Friday, 29 November 2013

Amina's Response to Scottish Government’s Proposal’s to Criminalise Forced Marriage: 29/11/2013

At Amina the Muslim Women’s Resource Centre we firmly recognise forced marriage as gross human rights violation and an issue which must be taken very seriously. We commend Scottish Government and Police Scotland for their commitment to tackling this issue. However we also feel that any decision taken in regards to changes in the law and policy must be with a view to prioritising the safety of individuals at risk of, or in a forced marriage. With that in mind we have concerns about the Scottish Government’sproposals to criminalise forced marriage and what this could mean for victims and potential victims.

We understand the desire to send a strong message to perpetrators of forced marriage, through the creation of a criminal offence; but forced marriage, by its very complex and secretive nature; often involving members of the family, is likely only to come to light if a victim or potential victim reveals what they are experiencing. At the moment there is a lack of reporting, and that is an issue. However we are not convinced that the creation of a criminal offence will increase the number of victims approaching authorities, in fact there is a risk of the opposite effect.
Furthermore, we are confident that where other criminal activity takes place there are current criminal offences which could be applied in these situations, much like the current situation in cases of domestic abuse. 
We must also consider the position of individuals who are currently in marriages which were forced. At the moment individuals who have entered into a marriage under duress are able to have the marriage annulled. Our concern would be that there would be more pressure on these individuals to remain in their forced marriage if disclosing that they had been forced into marriage, by family members for example, could result in their family members facing criminal charges. 
We would support consideration being given to an alternative proposed by Scottish Women’s Aid, Dr Aisha Gill, Southall Black Sisters and the Aishana Network to introduce forced marriage as an aggravating feature during the sentencing stage of criminal proceedings. Furthermore we would emphasise that more could be done to ensure a robust and effective response to forced marriage disclosures by providing mandatory training to all frontline service providers; be that Police, Education, Social Work or Health.

We conclude by emphasising that at Amina we are careful never to speak on behalf of our service users or clients group, namely Muslim women in Scotland. We would urge that it would be worthwhile presenting these proposals, and alternatives, for consultation to the wider communities in order to gain the views of those communities likely to be affected. We would be happy to facilitate such interaction in any way we can.

Please do share your thoughts in the comments below!!

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Where is our empathy?

When we are young we are taught; be nice to others; treat others how you would like to be treated: be caring. In other words, we are taught compassion and empathy in its simplest form. But something appears to have gone wrong somewhere. Somewhere we lost the compassion and empathy for victims of certain crimes.

I was upset when I read a recent report from White Ribbon Scotland. They found “1 in 4 young people (16-24 years) believe that a woman is partly responsible for being raped if she is drunk or dressed provocatively.” But sadly, I was not surprised. All too often when there is a story about domestic violence, rape, or sexual harassment, the first questions asked are “why was she there?”, “Why didn’t she leave?”, “How much did she have to drink?”, “What was she wearing?”

Where is our empathy? Our compassion?
When it comes to domestic abuse, rape and other forms of violence, we don’t want to put ourselves in the shoes of the victim because these things are too horrific to imagine. It is easier to separate ourselves from the statistics, from the stories on the news, from the realities of violence against women by identifying ways which the victim is different from you. “I wouldn’t dress that way”; “I don’t drink”; “I don’t walk down that street at night”.

Part of me wishes that I could say that this will keep you safe. But that’s not true. And I truly believe that the way we dress and behave should be motivated, not by fear, but by our personal choice, beliefs and values.

The only way to truly create a safe society for women; for our mothers, our sisters, our friends, is to tackle the REAL cause of rape and other forms of violence against women. Clothing is not the cause of rape. Neither is alcohol. Nor the street you walk down. Rapists cause rape. Just as abusers cause domestic abuse.
And it is these attitudes, these excuses, which give them impunity to do so.
The culture of victim blaming creates a belief that abusers and rapists are not responsible for their actions. What message does this give to victims? It’s your fault! What message does this give to perpetrators? That their behaviour is acceptable to us?! Men should be offended by ideas that rape can be excused because of the woman’s behaviour or appearance. Surely the other side of that coin is saying that men cannot control themselves and they are all monsters whom women need to protect themselves from.  But this is absolutely not true. Crimes of violence against women are perpetrated by a small minority of men.

