Archive for the ‘Northern Ireland’ Category

24 -26 June 2008
Waterfront Hall, Belfast, Northern Ireland

Interesting Facts
– 95% of all direct violence is committed by men
– Wars occur more frequently where the political representation of women is lower
– Domestic violence increases in the transition from conflict
– 80% of conflict-generated refugees are women and children
– Two thirds of those seeking help from victims groups in Northern Ireland for conflict-related trauma are women
– The only national parliament to have achieved 50% representation of women is the Welsh Assembly

Armed conflict disadvantages women. In Northern Ireland, the priorities of conflict were constitutional issues, the question of national identity and equality between the conflicting groups. Issues that impacted more upon women, such as education, health, childcare, gender equality and social welfare, were less important to the conflict priorities. In addition, women were the sustainers of family and community while conflict raged around them. They were left to pick up the pieces and rebuild communities after the violence passed. Dealing with the legacy of conflict, therefore, requires the empowerment of women to make up for years of lost time, to develop and participate where the mechanisms of conflict has excluded them and take their rightful place in the design and development of a post-conflict society.

The focus of this three-day conference is to bring women from Northern Ireland, Europe and international arenas together to reflect, share, strengthen and celebrate the positive role of women internationally in times of conflict, stepping into transition and moving towards a future where women participate equally on a political, social, economic and judicial level.

After a long legacy of suffering, Northern Ireland is now emerging from 30 years of conflict. 2008 is the 10th Anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, an all-Ireland Agreement which commits to peace and democracy and building a society based on equality and justice.

We are inviting delegates to come to Belfast to share their own experiences and in particular gain an insight into the diversity and strength of the women’s sector in Northern Ireland and the role women have played in strengthening communities and contributing to politics and policy development.

See original posting in full on womensgrid at

Following feedback from users we set up the blog womensgrid to focus on information by and about women from around the UK and Ireland (and any European items that seem relevant).

So to see the latest UK and Ireland posting go to

(see original annoucement at

Posting moved to womesngrid:

Women are dying to look perfect.

Literally. Last year’s toll included a music promoter who expired on the operating table while undergoing cosmetic surgery, and a couple of fashion models who starved themselves to death. High profile enough to have made headlines, these women may represent just a fast glimpse of the beauty industry’s dark lining.

But they have no one but themselves to blame for the risky lifestyle choices they made in pursuit of looking good. Or do they?

The U.K. Periodical Publishers Association has launched an inquiry into the pervasive practice of digitally enhancing photographs. The initiative was inspired by a report commissioned by the British Fashion Council into the industry’s regrettable influence on women’s body image. And the council’s report? It was prompted by public outrage over the death of the models and the destructive definition of ideal femininity perpetuated by fashion media.

It should be an old story. Women’s groups have been protesting unattainable beauty standards for decades. Here in Canada, Media Watch spent more than 25 years conducting research, delivering educational seminars, meeting with regulators and mobilizing consumers around the need for more responsible media portrayals.

Despite such activism, and greater public awareness, some aspects of the situation have gotten worse, not better. Magazine cover stories sensationalize celebrity crimes against body image every week; reality TV shows regularly invent new ways to exploit women’s insecurities; and the digital distortion of Photo-shopped images fuels exponential growth in cosmetic surgery procedures, despite the health risks attached to many.

So the move by British magazine publishers to explore the development of an ethics code on retouching is long overdue. Why shouldn’t magazines be held to the same ethical standards that newspapers follow? Consumers have a right to expect authenticity from the photos they disseminate. If we can’t trust that the images we’re looking at reflect reality, why should we credit the words that appear alongside them with any greater truth?

An even more compelling case can be made for the images that appear in ads. When cosmetic companies claim that their lotions and creams will reduce the appearance of wrinkles and cellulite, it’s reasonable to expect that the photographs purporting to illustrate such results have not been altered. How is “truth in advertising” served when models promoting dietary aides and foundation makeup have achieved their slim silhouettes and flawless complexions with the help of an airbrush artist?

The increasingly popular trend among supermarket tabloids to feature undoctored images of makeup-free celebrities looking shockingly ordinary offers the welcome relief of a little Schadenfreude – being reminded that not even Halle Berry looks like Halle Berry without digital enhancement reassures us about our own imperfections. And the staggering success of Dove’s campaign for “real beauty” underscores the appeal of authentic imagery.

This shouldn’t be a surprise. A growing body of research documents the damage done by increasingly unattainable physical ideals on the self-esteem of young girls and adult women alike. The punishing comparisons with perfection help to trigger anorexia in those predisposed to it, and health professionals are clear that commercial media images are significant contributing factors to depression, bulimia and the skyrocketing increase in cosmetic surgery procedures.

The good news is that avoiding exposure to such imagery can have a remarkably positive impact on the way women feel about themselves. And when people become more aware of this, they’re increasingly likely to either press for the kind of responsibility being considered in the U.K., or to stop buying the magazines entirely.

