women’s rights

Happy International Menz Day!

I’d like to spend today thinking about all the special menz I have to thank for my fierce feminism. Sure the menz in my family will dominate a thought or two but there are also all of the others. I want to commemorate the dude I shared a house with once. He wanted to get in my pants, would slap my arse as I walked past. Once, when I’d made it clear I’d rather have herpes, he stood in his bedroom doorway at the top of the stairs with a pair of clippers. I needed to walk past him to get down the stairs but obviously couldn’t what with this Neanderthal threatening to shave off my hair. It was a little while before the third housemate came home. I think he deserves an extra big pat on his back for being such a strong, brave manly man.

There’s also that judge whose face I’ll never forget. He ruled that my client was sexually assaulted by her husband but he was under duress due to the fact that she had involved another man, a friend of the perpetrator’s, to protect her from the domestic abuse she had been suffering and so he could be forgiven for thinking she’d had an affair. The perp got away with it. The judge took into account his rather special job and didn’t want it to look bad on his record or something. We continued to support her post trial and defeated, she often asked why she’d bothered going through the system. It simply didn’t make sense to her that a judgement of guilt wouldn’t result in some support for her. She also felt ashamed and embarrassed at the insinuations made by the defence lawyer, that she was promiscuous and had caused her husband to react in way where he would claim what was his. I kid you fucking not. She remained married to him. I wonder where she is now and if she’s still alive. I’ll be knocking back a vodka or ten to toast the judge tomorrow. Without International Menz Day, men might stop being judges and lose all control.

But you don’t have to be a judge to celebrate #IMD. You could be the guy I inevitably have to avoid eye contact with when I leave the house today. You might be walking ahead of me and turn back every few steps so that you can look at me, your eyes sizing me up. I hope you’re wondering about the slim chance that I might be a black belt but really I’m already beginning to think the worst. You guys, you really are the best. You need International Menz Day to remind you that you need to man up, be strong, be silent, beat a guy up if the need arises, ALWAYS get the girl *chest bump* You’re the dudes that might as well be talking about corpses when it’s just you and the boys talking about how many girls you would if you could. I’ve been part of the privileged inner circle of the male world and it’s bad. I think it’s probably even worse without me there. On International Menz Day, why not go all the way and just say how you really feel. It is your day after all.

I won’t lie, the thought of all the good men, nice guys crawling out the woodwork for this momentous occasion is quite nauseating but then, it’s not like we haven’t had a day like it before.

Take yesterday for example.

The shame we feel as women

It creeps up suddenly; self-consciously you adjust your posture to close in a little on yourself. Your eyes drop downwards. Suddenly you feel very exposed. This happens frequently; whether in a meeting at work or walking into a bar and almost certainly when walking home late at night. By slouching, we hope to divert attention away from our breasts, by avoiding eye contact, we can hope they won’t think we brought it on ourselves. We are reminded everywhere we turn, of the temptations we promise, and if we don’t fit the bill, we can be stuffed and pumped up with man-made fillers and human bum fat. If we’re healthy, we’re “starting to waddle”, a timely reminder we shouldn’t eat so much else who will fancy us?

The shaming begins early. They make mini-skirts and boob tubes for 3 year olds. I will always feel sick to the stomach remembering the fascination with Emma Watson’s impending sweet sixteen. Her boyish figure on the turn, she still looked like little Hermione Granger to me. But the lad mags cooed and pushed and towed the line. The difference a day makes, predatory behaviour now legal. The men writing these articles, having this ‘fun’ ‘banter’ are in their 20s and 30s. What kind of meaningful discussion could be had between a young person and a fully grown male adult?

