What’s happened since the Charlie Hebdo attacks?

Journalist & comedienne Shaista Aziz presents “A Nation Divided? The Charlie Hebdo Aftermath” on BBC3 tonight at 9pm

When 11 journalists from the controversial French magazine Charlie Hebdo were shot dead in January this year, for cartoons that blasphemed the Prophet Muhammed, it rocked the world. At the time, I commented that it was watershed moment, much like the 9/11 attacks. The rise in Islamaphobia that we’ve seen since 9/11 has intensified, with different groups feeling a ripple effect.

In a documentary to air tonight on BBC 3 “A Nation Divided? The Charlie Hebdo Aftermath”, journalist and comedian Shaista Aziz travels to France to explore what life has been like there for Muslims since the attacks earlier this year.

Shaista spoke exclusively to me about her experience.

“I wanted to explore what was really behind the Je Suis Charlie hashtag. At first when people aligned themselves to this, it was very much in favour of free speech. But it became a tag that really divided people. In making this film, I wanted to deconstruct what that was about, and what life has been like since the attacks”

What she found, in some cases, was startling.

“Some French Muslims have felt like they have been rejected by mainstream France. They say they have been forced, in some cases, to disown the French part of their identity. They are Muslims- but not French Muslims. The concept of “country of origin” has become a real issue. Second generation immigrants are not considered French so instead they identify with the faith or the heritage of their parents- because some sections of France won’t accept them.”

“In a country where secularism is the cornerstone, and is there to protect minorities, we’re actually seeing the rise of religious discrimination; with many being pushed away from mainstream society. One young man said he ‘felt locked out’ of France ‘with the key thrown away’.”

“One woman I spoke to, (who doesn’t wear the hijab), says she is unable to find a job because of her Arab name despite being highly educated and well qualified. She changed her name on her CV to a French one and the job interviews started pouring in.”

“Sadly, women face the brunt of discrimination. Because France believes religion should not be visible in public life, the hijab is banned from government offices, public buildings and schools. Therefore women who do wear the hijab elsewhere- particularly in the poorer, more racially diverse suburbs suffer discrimination because they wear a visible religious symbol in a secular state. For example, one girl I spoke to has been excluded from school for four years now because she refuses to give up her headscarf- she is missing out on an education.”

“Ultimately, there are two key issues at work in this debate: identity and race. Identity has become a hotly contested issue in French society, with issues around race- and secularism underpinning it.”

I asked Shaista how the events in Paris back in January might have impacted British Asians.

“There are different factors at work in the UK which that mean life is different for us here. British Muslims in the UK are better integrated into society, compared to those I met in France. Secularism has caused deep issues in France that we are not seeing here- France certainly has some fault lines that need mending. However the general narrative around Islamaphobia and the negativity around Muslims is seeping into the consciousness here. People are sick of hearing about Muslims in the news constantly- I know I am!

As a result, we are starting to see more visible inter-racism amongst Asians. Of course this will have an impact on the British Asian community, going forward.”

“A Nation Divided: The Charlie Hebdo Aftermath” will be shown tonight, at 9pm on BBC3

Why we don’t care about other women

Women's rights

Trigger Warning: Contains some disturbing material

“It doesn’t really affect me.”

“I’m too tired from work to think about those issues”.

“I’ve got problems of my own”.

These are just some of the excuses I hear from people I talk to as to why gender inequality- actually any inequality, is not a priority to them.

We hear about rape in India; female genital mutilation; human trafficking and the sex trade. We are all horrified for a moment, but then the moment is gone. We go back to our daily lives in which we are not affected by these issues, are too tired for them, or are bogged down by our own problems.

I get it. Life is hard. You’re worried about your job. Your mum was diagnosed with cancer. You have ongoing sickness. Your partner left you. We all face our own battles every day. Trust me, I certainly do.

But you know the best way to get your mind off your own problems? Go out and help someone with theirs. Believe me it will really put things in perspective because there is always someone who is worse off than you are.

Baby girls are being denied food, suffocated or have their spines broken- just because they are girls.