Consider the views of the fashion industry’s most sought-after target market. Last year, with the professional assistance of EKOS Research, Media Watch – recently renamed Media Action/Action Media – conducted focus groups with young women from across Canada who were asked their impressions of the dominant image of women in popular media.

“Skinny,” “sleazy” and “stupid” were the representative adjectives volunteered by the 14- to 24-year-olds who were canvassed in Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver. All the young women expressed universal frustration with pervasive images of “flawless” female bodies (read slim and large breasted), and the disproportionate attention seemingly paid to those women eager to minimize the amount of fabric between their skin and the camera.

While current media practices unfortunately suggest that Media Action remains as relevant today as it was 25 years ago, the savvy cynicism and growing trend among young women to create their own alternative media content is fuelling renewed activism and – hopefully – much needed change.

PPA working group on digital enhancements

* Nine in ten expect barriers to becoming foster parent
* One in four expect to be treated worse by police if victim of hate crime
* Nearly one in five still bullied at work for being gay

A major YouGov poll of lesbian and gay people, commissioned by Stonewall, has found that despite recent legislative protections, a majority still believe they will be discriminated against when accessing public services. Almost a third expect to be treated worse than a heterosexual when enrolling their child in primary or secondary school. Nine in ten think they would face barriers from becoming a foster parent. Three in five still think they’d face barriers if they wanted to be a parliamentary candidate for the Labour Party, a figure that rises to 90 per cent for the Conservatives.

YouGov surveyed a sample of 1,658, the first statistically significant national poll ever conducted into the life experiences of Britain’s 3.6 million gay people. Asked about their own experiences and expectations of discrimination when it came to work, education, politics, crime and the criminal justice system, housing and healthcare, the findings show:
* One in five expect worse treatment when applying for social housing.
* 60 per cent expect to face barriers to becoming a magistrate.
* A fifth expect to be treated worse than a heterosexual when reporting any crime to the police. A third think they would be treated worse by police if suspected of committing a crime, a figure which rises to 41 per cent in London.
* Nearly a quarter think they would be treated worse if they appeared before a judge for committing a criminal offence.

The polling is published in a new report, Serves You Right, supported by Accenture, which also makes a range of recommendations offering simple ways of improving public service delivery for lesbian and gay people.

Ben Summerskill, Stonewall’s Chief Executive, said: ‘Too many public services are still a bit too smug about the progress being made towards fair treatment for the lesbian and gay taxpayers who help fund them. The insight provided by this report is a valuable antidote to that sort of complacency.’

Serves You Right does, however, find that public bodies and companies that make a positive effort to promote fair treatment can reap significant reputational benefits. Nearly half of lesbian and gay people said they were likely to buy products from businesses that use images of gay people to sell their goods; two thirds are more likely to buy products from a company that shows a positive commitment to recruiting gay people.

Sam Clark, Accenture’s U.K. employee relations lead, said: ‘Accenture is committed to developing a culture that is blind to colour, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation. We foster and sustain an environment where each employee is energised and feels respected, valued, fairly treated and able to develop his or her full potential. We hope that this ground-breaking research will help both employers and public bodies better examine – and address – a number of important issues in today’s workplace.’

Ben Summerskill said: ‘This pioneering research highlights the one remaining gap at the heart of Britain’s legislative equality framework. There is not yet a duty on public bodies requiring them to promote equality of service for gay people in a way that already exists for gender, ethnicity and disability. We’ll now be pressing the government to honour its outstanding manifesto pledge to introduce such a duty.’

To download a copy of the report “Serves you right: Lesbian and gay people’s expectations of discrimination (2008)” at

1. Full survey or breakdown of responses to individual questions are available on request.
2. YouGov sampled 1,658 adults who identified as lesbian, gay and bisexual between 6 -10 December 2007. The survey was conducted using an on-line interview. The resulting data was analysed and presented by Stonewall.

See news story about report:
Homophobia rife in British society, landmark equality survey finds
* Bullying in schools worse than for older generations
* Public bodies complacent, says gay rights charity

The UK’s first written Bill of Rights, to be enacted in Northern Ireland as part of the Good Friday Agreement, will also enshrine in law the right of partners to take time off from housework.

According to the Observer which obtained a draft of the Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland, which will be voted on by MPs in Westminster. The section on ‘The Right to Work’ says: ‘All workers, including those working in the home or in informal employment, are entitled to rest, leisure, respite and reasonable limitation of working hours, as well as appropriate provision for retirement.’

Austen Morgan QC, the author of the definitive legal analysis of the Good Friday Agreement and an adviser to Tory leader David Cameron, said: ‘This clause could be deployed by anyone who feels their rights have been violated in the home. They could use it as a remedy against lazy partners who refuse to hoover, do the dishes or iron clothes.