So let’s put the blame firmly where it belongs. Let’s start reframing our thinking. Let’s start asking the right questions and pointing our fingers of judgement in the correct direction. Let’s send a message that violence against women will not be tolerated in our communities.

Join our campaign for change.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Shining a Light on Forced Marriage

Caitlin is a student and a volunteer for the Violence against Women project at Amina. She recently created a documentary on the topic of forced marriage. 

Forced Marriage Victim: "I had no where to go, no-one on my side. I felt trapped."
Forced marriage is an issue I was aware of, but had heard very little about. I had never really thought about it as I don't associate it with my community or people I know.
It was only after making a documentary (see below) about the issue that my eyes were really opened to just how big a problem it is and how close to home it can happen!

I'm a media student and, this year, I was set the task of making a documentary on a topic of my choice. My group decided on forced marriage after my Muslim friend suggested it, saying that it often goes unreported and isn't talked about enough. We then set out to shed light on the issue, focusing mostly within the Muslim community in central Scotland.

When we started filming the video I found out a lot more about the issue that I hadn't known or understood before, like the difference between "forced marriage" and "arranged marriage". Two terms that seem to be used interchangably in the media, but are in fact very distinct. An arranged marriage is a common practise where a marriage is decided by the families, but the final choice remains entirely with the couple to be married. Forced marriage, on the other hand is where one or both people do not agree to the marriage, and they are often tricked or pressured into it. No-one should ever be emotionally or physically forced into marrying someone they do not want to. 

It was eye opening hearing stories of people who were victims of forced marriage.

"I could tell by the way they spoke they were going to force me in on it." - One of the survivors explains to us how her family acted around her as they tried to force her into marriage.

It was hard hearing what these young people had gone through, and how their experience would now affect their life. I couldn't quite believe what I was hearing, they spoke about being tricked and feeling trapped or being made to feel guilty and shameful. It was at this point that I realised this happens to real people, who I might even know, and I found that very shocking and hard to come to terms with. Luckily, these people were able to seek help.

Forced Marriage is a real issue and there needs to be a real effort to tackle this problem, like Mridul Wadhwa (Shakti Womens Aid) said in our documentary, "...we have to recognise that it is all our problem!"

Over the course of the filming there was one message that kept coming up again and again: You Can Change This. I really felt that in making the documentary I was doing a small part to Change This. Talking about the issue actively helps everyone involved and unites us to speak out and tackle the issue. Amina's You Can Change This campaign is raising awareness about the issue of forced marriage; we need to break the silence and we need everyone to help us spread this message.

"It's not fruitful, it's against our faith and it doesn't produce positive results." - Shaykh Amer Jamil, on forced marriage. 

If you are worried that this might be happening to you or someone you know, support is available.

Remember that this is not your fault and you are not alone. Don't be afraid to speak out.

Please leave any comments below - would be great to get your feedback about our documentary!

Speak soon,

Monday, 12 August 2013

Sexual Harassment - Muslim Women Break their Silence.

"1 in 5 of every woman that walks down a British street, has been the victim of a sexual offence from the age of 16"
We have recently heard the shocking and disturbing news of sexual harassment on a massive scale during political protests in Egypt(link)

Women are openly being attacked and sexual violence is being used against them as a way to silence and discourage them from taking part in such protests. This got me thinking...sexual harassment is an issue that affects our day to day lives and is in our community and throughout society as a whole. The best way to tackle this problem is to speak out and be vocal.
We asked Muslim women in Glasgow about their views and personal experiences of sexual harassment.

"It used to happen a lot more when I was younger, (now) it happens less but I'm still very conscious of the way I dress. I'll make sure I have a scarf round my neck or make sure I don't have anything on that's too short. I don't wear tight trousers or tops. I'm very very conscious that some Muslim men do stare and they don't hide it. They just don't bother to hide the fact they are looking at you." - Aishah

"Going shopping and stuff, you could be in a crowded shopping centre and you can feel that someone is touching you. This is what I experienced when I was very young. I feel like now there is a lot more knowledge about sexual harassment and we're more aware that it is something that does happen to young people particularly" - Shabnam

"One time on a train journey there was a drunken guy all over me and that made me very uncomfortable. He was coming up quite close to me and he was saying horrible stuff to me, quite sexually motivated stuff. There were people around me that could see I was feeling really uncomfortable.I think sometimes people feel like they can't intervene." - Shelina

Sexual harassment can affect women of all walks of life, including Muslim women. This behaviour is totally unacceptable and it is only through opening up and talking about the issue that we can start to tackle it head on. Now is time to speak out, you can change this!