Young girls and women are having their vaginas cut and mutilated for the sake of their sexual purity and so-called “honour”.

A leading cause of death amongst women aged 14-44 is violence from relatives in their own homes.

(Adapted from “Remarks to the U.N. 4th World Conference on Women Plenary Session” by Hillary Clinton)

Still think you have problems?

Listen, I’m not belittling your life. But here’s another way to put it. Speaking at the Women of the World festival in London this month, that I had the privilege of attending, Annie Lennox said this:

“I am resourced. I am educated, I have the right to vote, I have access to medical healthcare. WE must open doors for others who don’t have the rights that we take for granted.”

It is up to us. And it is your, my, our, problem.

Because the truth is that inequality is everywhere- it would be naiive to think it doesn’t affect you.

Do you have non-English name, or coloured skin? Are you an immigrant or the child of one? Do you have a vagina? Do you have children? Are you gay? Are you disabled or long-term sick? Are you on the minimum wage? Are you a blue-collar worker? Any one of these means you will face discrimination in your lifetime at some point- and yes, more than one means you face twice the discrimination. There are power structures in place which mean that most of us will experience discrimination and disadvantage. And that should make you angry. It makes me so angry!

But what makes me the angriest is gender-based discrimination. Because I am a woman, I get treated like a second-class citizen? Really? Sadly misogyny and violence against women is worse than ever before in some parts of the world. Sexism is rampant in public and private life.  And don’t even get me started on how South Asian women- women like me, both in the UK and abroad are some of the most oppressed, most beaten, most raped, most tortured women in world; denied access to any of the freedoms we take for granted like healthcare and education, or just the simple freedom to make their own choices.

Ten years ago at the UN World Conference for Women in Beijing, Hilary Clinton gave a now famous speech in which she said “human rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights”.

So much of what she said was ahead of its time. It’s only now that we are really waking up to the truth of what women face globally. Technology and the instant spread of information have aided that.

So what can we do? Well start by reading up on“India’s Daughter” (you can no longer download it). But you can download Wednesday night’s “Hilary Clinton: The Power of Women”, and listen to Hilary’s original speech in the clip above. Get on Twitter and see what’s trending. Listen to a TED talk. Just get in the conversation and for God’s sake get a conscience.

Social justice isn’t just for angry bloggers like me, it’s everyone’s responsibility. We need to actually give a damn about someone other than ourselves.

No Country for White Men

no country

Last Saturday, my family and I took a shopping trip to East London’s Green Street in Forest Gate. Green Street is a high street of Asian clothing shops, jewellers, grocers and beauticians. It’s a great vibrant little community that also has an Islamic Centre and Gurdwara.

I was there looking for an Asian outfit for a Sangeet night I’m attending soon. I used to get my threading done in this part of London when we lived fairly nearby, some six or seven years ago now, so its familiar territory for us.

But apparently not a welcoming territory any more.

From the moment we hit the high street, the hostile glances towards us became really obvious. Literally everyone stared at us. We went into the shopping mall, people looked us. We went in and out of shops- this was the worst- the shop keepers made us feel so unwelcome. Think of the shopping scene in Pretty Woman before Vivian’s big makeover!

Seriously, it was a horrible experience. In an all-Asian area, an Asian woman with her white husband and their mixed race child are made to feel unwelcome. You could see the judgement and prejudice written all over their faces. It was intimidating, upsetting, and totally infuriating.

I’m used to people, particularly other Asians, judging me for my unconventional life choices, so it wasn’t this that was shocking.

No, what really shocked me was that this racism was happening in London, in 2015. I mean when my husband and I first started dating 15 years ago, there were certain places we’d go that this kind of obvious racism would happen a lot. Brent Cross shopping centre was one of them (!) All the aunti-jis would look disapprovingly at us, sometimes even tut at me. But that was pre-9/11, pre-Islamaphobia (as we know it today), and pre-fourth wave feminism. It was a different time. Social activism via Twitter and the fight for equality wasn’t what it is today. Not that that excuses the behaviour, obviously; but it was of its time.