“Getting a bit podgy” they remark when you embark early adolescence. Girls get called sluts for letting boys kiss them. And frigid, for refusing to bow to pressure. The shaming naming begins; slut, slag, whore, cunt, bitch, pussy, ho, sket, ‘punaani’ and many others I’m glad not to think of off the top of my head. When these words are spat, they are designed to cut to the core of woman, what lies between your legs is dirt and because of it you choose to be shamed in this way, with the very same words they use to describe your vagina. They cut deep. Toxic and humiliating, they are effective. The world has made it so. Half of the world’s population has a menstrual cycle, the most crucial component of the human condition and yet, it is considered unclean. In many religions, women are forbidden from intercourse/intimacy at this unholiest of times of the month, forbidden from entering places of worship or from handling holy texts. A ritualistic bath is required to cleanse the body of impurity once bleeding ceases. This dirty blood provides the cushion for nestling cells from which all life springs forth! It nurtures life! It is creation! But they would have us believe it’s a punishment for eating an apple, bleeding comparable to a “stuck pig”.

I am ashamed to admit, in the past, I have used men for protection. You can walk the streets at 2am, your heels clicking on the street, without the fear of someone pouncing over your shoulder. Walk into a bar and they’ll look once but maybe not twice, you don’t even have to think of who is where and whether they could get too close.

1 in 4 women will experience rape or an attempted rape. How can one begin to understand why this is a reality?

But sometimes the same men we look to for protection, violate us. You are more likely to be raped by your husband or partner than a complete stranger. In fact, 1 in 7 women have been coerced into sex. I would call this rape too. In my work with women, I asked “have you ever been raped?” Most women would reply “no”. Follow that question on with “have you ever had sex when you did not want to?” A large proportion then replies “yes”. Non consensual sex is rape. Why do these women feel it is not? In many parts of the world, sex is an ordeal for women, its only function to satisfy man so that he may create life. Male life, preferably. They have been brainwashed into believing that their role as woman is to suffer, because they are temptresses and they are asking for it.

Here in the West we are filled with outrage at the brutality our sisters in the East must suffer. They are not permitted to touch holy books when bleeding; they cannot excitedly declare their pregnancies for they are the result of impure deeds. The birth of a daughter is mourned not celebrated. When challenged, many will defend their rights to such feelings because, one day, their daughter must leave. She is only theirs temporarily, someday soon she will be handed over to another man and her destiny will be in his hands. They can only pray he will be merciful. This belief that daughters are born a burden drives families to increasingly barbaric methods of control; where death is a desirable outcome, preferable to shaming of the family name. What is more shameful than the taking of a life? Why is all the honour of a family placed on its female members? Like a classic car, they are cared for and then sold. No previous owners, no mileage on the clock and you get a brand new CD player, with the plastic still on it and everything. Be sure to check it’s sealed properly; otherwise you are entitled to renege on the deal. Your statutory rights will not be affected.

We have every right to feel angry. How can the world stand by and allow such suffering? Such behaviour justifies war, apparently. “Have you seen how they treat their women?” THEIR women? “True story right, mate was on tour, walking through a village in Kandahar and there was this pretty girl putting the washing out, anyway, they only looked at her and her husband came running out and beat her in front of them. She was pregnant too”. Well, in that case, why don’t you bomb the whole lot and make it your country? How about not staring at pretty girls in a country where rapists are made to marry their victims? The person telling me this story was the last person to educate me in global women’s rights. I knew him to be a user of women; he thought it was funny that he and his 10 friends had collectively taken their turns with the ‘village bike’. His words, not mine.

2 women a week are murdered in the UK. Many of these post separation. Perpetrators murder because the victim failed to obey, or she left or they felt she was going to leave or they’d heard she was sleeping around, for example. Perpetrators feel betrayed and angry and humiliated and so they murder. Is this not also a question of perceived ‘honour’?

15 year old Gemma’s brother in law decided to maul her at home, whilst the family were elsewhere in the house. When she asked, in shock, why he would do such a thing, he responded he’d heard she was a slag so thought he would try his luck. There are girls born free for all, they would have us believe. Bound by secrets and lies, many women suffer in silence. They did not report when they were violated, their resignation an unspoken norm in our 21st century Western society.