‘The clause also opens up the possibility for estranged spouses to invoke the bill in divorce cases in Northern Ireland. The danger of this is that it invades the private space of individuals. The whole project is legally inept and full of holes.’

Morgan said he had compared the bill with others around the world. ‘There is nothing quite like the one being introduced in Belfast,’ he said.

The draft proposes raising the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 16, with the ultimate aim of raising it to 18. Travellers will also have their lifestyle enshrined. ‘Everyone has the right to choose a nomadic or sedentary lifestyle and to change from one lifestyle to the other,’ says the bill.

The Bill of Rights draft, which has been written by Australian human rights expert Dr Chris Sidoti, will be given tomorrow to Dr Monica McWilliams, Northern Ireland’s Human Rights Commissioner.

Although the Northern Ireland Assembly will get a chance to debate the contents of the bill, they will not be able to endorse or reject it. As part of the negotiations leading to the Good Friday Agreement and the 2006 St Andrews Agreement, it was agreed that the bill would be voted on by the houses of parliament.

About 175 members of Parliament in the United Kingdom have signed a motion that calls on the Department for International Development to place women at the center of its HIV/AIDS strategies worldwide, the Herald Express reports. The motion, part of the “Women Matter” campaign run by the group VSO, also calls on DFID to influence other international agencies to focus on the impact of HIV/AIDS on women. In addition, the motion aims to ensure that men are involved with HIV/AIDS prevention efforts.

The “Women Matter” campaign aims to highlight how violence, discrimination and inequality place women in sub-Saharan Africa at an increased risk of HIV. “The world must sit up and listen to what’s happening, and I shall be pressing the government to ensure that this issue is given the attention it deserves,” said MP Richard Younger-Ross, who has signed the motion.

* Read more about VSO’s Women Matter at

* Use their online form to ask your MP to sign Early Day Motion 912: Women, Girls and HIV and AIDS

That this House recognises that around the world women and girls are being disproportionately affected by HIV and AIDS; notes that gender inequality, violence and discrimination are driving the feminisation of the pandemic; recognises that many HIV and AIDS programmes do not adequately address the specific needs and rights of women and girls; and therefore calls on the Government to show international leadership by placing them at the centre of its revised HIV and AIDS strategy, ensuring men are actively involved as part of the solution.

by going to

* See earlier story More women and children receiving HIV and AIDS treatment – UNICEF report at

“If people join us now, they will be in at the beginning of something potentially revolutionary,” says Maggie Baxter, talking about the upcoming launch of the new UK Women’s Fund. Maggie Baxter is one of those rare people who combine inspiration with pragmatism; she has spent more than 30 years in the voluntary sector, from grants director of Comic Relief to director of Womankind Worldwide; yet she has never lost the idealism that has driven her from the start of her career. “When you see the difference that actually quite small amounts of money can make, in well run and well led projects, then you do feel optimistic about how funds like this can change lives.”

There are more than 200 women’s funds in the world, stretching from the Ukraine to Ghana, from India to the USA, where there are dozens – while we are still waiting for a national women’s fund in the UK. Elsewhere, these funds – which include well known organisations such as the Global Fund for Women and MamaCash, through to community funds such as the Women’s Fund of Greater Milwaukee – are successful in channelling money towards women’s organisations.

In doing so they fill a real need, because grant-making is often blind to the fundamental inequalities between men and women, which means that women’s organisations lose out. “I was first really aware of this when I went to Africa for Comic Relief in the 1990s,” says Baxter, “I saw how women do all the work and yet are so unrecognised. In a less obvious way, the same is still true of the UK – the work that the women’s sector does, whether it’s in protecting women from violence or campaigning for political equality – still tends to get sidelined, which means that women’s organisations remain horribly underfunded, despite superficial equality elsewhere in society.”

Alice Hooper at the branding agency Rainey Kelly, who has been working on the launch of the UK Women’s Fund, was struck by the response of the women in the focus groups they talked to: “At first women said that they didn’t see the point of a special women’s fund, but when we presented them with the real needs on the grounds for many women, particularly around sexual violence – how rape crisis lines are being cut, how women who flee trafficking can’t find support – we saw a change in the room. Women began to join up the dots. They saw the connections between these issues and issues such as a lack of political representation.”

The fund will aim to draw in new money from people who may not have been attracted to philanthropy in the past, as well as influence existing funders to invest in women. In other countries where women’s funds have taken off, Baxter has noted that they foster a spirit of sisterhood and solidarity, which she is keen to see take off in the UK too. “There is a strong sense of self-interest in our society at the moment, a sense that ‘if I’m all right I can ignore those who aren’t’. But I think when you encourage people to realise that they can be part of a movement to grow a better society, they are drawn to that.” Hooper agrees: “There is the potential for a huge leap here. Just recently it wasn’t at all cool to be green, and that has turned around. I think the same could happen with women’s issues – that it could become cool for women to get involved in empowering other women.”