So why in today’s climate is it apparently even less acceptable, less tolerable, for an Asian woman like me, to be married to a non-Asian; at least in the eyes of other Asians?

Perhaps it’s part of the growing backlash against Asian women marrying out of their community. We’ve seen a sharp rise in this amongst the Sikh community, and so perhaps this intolerance is not just contained to one section of the British Asian community.

Or perhaps the Asians of Forest Gate have become so ghettoised that they cannot hide their surprise- let alone intolerance of a white man and an Asian woman together on their streets. I find that hard to believe though. Green Street sits right next to Stratford, home of the Olympic Village- the Olympics that we won the right to host because of London’s diversity and tolerance. Ok, so maybe that was disingenuous marketing strategy employed by the Olympic planning committee. But still, we’re not talking about some ghetto in the middle of nowhere: it’s LONDON- one of the most multicultural cities in the world!

And equally alarmingly, is that most of the hostile glances came from young women- some who were probably younger than me. I get it when the older generation judge me. They hold to their traditional values which don’t often include the intermarrying of races. But I would’ve expected my peers to understand my position. How many of them have fallen in love with someone of a different race at work or at university, and would give anything to marry him? How many of them want to make their own choices, like who to marry, but can’t because of family pressure I wonder? This is hardly unfamiliar ground is it?!

I think largely what it comes down to is that we are incredibly judgemental of our own people. The biggest critics we face are our peers. Perhaps some of them begrudgingly conform to family pressure and cultural expectations and can’t stand it when one of us crosses the boundary. It seems mind-blowing that there are no-go areas for people like me who have dared to do so.

And before anyone comments: “why would you take your white husband to an-Asian area? You know the looks you’re going to get!” I’ll say this. I think we all agree that there should be no street, no neighbourhood that is a no-go area if you’re of a certain race. But apparently those areas are alive and thriving today.

Advice to mums

britishasianwoman:

Happy (UK) Mothers Day to you all! Here’s one from the archives that I love.

Originally posted on British Asian Woman:

Days are long

“The days are long but the years are short.”

These have to be some of the truest words ever spoken if you are a parent.

When my daughter was very small, most nights I would put her to bed and be so glad that the day with her was over. I was never very good at the ‘baby days’. I struggled with the 24 hour responsibility and I missed my old life. Of course I loved her dearly, but I longed for a glimpse of my old life and the person I used to be.

Now I look at her, ready to start school this September, and I wonder where that tiny sweet little person has gone. She only exists now as a memory. Yes those days were very long- often days of constant crying, nappy changing, food being thrown at me; but how quickly they disappear. That sweet, chubby…

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A letter to my daughter on International Women’s Day

Int Wms Day

Someone recently said “you have to look very hard to find good news stories about women”.

Well that’s true. But some good news stories do exist. You are one of those stories. You represent hope. In your youth and your innocence you are a new beginning, and an end to the unfairness that exists against women and girls today.

You don’t yet understand the world that you are growing up in. There are so many things about the world that I want to shelter you from.

Today, on International Women’s Day, people everywhere are campaigning to make the world a better place for you to live: a fairer and more equal society for you to grow up in.

Closing the gender pay gap

At the moment you read and write better than most of the boys in your class. But at some point, those same boys who right now can barely dress themselves, will overtake you and have a better job that pays more money than yours does. But you my darling are as smart as any boy- don’t let anyone tell you differently. You can work just as hard. We are working to close that gap for you.  So that when you grow up, you can go for the senior jobs that weren’t available to me- that someone behind closed doors decided I shouldn’t have because I’m a woman.

 An end to racial inequality

You have beautiful brown skin. Don’t let ANYONE tell you that you are not beautiful because of the colour of your skin or the sound of your name. People have been telling me that all my life.  They treat me differently. There are fewer opportunities available to me just because of my skin colour- I know that seems strange right? But I have to work harder just to prove I’m the same as they are. We ARE all equal in society and we are fighting to make our voices heard.

