On the Religious-Right, Secularism and Civil Rights
11-12 October 2014
The Tower Hotel, St Katharine’s Way, London E1W 1LD, UK www.secularconference.com
WLUML's International Director, Fatou Sow, Board member, Karima Bennoune, and Co-Founder Marieme Helie-Lucas are amongst the event's distinguished international speakers.
Join notable free-thinkers, atheists and secularists from around the world for a weekend of discussions and debates on the religious-Right, its attacks on civil rights and freedoms, and the role of secularism for 21st century humanity. The exciting two-day conference will discuss the Arab Spring, Sharia and religious laws, the limits of religion’s role in society, free expression, honour killings, apostasy and blasphemy laws, faith schools, women’s rights, secular values and much more.
Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML) condemn the Law Society’s recent guidelines for ‘Shari’a-compliant’ wills in the UK, which make provision for gender-discriminatory inheritance practices. The Law Society’s practice note includes the following points:
“... No distinction is made between children of different marriages, but illegitimate and adopted children are not Shari’a heirs.”
“The male heirs in most cases receive double the amount inherited by a female heir of the same class. Non-Muslims may not inherit at all, and only Muslim marriages are recognised. Similarly, a divorced spouse is no longer a Shari’a heir”.
Clearly, inheritance conducted in this manner discriminates on the basis of gender. When inheritance follows these lines, economic violence against women becomes viable – financial assets follow the male line and women, even if they have previously invested in property for example, can become impoverished as assets are handed to male heirs. In this sense, the guidelines offer a mandate for the financial abuse of women and their children. Such inheritance practices also blatantly discriminate against ‘illegitimate’ and adopted children.
In 2012, a two-part study on the state of forced marriage was undertaken by Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML) for its program on culturally-justified violence against women, supported by the Women’s Empowerment and Leadership Development for Democratisation (WELDD) consortium. This report is the documentation of that study and was subsequently revised as WLUML’s submission to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) for its report on preventing and eliminating child, early and forced marriage.
Reading the stories of women’s rights activists across the world in the 16 Days blog series has been an empowering experience. The experiences of violence, extra-judicial punishments and honour-based abuse taking place in countries such as Yemen, Iraq and Pakistan are humbling and give us an extra appreciation of the relative security and peace we have here in the United Kingdom. However, we hear echoes of the climate of fear described in these blogs in the calls to our helpline from women and men living in towns and cities in this country. Most of our callers are female, but a growing number are from men and boys. Some callers are too scared to say their names, using pseudonyms for weeks until they begin to trust us enough to tell us who and where they really are. Some speak in a whisper, calling from under their bedcovers or behind a locked bathroom door from a secret mobile phone they keep hidden from their family.
Being a practicing Muslim mother working for a secular domestic violence NGO in London – alongside women from all kinds of diverse backgrounds – may appear to outsiders to be in some ways contradictory.
Usually, these apparent contradictions are not felt in my daily routine but at times one does get caught out and instances occur where I am required to either justify or at least reflect on my choices in values, faith, work etc.
I am lucky to work in a feminist space respectful of all forms of diversity – gender, religious, ethnic, racial and sexual, to give but a few examples. However there are instances, in places like conferences, professional meetings or other events such as a fundraising rock concert, where my presence furrows the brows of my colleagues. As a modest, and if I may add stylishly, hijab clad woman, my presence in a space discussing national and local strategies to eliminate violence against women and girls doesn’t quite fit the stereotype. Perhaps others would be more comfortable if they saw me at a mosque or an ‘ethnic’ gathering or demonstration. Longer encounters where conversations happen reveal ‘benign’ misconceptions of what Islam states and what Muslims believe. Prejudices against Islam and Muslims are as alive in this sector as in any other.
Universities UK (UUK) has issued guidance on external speakers saying that the segregation of the sexes at universities is not discriminatory as long as “both men and women are being treated equally, as they are both being segregated in the same way.”