“As an Asian Muslim woman, I am well experienced with cultural practices that go against women in Britain”
I grew up in an Asian Muslim household and community in Britain and am well experienced with Asian cultures, especially in terms of discrimination against women and girls.
The 2016 Casey review (by Dame Louise Casey and commissioned by David Cameron), revealed an alarming concern over misogyny, especially within Asian Muslim communities.
Casey’s report on social integration in relation to why so many young Britons are being radicalised by ISIS revealed that “‘misogyny and patriarchy’ in some communities is widening inequality…”
Casey also told BBC Radio 4 that in “some segregated communities it is getting worse, not better,” saying that she had been in a community “where women who have lived here for years are not allowed out of their house without men’s permission.”
Casey’s report further reveals how places within these communities (such as mosques) are spreading regressive advice about how women and girls should behave in their communities, which includes not being allowed to travel a certain distance from the home without their husband or a male chaperone being present.
As an Asian Muslim woman, I am not surprised with Casey’s report, nor was I surprised when I heard of the Rotherham child grooming scandal by Asian men and how authorities like the police and social services turned a blind eye.
Also, as the journalist Saira Khan wrote in one of her articles, “Along with my female Asian friends, I saw Asian men get away with murder. While girls were strictly controlled.”
For us Asian Muslim girls, what we say, who we say it to, who we have as friends, where we can go, what we can wear, how we have our hair, if we can put make up on or not, and who we marry, were all decided for us – especially growing up in the 80s and 90s.
I remember cutting a tiny bit of my hair to have a fringe at the age of fourteen and my father’s friend noticed when he visited our home. He immediately went over to my mother and insulted her, saying angrily, “Did you tell your daughter to cut her hair? I thought your father was an imam (Muslim preacher), so why are you teaching your daughter western culture?” I remember how embarrassed my mother was, and this man wasn’t even related to me. After that, I was forced to clip my hair aside with bobby pins.
As women and girls we have to follow ‘pre-historic’ cultural rules, and to dishonour the family’s reputation often means being outcast, shunned, and disowned by the family, and all too often dishonouring the family could mean death!
Let’s look at the case of Suleman Maknojioa, a respected hafiz who repeatedly molested a terrified 11-year-old girl. He escaped a jail sentence in 2014 because his wife’s English was ‘bad’ and the family (he was a father of six children) therefore relied on him for income.
Then there’s the case of Mustafa Bashir, who beat up his wife with a cricket bat and forced her to drink bleach. In March 2017, Bashir was only given a suspended sentence by Judge Richard Mansell at the Manchester Crown Court; he said that his wife was not vulnerable as she was a graduate. Bashir was also spared custody so that he could continue being a professional cricket player for Leicestershire County.
Mumtahina Jannat was abused for years by her husband Abdul Kadir before being drugged, raped, and murdered by him in 2011. Mumtahina’s death could have been prevented, but the biggest problem was that, as her niece said, professionals assumed her case was a ‘typical Asian situation’ and that domestic violence was ‘normal for Asian women’. Even a judge at the family court dismissed her by saying ‘she is being silly’ when she told them her fears of being killed by her husband.
Culture, its importance, and the impact on Asian women
Culture can be described as patterns of behaviour and customs, values and attitudes, and important rules of conduct such as taboos and sanctions, that are shared with others who
have the same country of origin, even if they move – the culture is likely to be preserved wherever they go.
An Asian family can be extended over a number of households; it is more like a ‘clan’, which is a fundamental part of their foundation, providing many different types of support and emotional security. As a family they are judged as a whole, so independence and privacy within the family unit is not acceptable – it is regarded as breaking away from the clan system or cultural obligations.
Gender stereotypes are important in the Asian culture as men are regarded as superior and women are held to be responsible for maintaining the so-called family honour – or izzat – as well as making sure they avoid bringing shame to the family (sharam). Often, in the family’s words, women and girls are ‘guarded or protected’ as they are not regarded as being an individual but as being a property. So, a woman is either the property of her father or her brother, and then when married off, the property of her husband, and so on. Her entire life is decided upon how a ‘man’ in charge of her sets the rules to conduct her daily life.