That’s why we celebrate International’s Women’s Day. It’s not just a PR exercise as one cynical commentator said. It is a day to shed light on what women can be- and we must carry that forward for the other 364 days of the year. You must carry that forward, and one day you can be an agent of change too. You know why? Because not everyone is as lucky as we are.

Women are not safe

Do you know, there are some women who have to go outside to use the toilet- and in doing so face danger from bad people? Those same women cannot go out at night- like mummy sometimes does when you’re asleep- because those bad people tell them they’re not allowed. We have to tell the bad people that it’s NOT ok to make women and girls feel unsafe. We all have the right to feel safe!

Do you know there are women who are forced to marry someone they don’t want to? I know that sounds really scary. And after they’re married, sometimes that person treats them really badly- they’re not kind like your daddy. I know- we need to do something to help those women. Trust me, I know.

We are activists 

Int Wms Day2So let’s you and I be brave. I often tell you to stand up for yourself- I hope I give you the courage to do that. It’s NOT being unkind! It’s ok to say “no, that’s not right for me.” I’ve been doing it through gritted teeth all my life because I’ve been too afraid. Until a friend of mine, you know Tammy’s mum, pointed out to me that being brave and speaking up is the example I set FOR YOU.

That you will see a mummy that is trying to make things better- for herself, for you.

And hopefully a few others who will join us along the way.

 ***

1 in 3 women across the world experience violence. (London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine 2013)

 

The abuser is usually someone the woman knows: 38% of all murdered women are killed by their intimate partners. (London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine 2013)

 

In the developing world, 1 in 9 girls will be forced into a marriage before the age of 15 (www.plan-uk.org)

 

More than 130 million girls and women today have had female genital mutilation (FGM) in Africa and the Middle East where FGM is concentrated (UNICEF)

 

It is estimated that for each year a mother is absent from the workplace her future wages will reduce by 5%. (‘Motherhood ‘devastates’ women’s pay, research finds’, The Guardian)

 

Approximately 70% of people in national minimum wage jobs are women.  (Low Pay Commission (2007) National Minimum Wage Low Pay Commission Report 2007, Figure 2.8, p32.)

 

Women make up only 17% board directors of FTSE 100 companies. (Women on boards, p3, 2011)

 

Dealing with the comments of a rapist

TW: contains potentially disturbing material dealing with sexual violence

This week, the words of Mukesh Singh, one of the men convicted of the Delhi 2012 gang rape have been ringing in my ears. Speaking from prison, for an interview that will form part of BBC documentary “India’s Daughter” which aired last night, he said:

“A girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy. You can’t clap with one hand – it takes two hands.”

“ Boy and girl are not equal. About 20 per cent of girls are good. Housework and housekeeping is for girls, not roaming in discos and bars at night doing wrong things, wearing wrong clothes. A decent girl won’t roam around at 9 o’clock at night.”

“When being raped, she shouldn’t fight back. She should just be silent and allow the rape. Then they’d have dropped her off after ‘doing her’, and only hit the boy.”

Wow. I’ll give you a moment while those comments sink in.

Isn’t it incredulous that as women and girls we live side by side men who think we shouldn’t fight back when being raped?

Rape is not just India’s problem

And before you say or think that these comments are reserved to Indian men in India, let’s not be naive: rape is not a Third World problem. Sad to say, rape is everyone’s problem. Violence against women is everyone’s problem. A child will learn early on that violence is ok and carry that attitude with them into adulthood. Where does a child learn that it’s ok to hit? Well parents, have you ever told your child to punch back when the playground bully strikes them? We mustn’t legitimise violence, whatever form it takes, even if it’s seen as ‘sticking up for yourself’.

Dealing with South Asian rape culture

But sadly, we cannot deny that these sexist and misogynistic attitudes are common in India, proven particularly when you look at the rape crime statistics. According to India’s National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), the number of rapes actually went up between 2012 and 2013- despite all the protests and awareness raising that came after the December 2012 gang rape. This makes me hang my head in shame.