British courts are overturning decisions taken by immigration officers that would have protected men and women from being forced into marriage.

The director of UK Visas said that appeals to the courts were often successful because people sponsoring foreigners to enter Britain were too frightened to admit that the applicants were being forced into marriage. Mark Sedwill said that 452 visas for Pakistani applicants were refused last year on the ground of family abuse, of which the majority were because of fears of forced marriage. He said that 116 cases were taken to appeal and 37 were successful.

Victims of forced marriage may even have been put in the position of giving evidence to the immigration tribunal in Britain to back their spouses’ appeals, Mr Sedwill admitted. “This is the real tragedy of this situation, that sponsors are forced into this position,” he told the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee inquiry into domestic violence yesterday.

The only right of appeal against the immigration tribunal’s decision is on a point of law.

Mr Sedwill said that sponsors of spouses or fiancées were often unwilling to make a public statement about the nature of the family abuse, including forced marriage, because they were frightened of the family reaction. He said that, of the 452 refusals, 252 involved British citizens who had reluctantly been required to sponsor an applicant from Pakistan and 86 were vulnerable adults, including people who were severely disabled.

One of the cases involved a disabled man in his early thirties whose parents could no longer look after him, so they attempted to marry him to a girl from the Indian sub-continent, he said.

In addition, there were 30 reluctant sponsors of Bangladeshi visa applications and 12 of Indian applications.

Overall 5,500 spousal settlement applications from the Indian sub-continent were refused last year, he said. “Within that 5,500 there are quite a number of cases where there has been some sort of compulsion, where the couple have not met or are under 18,” Mr Sedwill told MPs.

The committee was also told that people who sponsored an applicant for a visa were not routinely interviewed by officials, despite growing concern within the Government about the issue of forced marriage.

Applicants are interviewed formally and have to answer between 50 and 100 questions.

Mr Sedwill said: “They [sponsors] don’t necessarily go through a formal process of interview. In all of those cases where a sponsor has let us know that forced marriage is an issue, the sponsor will be interviewed either by telephone or in person.

“It’s not an immigration interview, but they will be interviewed by consular staff or by the forced marriage unit in the UK in order to gather the information that allows us to make a decision.”

Meg Munn, a junior Foreign Office Minister, said that one reason why sponsors were not interviewed was because of the “sheer volume” of the situation. A total of 47,000 spouses entered Britain on settlement visas last year, including 17,000 from the Indian sub-continent.

Bob Russell, Liberal Democrat MP for Colchester, accused the Government of complacency. “I do not understand why the sponsor and the applicant cannot be interviewed to find out if the marriage is genuine or not,” he said.

Forced Marriage Unit’s phone number, to be called if you are worried that you or someone you know may be forced into marriage: 0207008 0151

The Emma Humphreys Memorial Prize is awarded each year to commemorate the life and work of Emma Humphreys who tragically died, aged 30, in 1998. Emma was a writer, campaigner and survivor of male violence who fought an historic struggle to overturn a murder conviction in 1995, supported by Justice for Women and other feminist campaigners. The annual prize of £1,000 is awarded to an individual woman who has, through writing or campaigning, raised awareness of violence against women and children.

Alongside the individual prize, the Emma Humphreys Memorial Prize judges choose the recipient of a group award, established to recognise the unsung work done by many women’s groups and organisations. This award, while it does not at this time carry any financial reward, marks the outstanding contribution of women’s organisations who work in this embattled area and whose creativity and resourcefulness have resulted in developments that combat the prevalence of male violence.

Criteria to consider in nominating a woman for the individual prize:

* The individual woman should be someone who, through writing or campaigning, has sought to raise awareness of violence against women and children

* While she may have done this work as part of her paid employment, the judges will give priority to those nominees whose campaigning or writing has clearly extended outside of the paid work environment, or been conducted on a voluntary basis

* Nominators should ensure that the supporting statement focuses on the achievements of the individual woman herself rather than describing the achievements of the project/organisation she works for

* Judges will give due consideration to the issue around which the individual woman has been working, and may prioritise a nomination that they deem to highlight a pressing political imperative for feminist campaigning in the present

* In completing the supporting statement, nominators should attempt to point out the particular and unique aspects of the work which is commended in the nomination; it is not necessary to provide a full biography

* Nominators should be confident that, should their nominee be awarded the prize, she would be willing to participate in some related media interviews or events, in discussion with the organisers of the Emma Humphreys Memorial Prize

Criteria to consider in nominating a women’s group or organisation for the group award:

* The group or organisation should have done important work in raising awareness of violence against women and children, and have sought to bring about change

* It would be helpful if the nominator could draw attention to any particular obstacles the group has encountered

* The nominator should try to give examples of any initiatives which best exemplify the resourcefulness of the group or organisation in carrying forward work which seeks to combat violence against women and children

* It would be helpful if the nominator could indicate, where possible, how effective certain strategies or developments adopted by the group have been in combating the prevalence of such violence

* The nominator should give a brief explanation of the funding status of the group, and how the award might be used to help assist the group in future

To download a nomination form go to

Read about previous years’ winners at

In 2008 the fourteenth annual Carers Week will highlight the impact caring can have on your health and wellbeing. The results of this survey will be at the centre of Carers Week publicity and activity, and will be sent to Government and all national politicians, to healthcare professionals and others who have powers and responsibilities that can help to improve the health and quality of life of carers.

