My article for 8 March international Women's Day
A century of struggles for freedom and equality!
By Houzan Mahmoud
In a world where we are defined and “identified” on the basis of nationality, ethnicity and religion (down to the smallest of sects) the category “woman” is increasingly relegated to a second class status. In countries where political systems are based on religious diktat women have no rights to live, think, act or decide for themselves. Their lives are valued at half that of a man. Rigid religious laws show no sign of allowing happiness, prosperity or the simplest of rights to women.
In Islamic countries women are suffocated, suppressed and tied to bigoted norms and values. In this environment women grow up deprived and segregated - thinking that there is only one way to live, that no other choice exists. They are right. In these countries women have no choice but to subjugate themselves to the male members of the family and follow the orders handed to them from “God”.
What we witness in our “countries of origin” is a tragedy without end. A tragedy where from an early age generations of women are told that their minds are not their own. Where their personalities are not shaped by individual will but moulded by the oppressive rules of society.
In my “country of origin”, Iraqi Kurdistan, religious law does not officially hold sway over local law. But Islamic ethics and morality form the norms of everyday life. Islamic law shapes the lives of millions of women from birth to death.
We are the actual survivors of Islamic cultural norms and traditions. No, we are not “victims” but strong activists who have survived some of the worst that religious rule has to throw at us, who have the guts and courage to speak out and be the voice of the silenced women of the region.
From Basra to Baghdad and through to Kurdistan women are being killed on a daily basis, terrorised in the name of “honour”, forced into arranged marriages.
More and more are choosing to be free. The price of freedom is very high – often costing life itself – but so many women are making this choice.
Dua Khalil Aswad, the Yazidi girl who was dragged out and publicly stoned to death by male family members was a victim of religious bigotry.
Nafisa, an Afghan woman whose husband recently cut off her nose and ears.
Zohreh and Azar Kabiri-niat, the two Iranian sisters who have been sentenced to stoning to death, accused of having “illicit relations”.
These women and many more in Iran, Saudi Arabia and other Islamic infected countries are being stoned to death in public and hanged. Every day, tens of such examples occur around the world. In Uganda, Sudan and elsewhere women have been and continue to be raped in retaliation during bloody wars. Abject poverty strikes women the hardest. Why all this brutality?
More than ever women are pushed into prostitution and trafficking as a means to survival. Women are being stripped of dignity and pride.
Lack of economic equality, a rigid patriarchy and religious misogyny are pillars of a capitalist system that keeps us divided on the basis of gender and class. This system creates a horrendous situation for women.
Cultural Relativism stands opposed to the universal rights that were only achieved after decades of campaigning. This post-modern view of the world is a direct attack on the status and rights of women around the world, it divides our movement. We must once again affirm that when we stand for the equality of women we stand for all women, in whatever part of the world, from whatever background.
Religious bigotry should be countered more vocally, wherever it raises its head. The Archbishop of Canterbury made the case for allowing the legal recognition of some aspects of Sharia law because more than anything he fears that without such ‘liberalisation’ bigoted Christian laws, values and opinion would be forced out.
We have all these battles to fight alongside the struggle of our class. It is my belief that all this religious fuss and cultural relativism are part and parcel of capitalism in this age. Capitalism cannot survive without keeping people divided along the lines of class, race, religion and gender. It cannot survive without keeping people in ignorance and poverty. Cultural relativism, Sharia Law and Christian ‘values’ all prolong the situation.
Therefore our struggle cannot be successful without the full and complete engagement of society as a whole. Our rights and freedoms, our class struggles and aspirations are universal. Women’s freedom does not mean freedom for some. Our freedom does not accept the idea that a religion, culture, border or nationality excludes the most oppressed. We are all human; we all deserve to live with dignity and to enjoy unconditional freedoms.