Mukesh Singh touched upon gender roles in his comment. That women belong in certain spaces and should occupy certain roles in society. It’s easy to write off the comments of a convicted rapist, but really, there are many men- and women in Asian culture that think a ‘good woman’, a ‘decent woman’ is a certain type of person. Until those attitudes are dealt with, people will go on justifying rape by blaming the victim and her ‘wrong actions and wrong clothes’.  What about holding the attacker to account? Where does that fit in the discussion of India’s rape culture?

It’s not sex, it’s violence

And I’ve said it before but I will say it again. Rape is not about sex. It’s certainly not about love and it’s not even about lust. It’s about power. And it’s about a deep-seated disregard of women: misogyny, and a sense of male entitlement- both of which are rife in the Asian culture, I’m so sad to say. If International Women’s Day is about honouring women, let’s do that every day- not just on a specific day that the UN have marked out for us. Every woman or girl attacked is someone’s sister, mother, daughter or cousin. And let’s face it: family is a language that we Asians speak very fluently so let’s use it every day.

Interestingly the lawyers that represented the gang convicted for the Delhi 2012 rape shared the same views as the rapists: that women shouldn’t venture out at night, that it’s not decent for them to do so.

How can we change attitudes to rape and indeed women if this kind of thinking is widespread even amongst the institutions that are meant to keep us safe?

10 years of marriage and I don’t regret what I did

My bridal bouquet. My maid of honour caught it and still has it- I think!

A decade of being married. I can still hardly believe that much time has passed. I don’t feel older, neither of us do. It’s such a cliché, but really, where has that time gone?

There have been so many incredible memories and milestones in that time. One of them was having our daughter which continues to be a wonderful journey of discovery. But marriage is about so much more than the children. The Asian culture places so much emphasis on family, children, in-laws, community. When really, marriage is fundamentally about two people.

My marriage is my life. It’s my Monday morning when I don’t want to do the school run. It’s my cup of tea in bed when I’m sick. It’s the hugs and tissues when I’m scared about cancer, or the future or some other monster in the closet. It’s the person I care for, who I root for. It’s the person I’ve watched get older but who still looks the same to me as when we met 15 years ago.Yes, my marriage is my life.

My family didn’t give us their blessing and they refused to come to our wedding. I had chosen to marry outside of their wishes and expectations so I guess they thought we wouldn’t go ahead if they dug their heals in. We were told of another couple who postponed their wedding because of a similar situation. To us that was never an option: our marriage was always for the two of us, not about the joining of two suitable families. It didn’t matter if the people around us didn’t get that.

My wedding day was glorious- even without them there. I had never envisioned a situation where they would be, so I was very mentally prepared. Our friends and my in-laws were so wonderfully supportive. No one made me feel weird about the fact that there was no father- of -the- bride. There was an unspoken understanding and it was ok.

I’ve been lucky enough that my relationship with my parents has been restored to some extent. I know a lot of Asian women in my position aren’t as lucky as me in that respect. But there are still sections of my community that are a no-go. We are purposely shunned on a lot of important family occasions because “I didn’t marry a suitable person.” Well that’s just makes me laugh at how ridiculous a statement it is. I’ll decide who is suitable for me, thank you.

Still the isolation and rejection hurts sometimes- I’m not that strong minded every day. But I’m overcoming that- as I see more and more that I don’t want to be a part of that culture, that closed-minded mentality. Moreover, I don’t want to raise my daughter in a culture so riddled with judgement and so built on status and vanity. I want to give her choices I never had. To know that as a woman, she is equal to a man in God’s eyes, and that she will be loved by us unconditionally.

People ask me if I regret my choice to marry outside of the community. It makes me smile to even think about it. I am so pleased I did what I did. There’s never been a moment of regret. Yes family is a huge deal for us Asians, and there have been moments in the last ten years when I’ve ached for them so much I could barely breathe.

But you know what? Now we are our own family. And I get to live out my own notions of what family should be: unconditional love, boundaries without judgement, acceptance.

And have I told you how safe I feel? With my little family, I am not afraid anymore.

 

He always makes me feel safe.

Thank you for ten wonderful years together darling.