25th November 2018 – International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women

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25th November 2018 – International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women

Violence against women and girls is one of the most widespread, persistent and devastating human rights violations of our time. That is why every 25th November we celebrate the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. This day is an opportunity for governments, international organisations and NGOs to raise public awareness about the levels of violence women suffer and to try to implement new measures to eradicate it. This year, the UN Secretary-General’s UNiTE to End Violence against Women campaign has chosen the global advocacy theme to be “Orange the World: #HearMeToo”. While orange has been the colour used the past years to unify all activities taking place on this day, the theme makes reference to the internationally popular #MeToo movement, a women’s initiative to end sexual harassment and sexual assault worldwide.

Violence against women and girls takes many forms, including physical and emotional abuse, rape, forced marriage, female genital cutting, trafficking and deprivation of resources and rights. It is estimated that one in three women in the world have experienced sexual violence in their lifetime, while two thirds have experienced physical and/or sexual violence from an intimate partner. Moreover, according to the UN Secretary-General’s report on progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals, in 2012 almost half of all women who were victims of intentional homicide worldwide were killed by an intimate partner or family member, compared to only 6% of male victims. In England and Wales, in the year to March 2017, 1.2 million women suffered from domestic abuse, with around 2 women killed every week.

These horrifying  numbers show the imperative need to keep working to eradicate violence against women and the necessity to dedicate an International Day to raise awareness on the issue, which has been celebrated on the 25th of November since 2000, after the UN General Assembly designated it on December 1999. However, this day was previously marked by activists in 1981, in homage to the sisters Patria Mercedes Mirabal, María Argentina Minerva Mirabal and Antonia María Teresa Mirabal, three political activists who were murdered in 1960 in the Dominican Republic on the orders of dictator Rafael Trujillo. The date was chosen by women’s rights activists to pay tribute to the sisters’ lives and to all women fighting to end oppression and violence.

Violence against women and girls is strictly prohibited by international law. Women’s right to live a life free of violence is upheld by numerous treaties, including the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women (DEVAW) and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). There also exist various regional treaties covering this topic, such as the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment, and Eradication of Violence against Women, the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights of Women in Africa, and the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence.

In spite of this international framework, violence against women and girls is ubiquitous and much more needs to be done to end this problem. Women are still socially seen as inferior to men and this, for some, gives grounds for sexist behaviours and practices towards them that are contrary to human rights. A pan cultural shift of attitudes and beliefs surrounding gender roles and relations is a momentous task, but it is needed in order to tackle this issue. Addressing violent and toxic ideas of masculinity and hierarchical gender dynamics is a must in order to shift these oppressive viewpoints.

It is well known that violence has devastating and long-term consequences for women, but also for their families and communities. Likewise, research has shown that gender equality helps to prevent conflict, and that high rates of violence against women correlates with outbreaks of conflict. However, ending violence against women has not been given the importance that it requires, both at the international and national levels, which is why women still face intolerable levels of abuse. Greater efforts and more effective measures are needed, starting by addressing the funding shortfall in this area, designating sufficient resources for initiatives to prevent and end violence against women.

Although the official response has not been effective enough, international feminist movements are getting stronger and stronger, with women’s movements like #MeToo, #TimesUp, #Niunamenos, #NotOneMore, #BalanceTonPorc and many others, being on the rise in the past few years. Women everywhere are raising their voices against violence and oppression and it is clear now how strong these initiatives truly are.

At JAN Trust, we condemn all forms of violence against women and girls and work to eradicate it worldwide. At our centre, we provide a safe space for women to feel free of sexist violence and to become empowered and independent members of society.

If you want to know more about the work we do, visit our website www.jantrust.org.