Why cultural pressures affect women:
Girls are groomed from the time they are born, making it impossible to challenge male authority. A woman is taught to be a good daughter, a good wife, a good mother, and a perfect daughter-in-law. They are taught to cope with bad family members and situations, and are told not to take their problems outside the home, as it is regarded as taboo to talk about home problems with strangers. Girls are taught that men are superior – especially their husband – and that their heaven lies under the feet of their husband, hence he has every right to beat her. The old women’s teachings are that ‘a good wife is a wife who can put up with a bad husband,’ therefore women often lack support from their own family as well.
While in some sense culture is important and provides a way of life and an identity, it also has the power to harm people, especially women.
Millions of women across the globe suffer many forms of abuse, but Asian women in particular suffer specific issues, mainly honour-based violence.
Abuse experienced by Asian women in the UK:
Honour-based violence is “a violation of human rights” (Crown Prosecution Services).
According to the Criminal Prosecution Services, there is no specific offence of “honour-based crime,” and ‘honour-based violence’ is an umbrella term to encompass various offences.
CPS states that honour-based violence (HBV) is a collection of practices, “which are used to control behaviour within families or social groups to protect perceived cultural and religious beliefs and / or honour.”
However, the Metropolitan Police describe honour-based violence as: “Murder in the name of so-called honour are murders in which predominantly women are killed for actual or perceived immoral behaviour which is deemed to have breached the honour code of the family or community, causing shame. They are sometimes called honour killings.”
Honour-based violence can include both mental and physical abuse such as that resulting from forced marriage, which often leads to domestic violence including marital rape and mental health issues. It occurs when perpetrators feel that their honour has been violated or that a relative has shamed the family or the community by breaking their honour code.
Domestic violence: Domestic violence in general is described as “any incident of threatening behaviour, violence, or abuse – psychological, physical, sexual, financial, or emotional – between adults who are or have been intimate partners or family members, regardless of gender or sexuality,” and is often conducted using threat or force to frighten the victim(s) and control their behaviour.
Marital rape is very common in our society but nobody dares talk about this sensitive issue. In fact, it was only made a criminal act in the UK in 1991 – prior to that, it was considered impossible for a man to rape or sexually assault his wife.
“A husband cannot rape his wife unless the parties are separated or the court has by injunction forbidden him to interfere with his wife or he has given an undertaking in court not to interfere with her” (The Law Made Simple, The Chaucer Press, 1981).
In the Asian culture, the wife is forbidden to say ‘no’ to her husband if he wants sex; it is the obligatory duty of a wife to allow her husband to have sex as and when he wants. If a husband forces his wife to have sex it is not regarded or accepted as rape within the cultural practices, as the wife is always to obey her husband. As Casey’s report reveals, many Asian men in the UK say that a wife should obey her husband.
The main barrier to women not disclosing instances of discrimination and abuse in Asian communities is the desire to keep the family honour. There is also the fear that children, regardless of him being abusive or violent, need their father.
Why it is difficult for Asian women to admit to domestic violence?
Asian women normally suffer at the hands of more than one perpetrator, especially as they are likely to be living with extended family members, which can make things much more difficult. There is the fear of bringing shame and stigma on the family, affecting parents, siblings, and children, not to mention the threat of being deported and not being supported with immigration applications – as well as having no support from the police themselves.
For example, PC Leach of the Bedfordshire Police’s domestic violence unit gave a report that one of my client was not distressed, and his opinion was that she was only reporting the violence so she could get a visa. He refused to provide an interview tape and also refused to provide any sort of evidence. My client was featured on a BBC documentary as a victim of forced marriage, but the officer’s attitude was, ‘I am a police officer, and I am right, and I don’t need to prove anything with any evidence – what I say goes.’ This is the attitude of a police officer who was supposed to be looking after victims of domestic abuse, and this sort of attitude is seen all too often within the law enforcement agencies in the UK.
How authorities in the UK tackle issues of domestic violence in the Asian community:
About two years ago I attended a public domestic violence forum at the Luton Borough Council, headed by Councillor Doris Hinckley. Attendees included other influential government officials, PC Leach, staff from Bedfordshire Police’s domestic violence unit, and charity groups. However, there was not one single Asian person apart from myself to address issues of domestic violence in the Asian community.