I was very young when I first acknowledged I was lucky to be born British, access to a free education being one of the perks. I resented being brought up Asian in a culture that despised us; our clothes were different and we spoke a funny language. I yearned to be English. I wanted to wear shorts and begged my parents for a paddling pool. I loved music and was thrilled to learn my secondary school specialised in this area. It quickly dawned on me, however, that the music teacher only picked the girls with short skirts and beige canvas shoes. I had been graded a clear A for my singing ability but despite this, he would only speak to me briefly and on occasion, ignore me completely. Even at this young age, I knew it was because he did not like me for who I was. It was a well-known fact, a scandal, that this same teacher was married to a previous pupil of the school, 30 years his junior. Aged 11, I felt life was unfair, if I had a short skirt, I could sing a solo too.

I rebelled, naturally. Under my school uniform of shirt and trousers, I’d wear vest tops and wonderbras. Having been an exceptional student throughout my schooling, I started truanting. Aged 15, my friends and I would sneak into wine bars, shirts and ties stuffed deep into our schoolbags. We’d share a couple of lager and limes and marvel at our grown-upness. We had our fair share of male attention. Made up to look 20, I soon started dating a 19 year old. He knew how old I was but that didn’t stop him. My skirts got shorter, my eyelashes ridiculously fat. And why? Aged 15, I’d learnt I had to attract men to get noticed. The contrast between home-life and the world outside the front door was confusing and given the choice I chose the unknown. English girls seemed free. I believed this until aged 22, I applied for a job working in a domestic violence refuge. My attitude rapidly changed as I learnt about feminist principles and how they came to be. In the year 2004, I learnt that women, English women, were being murdered for daring to leave their partners. Domestic abuse is estimated to be the biggest killer of women aged 19-44. Although there are no figures to say for sure, it is estimated that less than half of all incidents are reported to the police and yet, they still manage to receive a call a minute.

“We don’t treat our women like that over here”. OUR women? And yes, yes you do.

We can’t get drunk in case we get raped. We can’t walk the streets at night because then we’re just working them. We can’t wear skirts above the knee or a top revealing the outline of our breasts (like, totally asking for it). If we speak up about our bodies, our choice; we’re baby killing lesbians. If we dare to leave, we leave ourselves open to further attack. If we have more than a few partners, we are slags. If we get raped, we lied about it (unless it was a stranger who dragged you into the bushes in broad daylight, wearing a balaclava, wielding a knife.) What were you wearing? How many sexual partners have you had? Why kiss him if you did not want to have sex? When pregnant, we become vessels. Strangers will chastise you for smoking a cigarette, cupping their hands around your swollen stomach. Why do our pregnant bodies become public property? A visible panty line is the mother of all sins. Our vaginas scrutinised for signs of a camel’s hoof. Young Western girls have their labia minora sliced off so they can resemble their 3 year old selves. At the first sign of fuzz, we shave, wax and depilate ourselves as soft as a baby’s bum. What is so attractive about resembling an infant? When we ask for anything, we nag. When we speak up, we are uppity. We are trouble-makers. We aim to cause mischief. We are responsible for the breakdown of family life. We are the upholders of original sin. We dumb ourselves down to get on in life, lest we are seen as a threat. And still, there are people out there who think we have too much.

When feminism first began, it made a massive difference to the lives of Western women. They made the world change its laws to recognise woman as man’s equal. In a short space of time, they were able to elevate the status of woman to a place where she could be considered, on the surface of it, an equal in a developed world. And yet, here we are 101 years after the first International Women’s Day, developing callouses from the tug of war we are still having with patriarchy. We have papers like the Daily (Hate Fe) Mail refusing to refer to violence against women as domestic abuse. Unless of course it is a female perpetrator. Women of the Western world are frantically knitting uteruses for congressmen in the hope they’ll keep their hands off theirs. And one is never stuck for a pro-choice rally to attend. They’re obsessed with our hairy armpits and shame us for having non-blonde body hair. We write to spread awareness of our struggle, but in doing so we leave ourselves open to attack from sexually threatened men. If only it were that easy to shut a woman up!