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Working for inclusion – Women’s voices in interreligious dialogue

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We are living in a moment in history where people, economies and governments are connected on an unprecedented global scale; what is popularly understood as globalisation. Although these global connections were at first experienced with enthusiasm and optimism, the last few years have brought a rise of extremist ideas and movements that threaten the peaceful coexistence among different cultures. Political leaders have arrived, such as Donald Trump and Marine le Pen, who defend old ideas of nationalism and promote a xenophobic discourse based on the strengthening of national frontiers. In the UK, since the Brexit campaign in 2016, far-right groups have been growing and hate crime has been experiencing a rising trend, with 94,098 crimes recorded in 2017/18.

Given this disturbing sequence of events, we need to promote movements and actions that can improve cooperation between different cultures and religions. The interreligious dialogue, that is; all constructive interactions between people of different spiritual beliefs, plays a vital role nowadays to encourage a greater understanding between the different faiths, helping to prevent extremism and intolerance. Interfaith cooperation has existed since the founding moments of religions themselves, with examples of cooperation and mutual understanding between faiths being common throughout history.  

However, if interreligious dialogue is to have a profound impact in society, one huge gap needs to be addressed: the enormous underrepresentation of women within its formal levels. It is a fact that very few women are found in leadership positions within their respective faith. However, women have contributed enormously to this dialogue at the grassroots level, and have emerged as leaders in many local conflict resolution and mediation processes. One main example was during the Holocaust in Germany, where many Christian and Jewish women started creating religious support networks to help those who were most in need.

Interfaith women’s groups have been very common worldwide, representing an empowering space for religious women to share their experiences of oppression and resistance, and at the same time contribute to a deeper understanding of each other’s beliefs. These groups have on many occasions been of great importance in conflict-settings; building peace through dialogue. Such was the case in Liberia, where Muslim and Christian women were decisive actors in ending conflict and bringing forward a new peaceful country.

Given this experience and success within the interreligious dialogue, it was about time that women started being included at the formal and institutional levels. One of the principal spaces of reunion for interreligious practitioners is the Parliament of the World’s Religions, which was first held in 1893 to cultivate harmony among the world’s religious and spiritual communities. However, it was not until 2015 that the Parliament focused on gender equality in the interfaith movement. That year, a Women Task Force was created to advocate for greater representation of women within the global interreligious dialogue and to encourage the empowerment of women within the different faiths. Although this task force was recognised as an important starting point for women’s inclusion, there is still so much work to be done to amplify grassroots leaders and formalise their voices within established institutions.

At JAN Trust, we believe that respect and mutual understanding are key values to encourage peaceful environments for different cultures to live together. That is why we encourage interreligious conversations and have supported local interfaith initiatives, such as the Faith and Future project, that brought together women from the Abrahamic faiths to discuss their religions, beliefs and shared values. JAN Trust recognises faith as a supportive social force that has the potential of improving social cohesion and inclusion.

If you want to know more about what we do, visit our website www.jantrust.org.        

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Modern slavery in the form of domestic work

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Every year, thousands of immigrant women come to the UK to work as domestic workers for wealthy families. Every year, thousands of them are subjected to abusive situations, where they are subjected to physical and psychological abuse by their employers. According to Home Office’s data, there are approximately 18,000 Overseas Domestic Worker Visas (ODWV) issued every year. A staggering 85% of domestic workers under that visa reported psychological abuse, while 33% of them received no wages at all. It is clear that modern slavery is a huge problem in the UK in a variety of forms and domestic workers are one of the most vulnerable groups to be exposed to this human rights violation.

This cruel situation cannot be tolerated and action must be taken to end modern slavery in the UK and the rest of the world. In 2012, as a result of the introduction of new visa rules, Overseas Domestic Workers were no longer allowed to change their employer, renew their visas or settle in the UK after five years of active work, all rights they had before. This led to a situation where domestic workers did not have any rights to leave exploitative employers, which encouraged abuse and mistreatment to happen without any repercussions. Four years later in 2016, the UK demonstrated some concern by softening some of the restrictive regulations of the ODWV. They decided to allow domestic workers to switch their employers within the six-month term of their visas, however, their right to renew visas was not reinstated.

