muslim opinion seeks to distance itself from such barbarism.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission is headed by Trevor Phillips, who has sagely warned that if Britain does not get a grip on issues like these, we will continue “sleepwalking towards separation”. But this week, when I requested information from the commission about the work it is doing or has done on the interplay between gender inequality and adherence to Islam in Britain, all that was available was an old report by the Commission for Equal Opportunities into the level of discrimination that Muslim women faced in the workplace. I was advised by a press officer that “we probably don’t have enough of an evidence base to talk about this” and was referred to a global organisation called Women Living Under Muslim Law. Quite a different matter.
Meanwhile, a group called Empowering Muslim Women, under the auspices of the University of Oxford, was awarded a Â£3.75m grant by the Government in 2006 to run a five-year research project into systematic and sanctioned discrimination against women by political Islam. There is nothing to disagree with in this project, save to note that it is concerned only with Muslim women abroad “in indigenous contexts”. It is clear that the same theological and cultural trap applies to women living here “under the rule of law” as well….