It is not a question of OUR women or THEIR women; we do not belong to man. We brown women do not need white knights in shining armour to rescue us from the savages and white women are not just sleeping with black men because they have larger penises. Wherever we are in the world, we are controlled because we are female. We birth the boys, they, as well as the girls, come from our vaginas. Is it a fear of creation? Is it a jealousy, an inadequacy at not being able to do the same? It must be shunned because it is incomprehensible? Whatever it is, it’s bullshit.

Why Do We Abort?

Jane* was a client at one of the places I worked. She was a working mum, barely making enough to break even with childcare costs but she preferred to work. She had been accessing our service for a while. We provided support to women still in abusive relationships, safety planning so as to reduce the frequency of abusive incidents.

She adored her small child; she was maternal and caring and would often begin a conversation with an update on how her baby was doing. Except on this occasion she was fighting to get her words out. She’d called me at the office, asked for an emergency appointment, she’d just found out she was pregnant. I asked her what she wanted to do. “I can’t keep it.” She repeated this sentence a few times. I asked her why. “Because the last time I was pregnant, I lived in fear for my baby’s life.”

30% of domestic violence starts in pregnancy.

Between 4 and 9 pregnant women in every 100 are abused during and after their pregnancies.

(Women’s Aid Statistics)

That’s right. When a woman is at her most vulnerable, most in need of support to protect and nurture the life she is creating within, she has an increased likelihood of experiencing violence at the hands of the father of her child. I’m reminded of a training course where a male middle manager responded to this fact by saying “women are a nightmare when they’re pregnant; I’m not surprised some men react”. An acquaintance shared how his father had beaten his mother when she was suffering postnatal depression. He’d grown up believing his father had been pushed to the limit. It is only when I challenged his belief by pointing out that pregnancy is a difficult time for women, many people appreciate this and make allowances, decent people at least, that he began to see it differently. Personally, I could not understand how he had ever felt his father had been justified. But then, this acquaintance had also been beaten.

Jane felt guilty she had already subjected one of her children to this man. She had been taking steps to leave him, setting a little money aside each week, moving her baby’s toys out one at a time. She did not want to have sex with him. She tried to say no at the start but knew better than to say it again. And so she became pregnant.

“I can’t keep it”. I had to respect her wishes so I arranged for her to attend a Marie Stopes clinic. I went with her. She held my hand whilst we waited, but barely spoke. I wanted to say it was OK if she changed her mind but didn’t want to sound like I was suggesting anything. I just reassured her that I was there to talk, without judgement, if she needed. She smiled gratefully whenever she looked at me and my heart broke a little for her. She was a good woman and an exceptional mother. She shouldn’t have to go through this. But I knew she had no choice. The alternative would mean reinforcing their relationship, enduring another nine months of physical and mental torture, the effects of which would leave a lasting impression on the foetus inside her womb. Attachment and dependency on a person who seeks to control and manipulate and abuse, even his own children should he see fit. She wanted a better life for her children.

I stand by her choice because I have seen the alternative. Abigail* had three children and was expecting a fourth from her new partner. He was a known sex offender. Because of her faith, Abigail did not have the choice to abort. She was however frightened for her life. She endured being dragged around by her hair in the 8th month of her pregnancy. Whilst she was in labour, she had to defend herself from an attack, struggling to prise his fingers from her neck as she experienced another contraction. Following multiple agency intervention, her children were eventually removed from her by social services for neglecting the needs of her children by remaining with her partner. It did not matter that Abigail had been warned she would die if she ever did. The perpetrator was not being brought to justice through a lack of physical evidence, yet they had enough evidence to call her a bad mother and take her children away. How many pregnancies start off unwanted and end up in the care system?