Even though these changes were in the right direction, in reality, there hasn’t been a substantial difference. Most of the women coming to the UK to work as domestic workers do not have a good knowledge of English and are unaware of their rights and their ability to change employers. But even when they are aware of it, without the right to renew their visas, many domestic workers decide to stay with exploitative employers and send money back home instead of using that limited time to look for a new employer.

Moreover, many of the domestic workers coming to the UK have no choice but to stay after the six-month period of their visas due to economic reasons. This leaves them in an unprotected situation, forced to work shrouded in a veil of secrecy and exposed to high levels of mistreatment. It was at the beginning of this year when the appalling news arrived of a domestic worker who died of pneumonia as she was too scared to go to the doctor. Due to the data-sharing agreement between NHS and the Home Office, the immigration status of the patients has to be reported, which results in many of them not getting the health care they need out of fear.

The abusive and enslaving conditions suffered by Overseas Domestic Workers need to be taken seriously and strong measures are needed in order to end this horrible situation. We cannot continue to allow modern slavery to happen around us without doing everything we can to stop it. We at JAN Trust stand against modern slavery and condemn the awful conditions that many domestic workers are forced to live with. At our centre we work to empower vulnerable women, providing a secure space for those who seek advice and guidance, so they can become independent and active members of our society.

If you want to know more about what we do, visit our website www.jantrust.org

Posted in Crime, discrimination, Ethnic Minorities, International, police, Politics, Uncategorized, women | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The hidden burden of economic cuts – a feminist perspective on austerity programmes

The UK has been going through some years of continuous economic cuts. Since the 2010 campaign of budget cutting by the current government, a wave of austerity has spread through the country, with continuous reductions in social welfare programmes, especially in social care. We have seen how less and less money has been spent in unemployment, housing and social exclusion projects. This trend has produced terrible effects on the population. But sadly, as all too often is the case, women have again been the most affected.

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Public policies are not usually thought of in terms of women and men. But these policies are not neutral, they have a gendered impact that make women more vulnerable to their effects. One main example of this is the case of cuts to welfare. Cuts to welfare, as a result of austerity, has meant that women have been required to prioritise care responsibilities, such as care for the young, elderly or disabled, which can prevent them from entering employment, or facing in work poverty as they are only able to undertake part-time, low paid jobs. Changes to Universal Credit, and other benefit changes will only further enhance this issue for women.

However, policy makers rarely, if ever adopt a feminist perspective to try to correct this issue. And this has been no different in the past few years in the UK or, at least, the effort to support women has not been strong enough. As a recent study proves, women are holding 86% of the burden of the austerity measures approved by the current government. By 2020, predictions show that tax and benefit changes since 2010 will have hit women’s incomes twice as hard as men. And, as always, less affluent women are expected to be the worst affected.

A significant case where economic cuts have had devastating effects on women has been in programmes directed to tackle Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG). Between 2010 and 2012, local authorities reduced 31% of the funding in the sector, from £7.8m to £5.4m. Many local organisations dedicated to provide assistance to women and girls suffering from violence have been forced to close many of their refuges due to economic constraints. As a result, they have been forced to deny assistance to many women in vulnerable positions, leaving them in dangerous situations and fearing for their lives.

But among all women, those from minority ethnic groups have been the ones experiencing the greatest loss during the years of austerity. BAME women from all income groups have been the hardest hit by these measures, and they are expected to lose another 11.5% of their incomes by 2020, a study says. In the last few years, these women have experienced a double discrimination when trying to get a job in the labour market. While already being marginalised for belonging to minority communities, cuts made in English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) funding has further impeded their full integration in society and their chances of getting paid employment.

Women from minority communities are the most vulnerable of all and are therefore in need of greater protection from the state. Politicians and policy makers should be reminded of this if they want to prevent women’s marginalisation from the economy and from society, which would result in incredible loses for the country as a whole.

