Southall Black Sisters (SBS) is a collective of South Asian women.1 We operate an advice, resource, and campaigning centre for women in Southall, an area in west London with a large South Asian population. In comparison with many other Asian communities in this country, Southall is heterogeneous and has a cosmopolitan feel to it. All religions and ethnic groups of the Indian Subcontinent are present there, although the Punjabi Sikh ethnic group and religion are dominant.
The first part of the strange title of this article originates in a personal experience. In 1962, after a seven-year bloody war, which made two million victims, Algeria became independent from French colonisation. Shortly after independence, some of us were being introduced, as ‘Algerians’, to some left intellectuals in Paris who had been in favour of our liberation movement.
Who is to say if the key that unlocks the cage might not lie hidden inside the cage?1
If justice and fairness are inherent to Islam - as fuqaha claim and all Muslims believe - should not these virtues be reflected in the ‘Islamic’ laws that regulate the relations between men and women as well as their respective rights? Why have women been treated as second-class citizens in the fiqh books that have come to define the terms of the Shari’a?
* This paper inevitably draws on my previous writing on the international network Women Living Under Muslim Laws, especially ‘Controlled or autonomous: identity and the experience of the network, Women Living Under Muslim Laws’, Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, Volume 19, Number 4, 1994, pp 997-1019. Moreover, the analysis presented owes much to the women linked through the network. Any idiosyncrasies, however, are obviously my own.
Many feminists of colour have demonstrated the need to take into account differences among women to avoid hegemonic gender-essentialist analyses that represent the problems and interests of privileged women as paradigmatic. As feminist agendas become global, there is growing feminist concern to consider national and cultural differences among women.
Despite the extensive literature on nationalism, there are relatively few systematic attempts to analyse women’s integration into nationalist projects. The few there are convey seemingly contradictory messages. Like Jayawardena, those who link the rise of feminist movements to anti-colonial and nationalist struggles note its coincidence with a move towards secularism and a broader concern with social reform.1 Nationalist aspirations for popular sovereignty stimulate an extension of citizenship rights, clearly benefiting women.
Gabeba received a doctorate in English and Media Studies from the University of Cape Town, with a thesis on images of Islam in South African media and art and has published widely on the topic of representations of Islam.
Muslim women are more likely to experience discrimination than Canadian women of other faith communities and remain on the fringes of political power in Canada, according to two groundbreaking reports released by the Canadian Council of Muslim Women.