We want to hear about your experience of being a carer; the rewards and the frustrations, and the effects on your health. What are the implications for you, as well as for the person you care for?

Carers Week is organised by ten leading charities to support the UK’s six million carers. Last year over 1,000 local partners organised more than 6,000 events and activities; in 2008 we aim for the number to be even greater.

Our key aims are for Carers Week to:
* Highlight and celebrate the contribution made by carers
* Campaign for better support and services for carers
* Promote policies and best practice that can improve carers’ quality of life
* Reach out to ‘hidden’ carers, ensuring they know where to find help and support

This survey should only take a few minutes of your time to complete. Many thanks for your assistance, and for ensuring that carers voices are heard loud and clear.

To complete the survey go to

The previously announced closing date for the survey was Monday 31st March, but we plan to extend that by a few days, to the end of the week.

The results of the survey form the centrepiece of Carers Week. And the survey is a key tool in the work we carry out with the media, with MPs and with professionals, who can all have such an effect on carers’ lives. It’s not just ticking the boxes; the comments carers add also help to inform all the work we do.

We need to ensure that the survey is representative of carers from all parts of the UK so if you’re in touch with carers in your area please forward this message on to them.

The Sheila McKechnie Awards are an annual bursary scheme for emerging and grassroots campaigners. Campaigners are a powerful force for change in our society but we know that the reality is often hard work and a lot of frustration. Our awards have been created to equip campaigners with the skills that they need to be successful. We focus on the ingredients for campaigning success and seek to share them with campaigners across the United Kingdom.

See full details at original posting Sheila McKechnie Awards 2008 for emerging and grassrootscampaigners

Sheila McKechnie Awards 2008

The Sheila McKechnie Awards are an annual bursary scheme for emerging and grassroots campaigners. Campaigners are a powerful force for change in our society but we know that the reality is often hard work and a lot of frustration. Our awards have been created to equip campaigners with the skills that they need to be successful. We focus on the ingredients for campaigning success and seek to share them with campaigners across the United Kingdom.

In 2008 we will be making 12 awards across key fields of social action Categories in 2008 have been sponsored by the following organisations / individuals.
* Conflict Resolution sponsored by Peace Direct
* Consumer Action sponsored by Which?
* Economic Justice sponsored by Joseph Rowntree Foundation / Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust
* Environment sponsored by Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation
* Global Action in memory of Guy Hughes
* Health & Social Care sponsored by Age Concern
* International Award sponsored by Concern Worldwide
* London Social Justice sponsored by City Parochial Foundation
* Shout Out! Award sponsored by City Bridge Trust
* Social Inclusion sponsored by Shelter
* Transport sponsored by Simon Norton
* Young Activist sponsored by Foyer Federation / YMCA England

The package of support we offer is completely bespoke to the individual, comprising an initial assessment; one-to-one coaching and mentoring sessions; development workshops; and shadowing opportunities

The awards do not offer cash prizes but focus on sharing the key ingredients for campaigning success by drawing on the expertise of experienced campaigners and using a model of action learning to share knowledge and acquire skills.

Who are the Awards for?

The awards scheme has been developed specifically for campaigners new to the field or operating with very little resources to equip them with the skills they need to make a greater impact and achieve real change.

The awards are for people who want to make a greater impact with their campaigns, whether it be to change policy or raise their issue’s profile at a local, national or international level. You could be working as a campaigner in a national pressure group or campaigning charity or you may be working alone or in an organisation where campaigning is a very new activity. The awards can also help you if you are campaigning on a voluntary basis in your spare time. Many of our award winners have been volunteers and we have helped them secure new resources to support their campaigns and focus on how they can use their limited time to best effect. (In the last 2 years, we have awarded 49 beneficiaries of which 34 have been women)

What will I learn?

The awards can help develop a campaign strategy, examine the impact that you have made so far or consider how your can build support for campaigning activity in your wider organisation. You will get direct advice from people who have a track record of running successful campaigns and others who have a strong insight into how policymakers approach key decisions.