At JAN Trust, we believe that women and men should have equal opportunities in society. We support the idea that a feminist approach should be taken when treating important issues concerning the population, such as when designing public policies, so that women’s discrimination is not further entrenched. At our women’s centre, we provide free services for the most vulnerable women, including English, ICT and numeracy classes. With these, we try to help them increase their chances of having a better life and becoming active and empowered citizens.

If you want to know more about the work we do, visit our website www.jantrust.org.

Posted in Active citizenship, Advocacy, british, Ethnic Minorities, Inclusion, Politics, Prime Minister, Representation, Uncategorized, women | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Honour-based violence: in need of a stronger institutional response

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Did you know that 5,000 individuals are killed around the world every year in honour killings? Honour-based violence (HBV) is a persistent international issue defined as a crime or incident committed to protect the so-called honour of the family or community. The concept of ‘honour’ has an important meaning for certain communities, and when a woman does not behave as expected she is accused of bringing shame to the family by her immoral acts. However, killing in the name of honour is just the most severe form of HBV, but this practice can be suffered in a lot of different ways, including forced marriages, kidnappings, assaults, and imprisonments. Most of the victims of HBV are women and girls, being those aged  25 or under at further risk.

While this practice is most common in South Asia and the Middle East, there is evidence that HBV is also a major problem in the UK. Official statistics show that around 12 people are killed each year as a result of HBV in the UK, with around 11,000 honour crimes recorded between 2010 and 2014. Although this data is already terrifying and unacceptable, the real scale of the problem may be underestimated in the official records. This is because many women suffering from HBV do not report these crimes due to fear, threats, or emotional and economic dependency on the aggressor. Moreover, the criminal justice system and other institutions, such as the police, do not make it easier for the victims due to a lack of preparation and knowledge on the issue.    

One case of bad institutional handling of HBV that may ring a bell with  you is the one that led to the murder of Banaz Mahmod in January 2006. Mahmod was an Iraqi Kurdish woman who moved to England at the age of 10. She was murdered by her family for escaping a forced marriage to a man who abused her and for later being with a partner of her choice. What is scandalous about this case is not only her brutal murder, but that Banaz did report to the police on several times fearing for her life, but her testimony was not taken seriously and was dismissed as fantasy.

Although the case of Mahmod was supposed to set a precedent in the handling of HBV violence by the authorities, honour killings have continued in the UK and formal institutions are still unprepared to understand and deal with HBV. In fact, although there are numerous reports to the police of HBV violence every year in the UK, only a minority of these reported incidents results in charges. It is imperative that measures are taken in order to protect the victims of HBV and to prevent these practices from happening.   

Honour killings and HBV are atrocious acts, contrary to British law, that must be introduced in the political debate to take strong actions against its persistence. JAN Trust has been working on this issue for almost 30 years, involved at the grassroots level with local communities to raise awareness against this phenomenon and its awful consequences, as well as providing advice and guidance to women suffering from HBV. We also provide training on HBV for agencies across London and the UK. If you wish to arrange a training session please contact us on info@jantrust.org.  

If you want to know more about the work we do, visit our website www.jantrust.org

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Women against the extreme right in Brazil – the importance of global feminist movements

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On the 29th of September, tens of thousands of women gathered in what has been recognised as the biggest women’s demonstration of Brazil’s history. These women took the streets under the slogan #EleNão (#NotHim) to protest against Jair Bolsonaro, the far-right presidential candidate known for his sexist, racist and homophobic comments. Protests took place in 70 Brazilian cities and about ten foreign localities, encouraging between 100,000 and almost a million participants in São Paulo and between 50,000 and 500,000 in Rio de Janeiro to participate (estimates vary depending on sources).

This Sunday, Jair Bolsonaro, far-right candidate of Brazil’s Social Liberal Party, is facing Fernando Haddad on the decisive second round of Brazil presidential elections. He won the first round on the 7th of October with a 47% of the votes, and all the polls are pointing at him as a winner for the second round as well. Bolsonaro has stated numerous misogynist, homophobic and racist statements, comparing same-sex marriage to paedophilia and calling all immigrants “scum”. He also once told Congresswoman Mario do Rosario that she “did not deserve” to be raped because she was ugly, and has stated that he is not against women receiving lower salaries than men for the same job if they become pregnant.

