Why should Kitaba talk about violence against women?
A few days ago a strange question was put to me. ‘Why is an organisation that supports the Blind campaigning against domestic violence?’ My first thought was ‘what a stupid question!’ ‘Shouldn’t everyone be campaigning against domestic violence and abuse?’ Then I began thinking about the rationale behind our annual Imran Sabir Memorial Lecture. I started to evaluate our vision. I questioned where we are going as a community.
Kitaba’s vision is simple. “We strive for an inclusive society built on equality, empathy and service to others where individuals are empowered and encouraged to fulfil their potential.” A society can be judged by the way it treats its weakest members and whether those with power and ability to raise a voice do so when others are wronged. This is the meaning of empathy and striving for a better society. It is true that our focus is on empowering the Blind but that is not at the expense of our wider vision of creating a better society. Violence against women is an evil that damages individuals and society. Imran Sabir was Blind but he cared deeply about everyone. He had a vision and despite his physical disabilities, he would stand up for justice and speak out against evil.
Since his death on 3rd March 2009, we have marked the anniversary of his death with a lecture about something which affects our society. We have talked about racism, disability, stigma around mental health and this year we hope to talk about something which is both current and relevant. I am sure Imran, had he lived, would have commented on it.
With the tragic gang rape of a 23 year old student on a bus in Delhi in December 2012, the world’s shock and horror focused on violence against women. The UN called rape ‘a national problem’i. However, it is clearly not just an Indian national problem. It is a worldwide problem which affects every community. In the UK, it is estimated that one in four women will suffer domestic violence in their lifetime, many of them on multiple occasions. On average, two women a week are killed by a partner of former partner.ii
The Arab and Muslim world are not exempt. In fact, the problems are often multiplied by cultural conditions. The Egyptian News recently noted:
Sexual harassment has become an epidemic in the last 15 years. In a society where rape victims are routinely blamed for their experiences, Egyptian women were too ashamed to speak out because they felt the harassment was their fault; as if the way they spoke, walked, or dressed was to blame.iii
It is clear that all communities need to stand up and make their voices heard. We at kitaba are fortunate to have that opportunity to do exactly that. I am sure Imran would be proud to have his name associated with this event. Our main speaker, Musa Furber wrote in a recent article: ‘Justifying, excusing, or trivialising sexual harassment is wrong.’ As an American Muslim scholar, he knows the Islamic texts better than most and understands this issue from the both the Western and Eastern perspectives. Regarding the interpretation of some ‘religious’ people he said:
One popular explanation for harassment is that the women are responsible for the harassment since, it is claimed, they flouted religious and cultural norms by adopting immodest dress and otherwise provocative behaviour. Many religious-minded people have embraced this explanation, issuing statements and pamphlets reminding women to dress modestly and to avoid provocative behaviour lest they be harassed in response.
The event will show that there is more needed in a community than just women dressing in a particular way. The Muslim Women’s Helpline (Amina) will show the extent of the problem and some of the channels available to deal with the issues. The main talk will raise questions about how we as a community can deal with the problem. If we manage to do this and we can make a little change then that will be justification for why Kitaba are talking about the issue!
Kitaba Chairperson, Abdul Aziz Ahmed
ii. These statistics are drawn from police data and presented by Women’s Aid on their website: http://www.womensaid.org.uk/domestic_violence_topic.asp?section=0001000100220036