And then there was Sarah*, a very close friend of mine. Following a casual relationship, she discovered she was quite happy to be expecting. She hadn’t known her partner very long but he seemed nice enough and in agreement about the pregnancy. They sailed through the first few weeks, excited about their little secret. One day she called me. “I can’t do it”, she simply said. They’d been out together at the work’s Christmas do. She thought he’d had enough to drink and attempted to hold his arm. He responded by pushing her down. My brave and strong friend did not want a child with a man who did not care about harming her or the baby. She was upset before the termination. And through it. But she maintained she’d made the right choice.

One of the main reasons we abort is to protect the future. Pregnancy is vulnerability. No longer are you only responsible for yourself but innocent new life that does not deserved to be abused. “Pro-lifers” argue that the foetus has rights, more rights than that of the mother. Despite the mother’s mental and physical well-being, she is a vessel bringing forth Mr Man’s seed and effectively signs over her rights. Is it preferable that unwanted pregnancies are forced to continue thus resulting in unwanted children who will have possibly been abused, growing into abusers themselves when they are big enough?

When a 12 year old school friend had to abort, where were the “pro-lifers” and their campaigns to make fathers more accountable?

How many domestic violence refuges offer mother and baby units? Not very many.

This war on women and our wombs is not about the brazen baby killers. It’s about control.

And patriarchy.

Again.

*Names have been changed

** I am aware that this entry has received some attention from ‘no choicers’ who think I have chosen to justify ‘killing of the unborn’ by using domestic violence as some sort of get out clause. They have made the assumption that this is an easy option rather than tackling the abuse and helping mothers leave abusive relationships. *sigh*

I have been involved in women’s services almost 10 YEARS as a refuge worker, outreach floating support in the community and advocate for women at risk of domestic abuse, at crisis point and survivors. I am fully aware of the support available to women both through the state and various charitable organisations.

No choicer comments:

“The fact that these women DO have a choice, i.e. to leave their abusive relationships”

NO THEY DON’T. 76% OF WOMEN LEAVING ABUSIVE RELATIONSHIPS WILL FACE ANOTHER INCIDENT OF VIOLENCE FOR DARING TO LEAVE THEIR PARTNER. WOMAN IS PROPERTY, WOMAN HAS NO AUTONOMY.

“If she is helped to extricate herself from the abuse and domestic violence, then so will her children be too!”

EASY SPEAKING AS A MAN ISN’T IT? THE ONUS IS ON A VULNERABLE WOMAN TO GET HERSELF AND HER CHILDREN OUT. WHERE IS THE PRESSURE ON VIOLENT MEN TO STOP BEING VIOLENT?

“If there is a lack of mother and baby united in women’s refuges, campaign and fundraise for more!”

MAKING ASSUMPTIONS AGAIN.. NO CHOICER, DO YOU KNOW THE DEVASTATING EFFECT TORY GOVERNMENT CUTS HAVE ALREADY HAD ON WOMEN? DO YOU UNDERSTAND HOW RECESSION OFTEN HURTS THE MOST VULNERABLE, IE WOMEN AND CHILDREN LEAVING VIOLENT RELATIONSHIPS? SUPPORT FOR VULNERABLE WOMEN AND CHILDREN IS NOT CONSIDERED IMPORTANT UNDER RICH WHITE MEN.

“If society is lacking in holding fathers to account, campaign and politically lobby for a change in the law so they can be – but don’t think that you can say “father’s have no rights” if then you wish to make them accountable, it doesn’t work!”

NO CHOICER, THESE THINGS WILL NOT HAPPEN IN MY LIFETIME. IT PAINS ME THAT PROTECTING VULNERABLE WOMEN AND CHILDREN IS MY LIFE’S WORK AND YET I KNOW, DESPITE MY BEST EFFORTS AND OF THE THOUSANDS OF WOMEN WORKING TIRELESSLY EVERYDAY, WOMEN EXPERIENCING DOMESTIC VIOLENCE WILL CONTINUE TO ABORT THEIR PREGNANCIES BECAUSE.. PATRIARCHY.

THAT’S YOU SIR. WITH YOUR JUDGMENT AND CONTROL. YOUR RELIGIONS AND YOUR PATHETIC OPINIONS.