Tension and violent acts started to increase in Brazil even before the first round elections were held. Numerous physical and verbal attacks, inspired by the candidate’s hate speech were reported to the authorities in the months previous to the elections. Among them, particularly notable and terrifying was the case of a woman assaulted for wearing an “Ele Não” t-shirt, by three men who drew a swastika in her stomach with a knife.

Fear about the spread of these kind of actions and an increase of crimes motivated by prejudices, together with the need to stand for women and minorities’ rights, were the reasons that encouraged Brazilian women to get together and organise against the far-right candidate in the Women United Against Bolsonaro Movement. It all started with a Facebook page, created on August 30th, with the aim of uniting Brazilian women against sexism, racism and other types of prejudices represented by Bolsonaro. The page has now more than four million members and was the principal tool to prepare the massive protests held during the last months in the country against the candidate and the antidemocratic ideas that he represents.  

Even though this movement has proved that Brazilian women are strong, empowered and highly organised, what is really new about it is that it has been amplified through social media, as Brazilian women have been organising and fighting for their rights for decades. In fact, this movement draws on years of Brazilian women’s mobilisation, fighting for social causes and human rights in the country. Black women in Brazil have continuously worked and campaigned for the right to land and decent working and living conditions for their families and communities. It is a reality, then, that even though sexism, racism and prejudice might win Brazil’s 2018 elections this Sunday, the strength and power of the Brazilian feminist movement cannot be stopped.

Brazil is just one among the many examples of feminist causes that have caught the international attention and support from feminist movements around the world. Very notorious was also the recent case of Brett Kavanaugh, allegedly accused of sexual misconduct, which gathered women around the world standing together against sexual violence. These feminist movements have been growing in the past few years, creating a strong international network of women fighting together against sexism, whose importance in the international sphere has proved to be fundamental for the progression towards women’s rights. 

At JAN Trust, we stand against discourses that promote prejudices and stereotypes and harm minority communities. Our organisation wants to highlight the importance of having political leaders that encourage respect and tolerance as key values to our societies. As a women’s charity, we stand in solidarity with women and minorities in Brazil and around the world and we campaign against the spread of hate speech and violent acts based on prejudices.

If you want to know more about what we do, visit our website www.jantrust.org.

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Misogyny to be considered a hate crime – what is your opinion?

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Misogyny could start being considered a hate crime, as authorities have announced a wide-raging review of the current legislation on this topic. If you did not already know, hate crimes are acts of violence or hostility directed at people because of who they are, and they are penalised under British law. In 2017-2018, there were 94,098 hate crimes recorded by the police in England and Wales, which supposed an increase of 17% compared with the previous year, continuing with the upward trend since 2012. Right now, hate crimes include those motivated by race, religion, sexual orientation, disability and transgender identity. However, this could start to change once the review initiated by the authorities is concluded.

It all started when the Labour MP Stella Creasy put forward an amendment to the upskirting bill, debated last September in Parliament, in order to add misogyny as an aggravating factor in England and Wales. This means that courts would have been able to consider misogyny as a motivator, and police forces would have started to record these offences. This was seen by the MP and many supporters as a first step to start considering misogyny as a hate crime. In fact, previous research, based on a two-year testing system by Nottinghamshire Police, which became the first force in the UK to record public harassment of women, revealed that there existed an overwhelming public support for the policy.

However, the MP agreed to withdraw her amendment when the government announced a comprehensive and fully funded review, with a much wider scope, of hate crime legislation. This review will consider whether to include misogyny as a hate crime. The campaigners received this news as an amazing victory for women and against sexist attitudes. However, the review will not only consider introducing prejudice against women as a motivating factor for hate crimes, as many other categories are also being analysed. Hatred offences towards goths and elderly people could also start being penalised under hate crime law. But, what is interesting (or controversial), is that misandry, that is, prejudice against men, could also start being included in such legislation. Situating misandry as a category of hate crime, together with victims from marginalised groups, has caused a lot of controversy, but this is a topic which demands a blog post of its own to be discussed in further detail.