I questioned Councillor Hinckley about this, and I felt as though I was not welcomed at all; no one seemed keen to discuss these issues, or to discuss the police failures of some recent incidents that I’d come across involving a number of Asian female victims, such as:
Bedfordshire Police pressured a woman to give a witness statement against her British Asian husband upon witnessing that she was sleeping on the floor when they raided the house. They were appalled that she was made to sleep on the floor by her husband because he said she was not good enough to sleep on a £1200 bed. Once they realised he was an influential person in the community, however, they took no further action and refused to help the woman as they’d promised.
After raising these issues, Councillor Hinckley looked at me with sheer annoyance, but still I continued, stating that on the follow up meeting I wished to see more active discussions on Asian women’s issues in the community. However, Angela Fraser – the secretary for the domestic violence forum – didn’t tell me that the next meeting had been changed to a different location, even though I was on the list of people who attended.
I eventually found the place and the location by asking staff in the council, and as I walked through the door I felt very unwelcome feeling again. After about 15 minutes I realised that no specific Asian women’s issues would be raised by this so-called domestic violence forum, as it was perhaps too sensitive to bring up and the politician did not want to upset the Asian ‘men folk’ ( if the men are kept happy then their votes are safe, as women in the Asian community will normally vote for who the men tell them to vote for).
I felt that I was considered a threat to the meeting and the attendees, including the police from the Bedfordshire domestic violence unit.
I realised that the main purpose of the meeting was to discuss ways to get more monies from the government, which would have been justified if the meeting served the legitimate purpose of what it set out to do, which was to discuss ways to tackle domestic violence in Luton. Instead it was more like an “old women’s tea party on a Sunday afternoon to discuss the romantic notions of domestic violence”
How can they be discussing how to tackle domestic violence in Luton if they left out the most vulnerable people in the community? The Asian women and girls or any charity organisation who deal with these cases!
A staff member from the Women’s Aid in Luton told me that they made a number of complaints regarding police failures but that there was “no point, as the police, especially in Luton, will never take any complaints further and will make up their conclusions. There isn’t anything anyone can do about it as they are in a ‘League of their own’.
I can confirm this: the police make matters worse for victims or potential victims – especially Asian women and girls – and the authorities will often side with the men simply because it’s less work for them.
Many people are appalled by the fact that authorities are tiptoeing on cultural issues rather than saving lives, or tackling the issues of cultural practices of gender equality and violence on British soil.
If you allow one unacceptable cultural practice to continue by turning a blind eye to it (because it may be happening in segregated ‘ghettos’ of the individual ethnic group, for instance) and this will soon lead to other cultural practices, such as female genital mutilation (FGM) that is now being brought into the UK from recent migrants.
However, the authorities are fools to think that these sorts of behaviours are ‘OK,’ because they will soon find it’s way out of the individual ‘ghettos’ and beyond.
Some recent CCTV footage and a report by the Coventry Telegraph showed a group of Asian men assaulting a white female (for wearing clothing that was too short), leaving the 34-year-old woman with a fractured nose and cheekbone. This is clear evidence that this sort of behaviour is not just within the community but has and will be going beyond, causing resentment and hatred within this country.
If the authorities in the UK want to tackle the same issues and deal with them over here, then understanding how these men view and treat women in their own countries is incredibly important.
We need to stop burying our heads in the sand and accept that these men grow up in a society where misogyny is the ‘cultural norm’ and where violence against women and girls is seen as a ‘typical Asian situation‘.
If the government are allowing people from all walks of life and cultural backgrounds into the UK, then they must also make sure that they are not blinded by the truth, which may be hard for them to handle. As Dame Casey said about her findings, it is ‘hard to read’, but the country simply has to face up to the ‘uncomfortable’ truth. It is a betrayal of these women’s and girls’ human rights.
As Casey said, “It is not the women… in those communities” that she has problems with, “it is the men. It is the misogyny and the patriarchy that has to come to an end.”
Featured image credit : The Guardian cited google image ( 4 June 18)
Islamic teacher who sexually abused girl, 11, spared jail cited 16 March 2017
http://pamelageller.com/2017/03/muslims-brutally-attack-woman.html/ cited 16 March 2017
http://www.hiddenhurt.co.uk/marital_rape.html cited 2 March 2017
Asian Women, Domestic Violence and Mental Health – A tool kit for Health Professionals (DV Tool kit)
http://www.cps.gov.uk/legal/h_to_k/honour_based_violence_and_forced_marriage/ cited 15 March 2017