Solidarity with my sisters. It is your body, it is your choice. #Feminism

Say It Lots And Say It Loud: I’m A Feminist And Proud

People love to hate feminism. Its core values have been to promote equality between the sexes; political, social and economical. By definition, one could assume that all women would like equality and therefore all women must be feminists. Sadly, this is not true. Feminism has been given a different meaning, one that has been distorted to mean oppression rather than freedom.

I was once told by a feminist that “real feminists do not have to announce they are feminists”. I was left feeling like feminist was a dirty word that we must disassociate ourselves from. It was ok to feel like a feminist and act like a feminist but you couldn’t tell anyone you were one. I encountered a negative response any time I uttered the words “I am a feminist”. People knew about my work, they knew I believed in equal rights and whilst we spoke of these things in the context of social impact and global development of women, it was fine. Most people agreed, most people do hope for a better future for their daughters. Without the dreaded feminist word.

“Feminism has had its day, it’s time to move on as its less about gender and more about education and equality for all then just for women… Injustice is just that injustice. It doesn’t pick a gender, race or creed, people do. This is why I hate feminism, it detracts from the fact that there are many people, men and women, who are unjustly treated, beaten and abused.”

So says a dear friend of mine, who was himself abused by a woman.  I like to think everyone has a friend who they can argue with till they’re blue in the face, it’s going to end in fisticuffs until one suddenly lets up that they were just playing advocate. This is the relationship I have with this friend. He’s a feminist but doesn’t know it. The response he had from the police was an example of best practice. He was offered advice around his options, sympathetic and methodical. Although I do not have much experience of men accessing domestic abuse services, this one example was dealt with efficiently and empathically. Until we achieve equality in authorities dealings with victims, 1 in 5 men and 1 in 10 women will continue to believe domestic violence against women is acceptable. Speaking to my colleagues, there is a perception that male victims of DV are much more likely to be believed by the police simply because they are men.

More worryingly, it is when women take issue with it that I have to question why feminism has left some women estranged from the cause.

“ABSURD ‘feminists’ label all men who don’t roll over and comply as rapists.’Feminists’ do all women a disservice.”

This in response to men should take more responsibility when attempting to sleep with an inebriated partner. Decency dictates that if either partner is in such a state that they might not remember, it’s probably best to leave it. We live in a society where women feel it their duty to protect themselves from attack. Don’t get so drunk you cannot consent. Whilst men are free to get as drunk as they like without a perceived threat to their sex. If a group of men got drunk and one of their party chose to have stick it into another whilst he was too drunk to consent, that would be rape. No questions asked. He wouldn’t be asked whether his clothing was too revealing. We wouldn’t dream of saying he had lured the rapist into his bed with his provocative behaviour. We wouldn’t suggest it would not have happened had he been sober.

The more I try to understand the role of woman in society, the more I struggle to remain focused on equality. How can I accept that “feminism has had its day” when we are further from equality than we were 2 years ago? The global war on women has reached dizzying heights of violation. Our wombs are up for debate, both sides of the Atlantic. I have never witnessed such a fixation on the reproductive rights of women, misinformation around abortion and toxic shaming of those who make the choice to abort. I cannot think of a more gross violation of an individual’s human rights and the right to privacy than the pro-lifers camping outside abortion clinics. Their actions are forceful and coercive. How can they be allowed to protest when protest for the masses is being criminalised? An on such a deeply private matter.

They’re turning the clock back to their 70s by withdrawing crucial funding. Right now, we must accelerate our feminist activities, spread our arms and become more inclusive. Otherwise we’ll hear more news like this:

“Pavan Amara interviewed 38 working class women from across the country for her report that was published on the F-Word website last week. She found that working class women had effectively been excluded by a movement that was failing to reach the people who really needed it. It was only when the class divide was crossed that the problem became evident.”