Harassment of women and girls in public spaces is an endemic practice, proved by researchers from Nottingham and Nottingham Trent universities, who found that 93.7% of the women they interviewed had either experienced or witnessed it. Moreover, according to the ONS, more than 443,000 women in England and Wales experienced at least one sexual assault in the year to March 2017, and around 144,000 had experienced rape or an attempted rape assault.

These numbers are terrifying and prove the need to include misogyny under the hate crime legislation. Women deserve the freedom to be able to walk in the street without being catcalled, insulted or assaulted by men just for being women. Women deserve a world free of sexist violence, a world where we do not need to be brave when walking home alone at night, but where we can feel free.

At JAN Trust, we work to make this world possible, standing together and campaigning against misogyny and hate crime. We have been working for almost thirty years to raise awareness and prevent hate crime, especially against refugee, asylum-seeking and Muslim women. We also offer classes and workshops that aim to create a safe environment where women can become empowered and integrated members of society.

If you want to know more about what we do, visit our website www.jantrust.org.

Posted in Active citizenship, Advocacy, british, Crime, discrimination, girls, Hate Crime, National Hate Crime Awareness Week, Society, Uncategorized, Violence Against Women | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The difference between Hate Crimes and Hate Incidents

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It’s National Hate Crime Awareness Week this week, and we have been continuing our work raising awareness and educating people about hate crime.

In light of new Home Office statistics showing that hate crime is still rising dramatically, it is now more important than ever to speak out about this issue and say no to hate.

You may have heard people talking about hate incidents as well as hate crimes, but not know the difference between the two. Below, we explain the difference and what that means in terms of reporting an incident/crime.

A hate incident is an act of violence or hostility where the victim or anyone else thinks it was motivated by hostility or prejudice based on one of the following characteristics:

  • race
  • religion
  • transgender identity
  • sexual orientation
  • disability

This means that if you believe or someone else believes that something that happened was a hate incident, it can be reported and recorded as such to the police.

Hate incidents may be motivated by who you are or who someone thinks you are. For example, you may be targeted because someone thinks you are Muslim, even if you’re not.

Hate incidents can take many forms. Citizens Advice have created a list with some examples:

  • verbal abuse like name-calling and offensive jokes
  • harassment
  • bullying or intimidation by children, adults, neighbours or strangers
  • physical attacks such as hitting, punching, pushing, spitting
  • threats of violence
  • hoax calls, abusive phone or text messages, hate mail
  • online abuse for example on Facebook or Twitter
  • displaying or circulating discriminatory literature or posters
  • harm or damage to things such as your home, pet, vehicle
  • graffiti
  • arson
  • throwing rubbish into a garden
  • malicious complaints for example over parking, smells or noise.

However, some of these incidents, such as arson or hate mail, are criminal offenses.

When a hate incident becomes a criminal offence it is recognised as a hate crime. So, hate crimes are hate incidents which break the law.

Incidents which are based on other personal characteristics, such as age or gender, are not considered to be hate crimes under the law. Interestingly, there is currently a legal review underway that could see the introduction of misogyny as a new category of hate, but as it stands it is not included.

AT JAN Trust, we have spoken to many women about their experiences with hate, and unfortunately one sentiment we hear a lot is that they didn’t think it was a big enough deal to report, and they would only think about reporting if the incident was physical. However, all incidents should be reported and no one should feel embarrassed that what happened to them wasn’t ‘serious’ enough.

You may be unsure whether the incident is a criminal offence, or you may think it’s not serious enough to be reported. However, you can report both hate incidents and hate crimes to the police – reporting the incident can give police more accurate statistics and help to put a stop to hate incidents/crimes in the future. Even in the case of a hate incident where the law hasn’t necessarily been broken, the authorities can still direct you down the correct avenues for support.