Here are links to some fantastic online organisations who are actively speaking out about sexual harassment: Everyday Sexism Twitter (link) and Hollaback Edinburgh (link)

Please leave a comment on this blog, our Facebook page or our Twitter and join in the discussion!

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

...but what can I do?

Silence is violence. If you see ­something and hear something and walk away, you are telling the victim they’re on their own.” says Change-maker Graham Goulden, chief inspector of Scotland’s Violence Reduction Unit (VRU). (see full article here

If we want to make a change. If we want to create a society where women and girls do not live in fear and oppression; where domestic abuse is not part of everyday life; where religion and culture are not misused to justify wrong-doing. Then we need to speak out against injustices.

"As a change-maker, what can I do if someone I know is experiencing abuse?"
This is a question that often always comes up at our You Can Change This workshops and conversation cafes. I think this a real concern for people that know violence and abuse is wrong; people who see a friend in an abusive situation and want to help but feel powerless to do anything about it.
With 1 in 4 women likely to experience domestic abuse, the sad truth is that someone we know is likely to be experience it.
I wanted to share with you today some helpful tips and some resources that you can turn to if you find yourself in this position...

Let her know you're concerned and you care...
o   Women experiencing abuse may not recognise what is happening to them as abuse – abusers often make victims feel as if the abuse is their fault or they don’t deserve any better.
o   For this reason, and others, it is really difficult for someone experiencing abuse to tell anyone about what is happening to them.
o   It is important that women know they will be believed and supported should they disclose abuse.
You Can Change This: by ‘asking’ her and letting her know you are concerned. For example “how are things at home? I’m asking because I am concerned about your safety and well-being.  I’ve noticed (the bruises/that you’ve been a bit quiet/how tense you are). Sometimes these can be signs that a person is being hurt by someone else. Has that happened to you?”
Show you care by letting her know you believe her and she’s not alone. For example “I am glad you told me. It must have taken a lot of courage to open up to me about this. You do not deserve to be hit or hurt no matter what has happened. I know somewhere you can get help.”

Don’t give up on her...
The nature of domestic abuse means that women experiencing abuse may have low confidence and be afraid of the consequences of decisions they make.
In all likelihood, she might not open up to you the first time you approach the subject. She might also choose to return to an abusive relationship after making the decision to leave.
It’s important that you recognise that these are her choices and part of her journey. It is not helpful to put pressure on her or get angry with her decisions.
Remember that by approaching the subject and letting her know you care, and continuing to do so, you are letting her know there is an open door when she is ready to talk. That small recognition that someone does care and knowledge that there is help available may be her lifeline in her darkest moments and the final boost she needs to get safe.

Call the Police...
Remember you are not the police and it may be dangerous to intervene in a incident of violence. If you are concerned about someone’s immediate safety then you can call police.

xDo not...
x Don’t make thing worse/put her in more danger. If you know her partner, do not collude with him or try to mediate.
x It is important that you don’t use judgemental language such as “Why didn’t you say something sooner?!”

You can also get some more helpful information and practical steps from:
For places that women can go for help see our website!

Monday, 29 April 2013

In the words of an inspirational change-maker, Talat Yaqoob "Changing to create a safer and better world for women can never be un-Islamic"

Talat is the Campaigns Outreach Officer for White Ribbon Scotland, an organisation that works across Scotland, with men to tackle violence against women. Before this, Talat was the Head of Membership Development at the National Union of Students in Scotland. She has a background in political campaigning and activism and has been involved in feminist campaigning for a number of years. She also writes regular blogs and comment pieces on feminism and her personal experience of it. She is working with Amina the Muslim Women's Resource Centre, both in her professional capacity, in the anti-violence against women sector and in her personal capacity as a Muslim woman.
Talat Yaqoob, has been a fantastic supporter of You Can Change This right from the beginning. We were delighted to have such an inspirational change-maker speaking at our conversation cafe events in Dundee and Glasgow. We have been delighted to have her support and look forward to working with her again in the future. In this blog she shares with us the speech she gave at those events...  