(http://www.islingtontribune.com/reviews/cinema/2012/mar/feminism-failing-are-working-class-women-being-excluded-movement)

Coming from a working class background, 2nd generation Asian, I would say there is some truth to this statement. I didn’t notice one day I was part of the movement; I was born this way. I actively sought it and initially struggled to find my part in it. There is a divide between white middle class feminists and the rest of us. I found my experiences a hindrance to my work. Somehow because of what I was going through and in some way, still experiencing, I felt my contribution was not as valid as someone who had done a degree in Gender Studies and a Masters in Women’s Rights. Surely the people best placed to help people overcome abuse are those who have been there and felt it themselves? Isn’t that where true empathy comes from?

As with an ideology, there will be sections and subsections sprouting from wherever it can be extended. For my part, I cannot understand the Transphobia emanating from some radicals on the feminist spectrum. The root meaning of the word for me is equality. And I do believe we can achieve equality together, female and male feminists working together to smash patriarchy.

Feminists of the world unite; you have nothing to lose but your shackles. 

Honour Based Crime: It’s Their Cultural Right

Domestic violence is illegal in this country. The term domestic violence extends to threatening behaviour, violence or abuse (psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional) and it doesn’t just affect spouses but also family members or members of the same household, irrespective of gender or sexuality. When an assault or threat of an assault is reported the police have a duty to investigate. Except in some cases they say they cannot undertake their duty lest they offend on grounds of cultural differences.

I am yet to encounter a culture where domestic abuse is enshrined as one of their respected practices. As in any culture across the world, the majority of people are peaceful and benign in their actions. They can be reasonable and resolve issues without resorting to harm. Islam, a religion that is touted as punitive and regressive to the development of women is often held up as an example by right wing pressure groups and media in the West of how men in the East continue to control their women because their holy book says so and somewhere in this book, it is alleged that God decrees domestic abuse as the right of man, it is not apparently a religion of peace as its followers believe but one of violence and control, oppressive and archaic. I’m not a Muslim by a long stretch of the imagination but I was institutionalised once upon a time. And I was victim to such abuses. However, I cannot say that I was abused because the good book said so. I was abused because the men in my family were hellbent on control.

Having arrived in the 60s, my grandfather (ex-army) had to muddle his way through British life by himself for the first few years. He found work as a foreman for British Steel. Without their wives and children, groups of men in their tens would share grotty bedsits in an effort to stay alive on the meagre wages they were paid but also to save so they could bring their families over. It was a time of deprivation and disorder; they were not wanted in this country. I think my grandfather was a very angry man, put upon and controlled by other men he could not afford to say boo to. And so the cycle began. They would bark orders at him and he would beat it down to her, my grandmother. She was a poor village girl he’d fallen in love with and eloped. Strange that my grandparents had what we term a love marriage whilst they forced most of their own children into marriages they did not want. I believe they did this because they felt they had to protect their culture. I remember my mother laughingly telling me how my gran had reacted to the news a distant relative had recently got married to a white man. My grandmother was adamant my sister and I should not hear about it, just in case we did the same.

Whenever any group migrates to new shores, they become insular, protective of who they are and where they come from. The culture in the Motherland will continue to move on and adapt, becoming modernised and globalised. When I went to Pakistan in 2002, I was shocked to find my girl cousins wearing short sleeves and getting their eyebrows done at the local beauticians. We were forbidden from doing such things. When your culture is not being oppressed, it is easier to move with the times. My cousins were not beaten, they were all studying and one was even going into engineering. Domestic abuse is not part of South Asian culture.

It is not part of Islam either. You’ll get the fundos with their beards and cropped trousers offering dawah, with their various takes on Islam and the role of the woman. One offered “if God did not exist (wait for him to finish saying his astagfirullahs) then woman would look to her man as her God”. Wait a minute, last time I checked it was women who had the power to create. If God did not exist (sorry god), then surely it is woman who takes the place of creator?