The awards are also a chance for you to learn new skills & tactics. For example, you might have a lot of experience in media work but not know about the tactics necessary to influence ministers in Whitehall. You might want to expand your skills in specialist areas, such as understanding the campaigning opportunities present in the Freedom of Information Act. The awards are also a chance to get an independent assessment of your campaign, considering areas like how you can expand your alliances and identify how much progress you have made towards achieving your objectives.

The awards can help you get a better understanding of how government works. For example, previous award winners recieved public affairs coaching from experts at AS Biss & Co and were given the opportunity to shadow ministers relevant to their campaign.

The awards will put you in contact with campaigners who share similar challenges to you but work in other sectors. We recognise that there are many opportunities to work together across issues and sectors and discuss challenges and successes.

The awards provide opportunities for you to develop skills that are relevant not simply to the campaign you are working on now but to campaigns that you may work on in future.

What’s the time commitment involved?

The programme runs over a period of 6 months. However, because the awards programme is bespoke to each campaigner, the support package is very flexible to your needs and timescale will be determined in consultation with you.

Applications for the Foundation’s awards scheme can be made by downloading a form from the or by emailing


(Originally posted at

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, spoke to judges, lawyers and academics and journalists on “Civil and religious law in England, a religious perspective” on 7.2.08. In a Radio 4 interview previously that day he agreed that aspects of sharia law were ‘unavoidable’ in Britain. This acknowledgement was naturally warmly welcomed by the unrepresentative and reactionary Muslim Council of Britain. Ibrahim Mogra said “We’re looking at a very small aspect of Sharia for Muslim families when they choose to be governed with regards to their marriage, divorce, inheritance, custody of children and so forth.”

Rowan Williams discussed human rights and how to deal with religious minorities. The role of the secular law should be to prevent mutually isolated communities and should capture the legal right of human freedom with a market element allowing for competition for loyalties under different religious jurisdictions. Muslim courts, under the civil law could deal with matters for example of the family by alternative dispute resolution. By these procedures subject to appeal in the Higher Courts alternative beliefs in relation to God could relate to other believers and to individuals in the rest of the community.

Rowan Williams and Ibrahim Mogra may regard sharia-based family law as a ‘small aspect’, but the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation (IKWRO), like many activists of Muslim countries with sharia laws’ background, identifies sharia family law as the fundamental basis of the discrimination against women in the Muslim world, including communities in the United Kingdom. Sharia law is deeply and irrevocably discriminatory against women; it is for this reason that no country basing its legal system in sharia law may sign CEDAW without reservations. Ibrahim Mogra’s statement is deceptive in the extreme: ‘when they choose’ he says, as if it is a simple matter to leave Islam, when in fact we know that many of those people born into Muslim households who give up their parents’ religion are harassed and rejected by their Muslim communities and families. Thirty-six percent of Muslims in Britain believe that leaving Islam should be punished by death. The percentage of young Muslim men taking a hard line on Sharia is increasing. In this context, there is no choice involved whatsoever: women will, inevitably, be coerced into accepting judgements which discriminate against them, and women of Muslim background, who already suffer the most within their communities and within British society will have their second-class status embedded in law. Sheikh Michael Mumisa, an Islamic scholar, theologian and academic at Cambridge University believes that the introduction of special courts “to consider personal status laws, such as marriage, divorce and inheritance, within the UK will undermine the rights of Muslim women, the poor and anyone who doesn’t really understand Islamic laws. The people who interpret these laws are male scholars and I know from experience that they always disadvantage women. Moreover, some senior Muslim clerics in the UK want more than just the personal status laws and would prefer that the penal laws were introduced as well”. (The Archbishop was considering only civil law and civil society.)

What sharia-based personal status law could mean for British Muslim women:

* The woman in a marriage requires the permission of a guardian. This prevents a couple from contracting a marriage without parental approval and only worsens the problem of forced marriage.
* Marriages can be conducted without the presence of the potential bride, as long as the guardian consents.
* Under age and early marriage
* Muslim women may only marry Muslim men.

* Men can divorce simply by repudiation.
* Men have no obligations to support their former wife or her children after divorce.
* Women cannot be divorced without the consent of their husband.
* Abuse is not valid grounds for a woman to end a marriage.
* Sons will inherit twice as much as daughters.

Child custody:
* Women who remarry lose custody of their children, so a divorced woman is forced to remain single or give up being a mother.
* Child custody often reverts to the father at a preset age, even if the father is abusive.

Islam is already used to justify and excuse the sufferings of women subjected to domestic violence, forced marriage, “honour” killings, forced child-bearing and endless drudgery. Rowan Williams does not appreciate that these women, already suffering the most in society, will loose their rights to marry divorce and raise their children with the same rights as other British women.

The Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation deplores giving formal status to any form of faith-based arbitration. These Boards will be dominated by men with patriarchal authoritarian attitudes. The real choice of women and their protection as the weaker party are almost impossible to envisage given the informal and domestic arrangements that are the reality in the lives of these women. I and the volunteers have been refugees and have experienced the inequities and miseries of sharia law in our own lives, in the lives of our friends, our sisters and our mothers. We escaped to the UK and set up the Organisation five years ago to help the oppressed women we understand so well. Some cases deal with the experience of wives being locked in their homes which the husbands go to work, others with a level of verbal abuse and physical violence to women and property and of greatest concern “honour” crimes with the ultimate threat or commitment of murder with men of the immediate family, the extended family and even contract killers on the hunt for them. Rowan Williams suggested procedures unwittingly give legitimacy to these practices, most of which take place in the fearful privacy of the home. When they become a matter of criminal law, it is too late for our clients. If formal courts are ‘inevitable’ that this oppression will become as common-place in the United Kingdom as it is in the Middle Eastern countries from which we originate.

We have a message to Rowan Williams: it is not inevitable. We will fight against it with every means necessary to ensure that there is one law for all British citizens, and that law is based in the principles of universal human rights, including the principles of UNCHR and CEDAW.

The Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation stand for women’s rights and it hereby establish the campaign to say “NO to Sharia Law in Britain”. We urge everyone who cares about human and women’s rights to stand up against sharia law however it is administered. The secular state is the only guarantor of women’s equality before the law.

Diana Nammi
Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation
International Campaign Against Honour Killings

“No to Sharia Law in Britain” Campaign Petition

There is one law for all British citizens, and that law is based in the principles of universal human rights, including the principles of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR). The secular state is the only guarantor of women’s equality before the law.

We urge everyone who cares about human and women’s rights to stand up against Sharia law however it is administered.

Please email us to say you / your organisation wishes to have your name/s added to our petition.

See also the following articles:

Failed by religious law
The Archbishop of Canterbury’s comments have opened the closet on those most let down by faith community justice – women

British women are already suffering from Islamic law
The Archbishop of Canterbury says sharia courts could rule on family issues, but this is exactly where they can cause most harm

Up to 70 brothels are being operated in Northern Ireland, an Assembly member claimed today. Paramilitaries and so-called Chinese Snakehead gangs are trafficking vulnerable women and children into Northern Ireland, often from Dublin en route to other parts of the United Kingdom, according to Anna Lo, Alliance Party MLA for South Belfast.

Ms Lo said: “The victims are predominantly women and children from poor countries or countries experiencing unrest. After being brought into the country illegally the traffickers use violent threats and coercion to force the victims to work against their will.” Ms Lo said up to 12 of the brothels were concentrated in south Belfast. She was speaking during a debate at Stormont on the exploitation of migrant workers.

The PSNI has created a team to examine trafficking for sexual exploitation and abuse. In July 2006 two Nigerian men were charged with facilitating the unlawful entry of immigrants.

Women’s Aid believes 50 to 100 women and children may have been forced into Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland Office Minister Paul Goggins has expressed concern about the increasing number of prostitutes. An estimated 4,000 women are trafficked into the United Kingdom for abuse every year.

See also: Anti-trafficking tsar takes up post

The newly-appointed head of the country’s first official unit to fight human trafficking has taken up her post.

Marion Walsh, a former private secretary to a number of justice ministers, is charged with stamping out people smuggling for sex and illegal labour. She takes the reins at the recently established Anti Human Trafficking Unit after several key posts in the Department of Justice.

Ms Walsh said: “I am very much in listening mode and I am confident that we can work together to make a positive difference in tackling this crime, which has no place in a modern day Ireland.”

Chris Green of Hebden Bridge was honoured for his work for the White Ribbon campaign by Cosmopolitan Magazine. Chris achieved it by setting up the UK branch of the White Ribbon Campaign, created to end men’s violence against women. He was one of only three male winners in the magazine’s annual awards. “I was surprised to win because we are a young organisation. And I was very pleased that our campaign had raise so much publicity as a result,” he said.

But what does it mean to wear a white ribbon?

Chris says it is a personal pledge to never commit, condone or remain silent about violence against women. The aim is to get as many men and boys as possible to wear the emblem for a week from November 25 – International Day for the Eradication of Violence Against Women. “In trying to change the behaviour of men we’re not male bashers because we are men, working with men, who care about what happens in the lives of men,” says Chris.

And the campaign is more relevant now than ever.

The first weeks of the year are one of the busiest times for domestic violence services, according to anti-violence charity Women’s Aid. This year the average number of calls to the National Domestic Violence Helpline has already risen by 28 per cent – from 345 daily to 443.

Women’s Aid, which also campaigns against domestic violence, says two women are killed every week in England and Wales as a result of domestic violence. One in four women experience domestic violence at some point in their lives and 750,000 children are affected by abuse in the home.

The White Ribbon campaign began in Canada in 1991.