“I was asked to come along today and speak to you not only in my professional capacity but also as a Muslim women, who understands not only the religious but, perhaps more importantly the cultural implications of being a women in an Islamic community.
In my professional capacity I work in the anti violence against women sector and my work involves tackling violence against women by working with men and boys. Why do we work with men and boys? Because last year in 82% of the cases of domestic abuse a women was abused by her male partner, because young boys are brought up to believe that they needs to be strong, aggressive and dominating and because we live in a society that gives disproportionately more power to men and boys. As such, we need to talk to them, engage them in conversation and change their minds and behaviours. By talking to men and boys we can develop a society where no woman is considered inferior and no man raises his hand at her.

But I’d like to talk to you more as a woman from a Muslim family and feminist.
I’ve been asked, far too often, whether I can be a Muslim and a feminist. I’m often asked this question by people who have misunderstood the religion and have only got their information from the media. If you searched a little deeper, you would realise that Islam is a religion that teaches us about respect and equality, in particular the respect of a woman, a mother, a daughter and a sister. It is not Islam to blame for this perceived attitude, but there is some responsibility in the culture we have fostered within the Muslim community.
In this culture I have often felt less important and less valuable than a man.
In this culture, you are pitied for only having daughters.
In this culture a woman is given identity through her father or husband.
That’s not in Islam, that’s in a culture we have created.

Let’s be honest, this exists across the world and across societies, including western cultures or non-religious cultures. The sad truth is that there is no society where women do not experience violence and discrimination simply for being born women. However over recent decades, many of these societies have become more open and able to question themselves and their practices. Many of these societies have women speaking out and leading change. Progress is slower than it should be, but at least we can say it is moving. But our Muslim culture still feels closed off to conversation about challenging men’s behaviours and supporting women experiencing violence. There is a reluctance to engage or offend and there is a worry that it will create uncertainty or will lead to unislamic practices. But changing to create a safer and better world for women can never be unislamic. It is time for this culture to change, and for this culture to actually reflect the true religion it stems from and the needs of the women it should represent.

Take the example of a woman, newly married, has been welcomed into a new family, but over the months, her friends stop hearing from her, her family don’t get to see her. She has been confined to her husband’s home, is no longer allowed to work and rumour has it, is being abused by her husband. How many of us have heard a story similar to this? How many of us have actually seen this story within our extended families?
What do we do about this? From what I’ve seen, we shake our heads and continue with our lives. But shaking our heads won’t stop this woman from suffering abuse. It won’t stop this woman from experiencing fear, but it will allow her husband to continue abusing and it will give him the power to continue doing wrong. What’s worse, is that if this woman comes forward for support or finds the courage to even consider leaving the abuser, is it our culture’s natural instinct to open or close doors for her? I ‘m sad to say it’s the latter.

There is a Pakistani saying, one that my Dad says often:
“Betian, Maa Baap kehliye Allah ki saab say barhe rehmath hoti hein”
Loosely this translates into, “Daughters are a mother and father’s greatest blessing”. If that is the case, should we not be creating a world in which they are respected, are equal and are free to live from fear? Should we not be teaching our brothers and our sons to treat them as the blessings they are, and in turn get them to consider their own behaviour and think about how have the privilege of living their lives free from judgement and prejudice simply because of their gender?

Respect, or Izzat, is something very central to Muslim culture, but Izzat does not come from a woman being forced to remain silent about abuse, Izzat does not come from seeing domestic abuse as a private issue and Izzat certainly does not come from a man believing he has the right to abuse or own a woman. Izzat, respect and community exist, when every individual in a society is treated with dignity and equality.

I would like to congratulate AMINA the Muslim Women’s Resource Centre for launching this overdue campaign, I would like to thank everyone in this room for coming, listening and participating and I would like to express my gratitude at being given the opportunity to speak to you today.
All I ask is that you listen to what this campaign is asking of you and never remain silent about violence against women, never allow anyone to hide behind their misinterpretation of Islam or Muslim culture, and finally I would ask that you speak to the women and girls in your family about their right to equality, life and aspiration and you speak to the men and boys about their attitude towards women, privilege and power.

Thank you again, and I hope you leave with the inspiration to create change and the strength to challenge.”

