Dear Prime Minister
I am not the type of female you might call traditionally submissive. I am a privileged Muslim woman who is living a middle class lifestyle. Three children, a daughter-in-law, good job, two kittens and a husband who does not mind his wife working and travelling across the country leaving him holding the fort. He cooks too (and pretty well).
I am probably one of a handful of women who will say publicly I did not get quite so upset hearing you call Muslim women traditionally submissive. Because I know who you were talking about. We all did. We just do not want to admit it. You were not talking about me. Nor were you talking about the multitude of middle-class, educated, articulate and privileged women who took to twitter showing pictures and profiles of themselves with #traditionallysubmissive. You were not talking about women who know the power of social media or the ones who know how to turn on a computer. You were talking about those other women that none of us want to acknowledge still exist in our towns and cities. The ones we talk about with admiration and respect because they are humble and gracious. The ones who are in that situation through no fault of their own. And will remain in that situation because there is no way out for them.
Let me tell you more about the women I know you were talking about. You were talking about that 22 year old in number 75. You know the one who married her mothers uncles second cousin, the guy who was a complete mismatch in every possible way. She was not as fair-skinned as her siblings so was considered ‘on the shelf’ at 22. She was married off sharpish when this proposal came along. She did not have a choice in the matter. It would get her to England and she would no longer be a burden on her family. So now she has to put up with abuse, verbal and physical, from her mother-in-law and her husband. They will not let her go to college or learn English, it might give her ideas above her station. Even worse, she might tell other people what really goes on behind the doors of this ‘respected’ family in the community.
Prime Minister you were talking about ‘Nasrin’, her family married her off when she was 15 but they lied about her age and said she was 18 because they did not have a birth certificates from the village were she was born. She was ‘allowed’ to go to college because her in-laws are very kind – she’s like a daughter to them. She is the family’s ‘honour’ – she will not go anywhere despite knowing her husband has a mistress and three daughters. The little English she knows is not enough to get her out of this one.
And we must not forget Kiran. The obedient wife and daughter-in-law who is not allowed to get pregnant because her mother-in-law is too young to be a granny. And when she does fall pregnant, she is taken to hospital, forced to sign papers she can not read and has a termination forced upon her.
And how could I forget Manjit. The middle aged woman who has lived in England for 20 years and does not speak a word of English. So she had to take her son to the doctor to translate whenever she fell ill. She was not allowed to go on her own and even if she could she could not speak to the doctor anyway. When she started having bleeding from her back passage she could not bring herself to tell her son, or go see her male doctor, because she had no idea that she could request a female doctor. When advised to go and visit the well woman clinic, she responded ‘I can’t, I’m sick, that is for woman who are well’.
They do not come any more submissive that Zarina. Mother of three, married for 45 years and in England for 40. Totally loyal, cooks, cleans, obeys. Then she discovers her husband has secretly ‘married’ another woman under Islamic law . He even has another child by his second ‘wife’. But his second wife does not cook Asian food. So he comes home to wife number one for his meals, which she dutifully provides. Because it is after all his house – she has no rights (in her opinion) and she must do as she is told. What else can she do?
And finally, Rana the teenage wife who bumped into her neighbour in town. The neighbour did not recognise the woman who had been living next door to her for two years without her head scarf on and pleaded with her not to ever tell her husband she had seen her without her hijab.
There are thousands of women up and down our country and in our communities living similar experiences. The #traditionallysubmissive is an insult to these women and all those who need help and support because it has not been forthcoming from their own communities.
There have been many excellent community initiatives that have taken place to support the black and minority ethnic communities over the last 40 years. But we cannot ignore the fact that these things are still happening and we would be negligent to deny that. We still have young girls, new arrivals who do not speak English, who do not have the support or the power they need in order to make a stand when things go wrong. Nor do they have the skills they need to become a full part of the society they will most likely spend the rest of their life being a part of.
However £20 million to boost English skills would have been more welcomed if it had been made available to all women and men who needed it, regardless of race, religion or nationality. And if it had been in addition to the £45 million that was cut from the Skills Funding Agency in July 2015 for the teaching of English.
The need to stop our young people from becoming violent extremists, supporting terrorism or committing acts of terrorism is a sad reality of the world we are living in. But we must not associate everything with this agenda. It is wrong. It becomes damaging and divisive. And further adds to the ‘us’ and ‘them’ narrative that is becoming virulent. And particularly this week as we commemorate the Holocaust and subsequent genocides in Bosnia and Rwanda, we must reflect on where this narrative can ultimately lead us.
So Prime Minister I do appreciate what you were trying to say. But please ensure your comments are made in such a way that it does not insult the many thousands of Muslim women who are articulate and playing a full part in British society. Do not make statements that allows the right wing elements in our society and particularly in the media, to demonise Muslims even further. This should not have been about Muslims – this should have been about women who are not reaching their full potential and are being abused.
Salaam Shalom and Peace!