After only six weeks, 100,000 men across Canada were wearing a white ribbon and many others were drawn into discussion about domestic violence. Chris has run the British branch from his home, which he shares with partner Linda Patterson, since 2004. He combines his work for White Ribbon with lecturing at Manchester Metropoli-tan University.

“I was bored. I wanted to do something in politics, with men, that made a difference,” he said. “My father never did this to my mother. And I have never experienced domestic violence myself. I do this because I have a sense of responsibility. We want to prevent violence against women, prosecute offenders and protect the vulnerable. The satisfaction of hopefully stopping men being violent against women is my drive. When I see posts on the website from women who’ve been encouraged to leave violent relationships, it spurs me on to keep going. When you consider that a woman is attacked every 10 seconds in the UK, you understand how important our work is.”

A big part of Chris’s job is to promote the charity in schools, colleges and universities. “I get really excited when we get invited to visit by a school council to take part in their personal and social education classes. One teacher told me that 25 per cent of their pupils had encountered domestic violence at some stage. It’s my responsibility to let them know that just because their dad might mistreat women, it doesn’t mean that they should.”

Chris also encourages the famous to become ambassadors for the charity. Arsenal, Liverpool, Everton, Derby County and Blackburn Rovers are just some of the Premiership teams whose managers wore white ribbons on International Day 2007. “When I approach a football club for support I feel apprehensive. But footballers, ice hockey and baseball teams do want to be involved in the campaign. These are icons children and young men look up to and it’s important for us to engage with them. We need to ensure that white ribbons are cool to wear.”

He also works with the Council of Europe and women’s organisations to spread the word.


White Ribbon Campaign UK website

The true extent of so-called “honour” crime is being underestimated by the government, the Centre for Social Cohesion think-tank claims. Based on some 80 interviews, its report says forced marriage, imprisonment and “honour” killings are not restricted to first generation immigrant families.

Report author Salam Hafez said this was “being perpetuated within second and third immigrant generations”. The Home Office said an action plan to address the issue was being developed.The report, entitled Crimes of the Community, is based on interviews with women’s groups, community activists and victims of “honour”-based violence. It argues that the extent of such violence against men and women is underestimated by the government, police and local services, and political correctness is preventing the authorities from tackling the issue.

Women’s activists who were interviewed said teachers, police and local authorities were afraid to take action to stop honour-based violence for fear of being called “racist” or “Islamophobic”.They also said radical Islamic groups have sought to limit the activities of women’s groups. According to the report, ethnic and religious segregation is fuelling “honour”-based violence. Groups dealing with women from minority communities – particularly in the Midlands and northern England – claimed segregation is entrenching certain attitudes, fuelling violence against women.

‘Overlooked’ crimes

Mr Hafez told the BBC the idea of honour was still important to younger members of immigrant families. He said: “This phenomenon is kind of being perpetuated within second and third immigrant generations. And it’s a cultural thing, and it exists, and it’s going on. We’re talking about forced marriage, we’re talking about ideals, and you know, largely, it’s been overlooked.”

Fellow report author James Brandon said the findings showed that “the government is still not taking honour crime seriously. Until this happens, the ideas of honour which perpetuate this violence will continue to be passed from generation to generation,” he said, calling on religious leaders, local authorities and central government to work together to tackle the issue.

His assertion was backed by Gina Khan who campaigns against forced marriages and the mistreatment of women. Birmingham-based Ms Khan told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme she was “manipulated into an arranged marriage” at the age of 16 during a holiday to Pakistan.” When I wanted to get out of the marriage, that’s where I was told that if I decided to divorce him, I would be excommunicated from the family, which I was for a year or so,” she said. And, on the wider issue of combating this issue, she went on: “I don’t really see anything happening from within the community – from leaders, or from mosques – to help.”

Raising awareness

A Home Office spokesman said the government welcomed the report, is “determined to tackle honour based violence” and would be “taking action to ensure that any gaps in services can be filled”. He said: “We are developing a cross-government action plan to tackle honour based violence which includes, forced marriage, honour killings and female genital mutilation. The plan is being developed with Acpo and other criminal justice system agencies and aims to improve the response of police and other agencies, to all forms of honour-based violence and ensure that victims are encouraged to come forward with the knowledge that they will receive the help and support they need.” The spokesman said the plan would also address the issue of raising awareness, improving training, and monitoring in communities and professional bodies.


“Crimes of the Community – Honour-based violence in the UK”Crimes of the Community examines how ideas of honour can lead to violence. Examining forced marriages, honour killings, female genital mutilation (FGM) and honour-based domestic violence, the report explains why such violence is carried out and why it continues. Based on over 80 interviews with women’s groups, community activists and the victims of honour-based violence, Crimes of the Community is the most comprehensive study of honour-based violence ever conducted in the UK.

You can download the report in pdf format at

To find out about The Centre for Social Cohesion see It is a Civitas Project – see