Note: A few things about this speech: Usually I don’t advocate using the line “what about your sister or daughter?” when talking about feminism. I believe women should live free from violence against them and in a just society regardless of how they are related to a man. They should be equal as simply women in their own right. But I am also a campaigner, and I know that for a campaign to be successful it needs to talk to the audience in a way in which an audience would hear and relate to. For that reason, this campaign, and I, have talked in terms of relationships and family, because at the heart of the muslim community and indeed, islamic scripture, is the notion of family and belonging. We’ve talked in the same terms, as we, as muslim women are often talked AT or ABOUT.

Speak soon,

Read Talat's regular blog here

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Press Release: Amina the Muslim Women’s Resource Centre reacts to BBC revelations on Sharia Council.

News Release

Amina the Muslim Women’s Resource Centre reacts to BBC revelations on Sharia Council.

The revelations made by BBC Panorama: Inside Britain’s Sharia Courts, highlight a definite problem with the service women are receiving before Leyton Sharia council, featured in the program. An ideology of saving marriages must not take precedence over a women’s safety or wellbeing.

Amina the Muslim Women’s Resource Centre empowers women to fully participate in society by ensuring their voices are heard. We have seen the devastation that domestic abuse causes and our priority is ensuring that women find support and safety when and where they seek it. Our campaign – You Can Change This – aims to unite the Scottish Muslim communities, and friends, to speak out about all forms of violence against women, break the culture of silence, and change these damaging attitudes which allow it to thrive.

The behaviour displayed by the representatives of the Sharia council featured highlights dangerous attitudes toward domestic abuse, including victim blaming (“you should be courageous to ask this question to him, just tell me why you are upset huh? Is it because of my cooking? Is it because I see my friends? So that I can correct myself”); trivialising violence (“severely or just...”); and deterring victims from going to the Police. 
Sadly this incident gives us a glimpse into the mind set and attitudes that some people, including some people in trusted positions continue to hold.

These attitudes are not isolated to the Muslim communities nor are they a characteristic of Sharia Law. But wherever they occur they must be addressed.

Amina has long been aware that there needs to be a change in attitudes towards violence against women and towards women who have experienced abuse. It is important that all community figures are proactive in addressing domestic abuse rather than institutionally facilitating it. That is why, as part of our You Can Change This campaign, we produced a unique film featuring prominent Muslim men and community leaders, including Hanzala Malik MSP, Anas Sarwar MP, Aamer Anwar (human rights lawyer) and Humza Yousaf MSP for Glasgow, speaking out about violence against women. 

Smina Akhtar, of Amina said: “Whether these are rare or frequent experiences it raises concerns for the safety and well being of women accessing some Sharia councils. Where there is a situation of violence or abuse the woman's safety must be the paramount concern for any service she accesses.
Our work with women reveals how devastating the impact of violence against women can be.  Like a lot of other communities, this is not something openly spoken about in our communities and that is why the overall aim of our You Can Change This campaign is to break this silence.  Our campaign aims to challenge damaging attitudes which condone or ignore violence against women and consequently shame victims of violence into silence.”

Aamer Anwar, Human Rights Lawyer said, "There is absolutely no excuse for any Sharia council to perpetuate violence against women. Where they have breached any laws then it  is paramount that action should be taken against them. There is no point in our community repeatedly proclaiming Islam is a religion of peace, tolerance and  equality for women,  to then  behind closed doors (unaware of a secret camera) ride roughshod over those rights. They are not only breaching the existing laws of this country but distorting Islam to justify violence against women. That is unacceptable."

Humza Yousaf MSP for Glasgow said “Throughout my life I have been surrounded by remarkable women who have taught me to treat women with the respect and value they deserve.
It is vital that we stand up together and speak out against violence against women, and make sure that it is not seen as acceptable.
I am proud to be part of the ‘You Can Change This’ video, and I hope that it encourages women who are suffering to seek help, and for others to speak out against both emotional and physical violence.
It is time to break the silence and taboo around these issues so that we eliminate this damaging behaviour.

On the ‘You Can Change This’ film, Smina Akhtar said: “We know that violence against women happens in all communities but we decided it was time some well known faces in our communities took a stand against this issue.
We know it is a minority of men who engage in violence and abuse, but the impact of their behaviour can be felt through a whole community. That is why it so important that these men have joined our campaign and spoken out.
We believe this film is important for two reasons.  Firstly men need to have positive male role models from their communities.  Secondly, there are too many unhelpful and damaging stereotypes which link oppression of women to Islam.  We wanted to tackle both of these issues.”