In relation to abuse, I have found two teachings which shed some light. Firstly, there is a passage on chastisement (domestic abuse to you and me). It is recommended, if the woman should speak out of turn (my mind usually wanders at such a sentence) then it is permissible to strike her on the arm with a ‘miswak’. A miswak is a twig from the Salvadora Persica tree which is used to clean the teeth. It is no bigger than your hand and about the thickness of a standard pencil. Texts are largely open to interpretation but I believe this to mean, you shouldn’t hit your wife. There is another teaching from the hadiths which suggest that if an argument ensues and your opponent is not a physical match to you, one must lay down on the ground. The change in stance has a calming effect. Perhaps I have chosen to focus on the bits where confrontation and violence are discouraged but when Muslims the world over call it the religion of peace, maybe it’s time we started listening.

Domestic abuse is not a cultural practice. It is the worst manifestation of control by people who feel the need to exert their control. I personally believe that statutory agencies are using this excuse to avoid having to deal with people they might not understand or actually care for. This excuse has gone on long enough, why are these agencies not putting some of their budget into courses designed to tackle culturally sensitive issues? For if they did, they might realise that saying domestic abuse aka ‘honour’ based crime  is a cultural thing, they ‘d be saying the same about us Brits. Where one person has intentions to harm another’s body or state of mind, the state has a duty to protect. Irrespective of the excuses the perpetrators think up.

Bad Romance: Women’s Suffrage

How To Support A Survivor Of Domestic Abuse

When 1 in 4 women will experience domestic abuse at some point in their lives, we all need to be prepared to deal with the fact that it might happen to someone we love. If you suddenly found out that your sister was being abused by her loving, doting husband, how would you react?

DON’T SAY: I can’t believe he would do something like that, what did you do? Why would he hurt you?

Perpetrators of domestic abuse are often charming and sociable characters. They know how to manipulate people into thinking they are calm and reasonable. Your sister will not have seen this side to him; he was hardly going to begin the relationship in his true colours. Asking her what she did and why the abuse took place is justifying the act. There are no excuses for physical and emotional abuse. I have had people argue that “she deserved a slap” for her behaviour. Or “she made me do it”. Nobody makes an abuser do or feel anything; they allow themselves to feel a certain way because it is never their fault, somehow they are always the wronged party. However she might behave, the decent thing for him to do is walk away.

DO: Offer to listen, without judgement or advice. However much you may want to protect your friend/family member, you cannot start telling them what to do. Chances are she is trying to leave a controlling situation, the last thing she will want is more orders. Instead, calmly offer your shoulder and listen. This might be the first time she has disclosed anything so you want to remain calm and in control. If you break down, she might feel she is burdening you. If she does ask for your help, you can call the National Domestic Violence Helpline: 0808 2000 247 where they can advise you on how to plan around safety and advise on the steps she will need to take should she need to flee.

Remember: It has taken a lot of courage to break her silence. Confidentiality is key. You are there to buoy her spirits and offer reassurance that she is not alone. She might want an immediate solution, then again she might not. Relationships are complicated and there are bonds that run deep. He might be her abuser but he could also be her first love, the father of her children. She might just want him to seek help. You are not there to judge but to make life more bearable.

I have been approached once or twice by women who are dear to me. In these situations, I knew their partners, we all socialised together. Holding it together for them, kissing their abuser on the cheek when meeting, is difficult and requires strength and diplomacy. You can never lose sight of the trust your friend/family member has placed in you by confiding. Should they see past the façade, the consequences for your loved one could be devastating. Also, although you are trying to save the day here, don’t be a hero, you do not want to make yourself a target.

If you do find yourself involved in a situation where harm is imminent and your loved one needs to escape urgently, get together some essentials. Toiletries, passport, a change of clothes. Children’s favourite toys. Refuges are furnished and if she is not able to get away with more than what she is wearing, some refuges can make arrangements for provision and may also be able to enlist the help of the local police should she need to return to the property for the rest of her belongings. Ensure this is all done in a safe manner, if it is not possible then simply leave to another day.

As I have previously mentioned, the National Domestic Violence Helpline can help with queries. I am also here should you need additional support.

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