At JAN Trust, we believe in dignity and respect for all, free from hate, and encourage social cohesion and diversity. That is why we raise awareness to prevent hate crime, particularly against BAMER, asylum-seeking and Muslim women. It is important to be aware of your rights and educate people about what they can do if they are a victim of hate.

Visit our website saynotohatecrime.org to find out more about the work we do to tackle hate crime.

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Hate crime in the age of Brexit – how the current political discourse is motivating hatred

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The Brexit vote to leave the EU has been accompanied by a striking rise in hate crimes in the UK. In light of this, this year’s National Hate Crime Awareness week presents itself as more important than ever to fight back against this division. Hate crime is defined as ‘any criminal offence which is perceived, by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by hostility or prejudice towards someone based on a personal characteristic’. There are five recognised categories of hate crimes: motivated by either race or ethnicity, religion or beliefs, sexual orientation, disability, or transgender identity. However, there is currently a legal review underway that could see the   introduction of misogyny as a new category of hate. 

Hate crimes have been on the rise in the past few years, especially since the Brexit campaign. The latest terrorist attacks have also been an important factor intensifying hate crime in the UK, as some people have wrongfully and unfairly linked the violent actions of ISIS with Muslims living in the UK.  A shocking increase of 123% was seen between 2012/13 and 2017/18, with 94,098 crimes recorded in 2017/18, the bulk of these crimes being racially motivated (76% in 2017/18). These were followed by hate crimes motivated by sexual orientation (12%), religiously-based (9%), disability (8%), and transgender identity (2%); however, the biggest rise was in religiously motivated hate crimes, which more than doubled, according to data. The total sum of these percentages is 107 because some of these crimes have more than one motivating factor.

It is believed that the Brexit campaign, the referendum itself, and the current political discourse are adding fuel to the fire when it comes to the rising levels of hate crime. The xenophobic rhetoric that has become normalised in the political discourse since the Brexit campaign, with the latest example being Boris Johnson’s Islamophobic comments about the burka, is helping to reinforce existing stereotypes about minority communities and immigrants in the UK. It has been because of this change in discourse that some individuals are now feeling legitimised to express their feelings of hate, while at the same time stoking hatred in the minds of others.

Some examples of these hateful acts include the case of a Polish woman being attacked in the street for speaking Polish, a Muslim women being dragged along the floor by her hijab, and two Muslim cousins being sprayed with acid. Stereotypes are very dangerous because they stigmatise entire communities based on false premises, motivating their exclusion and marginalisation. When these stereotypes are legitimised by figures of power, such as politicians, the results can be horrifying, as has proven to be the case in the UK. Politicians should then pay special attention to their words if we are to reduce the growing trend in hate offences.

Hate crimes are a growing problem in our society and action must be taken to control this situation. Steps are being taken, with misogyny potentially becoming classed as a hate crime, which is welcome news as at JAN Trust we have seen first-hand the discrimination that women face because of their gender. At JAN Trust, we believe in encouraging respect and acceptance within communities and embracing diversity. That is why we raise awareness to prevent hate crime, particularly against refugee, asylum-seeking and Muslim women. Visit our website saynotohatecrime.org to find out more about the work we do to tackle hate crime. We must continue to work together to put an end to hatred!

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Representation and responsibility: Film and TV writers need to acknowledge their influence and use it wisely

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Not all film and television writers claim to be trying to alleviate social injustice with their stories or use their creativity as a catalyst for social change. Some may write personal stories, or stories that are completely fictitious or designed as pure, light-hearted entertainment. However, it would be burying your head in the sand to deny that films and television shows have immense influence. Even if your art is deeply personal, the personal is widely regarded as political with the potential to resonate on a wider level. When an individual writes, it is not in a vacuum; they bring the weight of their own world views, experiences and biases to the table. Individual characters or themes explored in a series may consciously or subconsciously change a viewer’s opinion or reinforce a viewer’s existing prejudice.

If we accept this then we must also acknowledge that with influence comes responsibility. For any writer worth their salt, this is a responsibility to not do more harm than good and to acknowledge the messaging your work puts out into wider society, especially in terms of social justice and representation. If your work makes the lives of people who are already marginalised and discriminated against even more difficult, then you must be held accountable.

This has been highlighted recently in the BBC series ‘Bodyguard’, with many critics citing their portrayal of a Muslim woman, Nadia, as Islamophobic. The only hijab-wearing Muslim woman in the series is first showing wearing a suicide belt, which she is about to detonate (representation:  a terrorist). Then it is implied that she is being coerced and abused by her Muslim husband into terrorism (representation: oppressed Muslim woman). However, the series finale climaxes with the revelation that it is Nadia herself who created the explosive devices, free from coercion (representation: determined and autonomous terrorist). Her portrayal as either abused or a coerced/calculating terrorist only plays into already existing stereotypes of Muslim women, and is neither progressive nor ground breaking.

Maybe some could argue that it is just a story with fictitious characters. However, as I have explained, stories are rarely just stories – they have power, especially high profile BBC series. Many viewers are unable to see the storyline as mere fiction. In fact, it may reflect, cement and justify their own biases and perceptions about Muslim women, especially if they do not encounter many Muslim people in their daily lives. Therefore, this storyline has a real life impact for Muslim women and has the potential to fuel negative opinions – and it has already begun. Comedian Ava Videl recently tweeted this:

It is irresponsible to ignore the fact that this show has come at a time when hate crimes against Muslims, especially visibly Muslim women are at an alarming high. It has aired in the wake of the threat of Punish a Muslim day, Boris Johnson’s comments at Muslim women’s expense and at a time when Far-right extremism is rapidly increasing, with recent attacks motivated by Islamophobia in Cricklewood and Finsbury Park. Many Muslim women have spoken out publicly and to us at JAN Trust about feeling scared, isolated and in danger. Many have experienced verbal or physical abuse including being shouted at and called a terrorist, being accused of carrying a bomb and shockingly have been victims of violent assaults. The Bodyguard creative team must know this, and if they don’t, they either haven’t been listening or they don’t care.

This stands in contrast to the praise that some viewers and organisations have directed towards the show’s writer Jed Mercurio, for helping to alleviate the stigma of mental illness, especially PTSD, represented in the show’s main character, David. Moreover, the seemingly deliberate inclusion of women in high power roles within the series has not gone unnoticed by viewers and critics alike. It is a great shame that although positive representation was clearly acknowledged to be important for some groups, it couldn’t be extended to Muslim women or Muslims in general. Clearly, the discussions of diversity, representation and overcoming stigmatisation were happening in those boardrooms; which only underscores the utter starkness of the show’s complete misunderstanding of Muslim representation.

A new test has now been created to measure Muslim representation in film and television called the Riz Test, named after Riz Ahmed who has been a vocal advocate on the importance of representation in the media. The test states:

If the film/show stars at least one character who is identifiably Muslim (by ethnicity, language or clothing) – is the character…

  1. Talking about, the victim of, or the perpetrator of Islamist terrorism?
  2. Presented as irrationally angry?
  3. Presented as superstitious, culturally backwards or anti-modern?
  4. Presented as a threat to a Western way of life?
  5. If the character is male, is he presented as misogynistic? or if female, is she presented as oppressed by her male counterparts?

If the answer for any of the above is Yes, then the Film/ TV Show fails the test.

Unsurprisingly, the Bodyguard fails on each count. It is clear that so much more work needs to be done within the industry to properly represent Muslim people and writers need to acknowledge their responsibility in creating work which isn’t to the detriment of marginalised groups.

At JAN Trust, we understand the importance of representation and know all too well the struggles Muslim women face whether they are facing higher levels of employment discrimination or are more likely to be victims of hate crime. To find out more about the work we do visit our website http://www.jantrust.org

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