Hurunnessa Fariad is the Director of Outreach for Multi-Faith Neighbors Network(MFNN). Ms. Fariad is also Head of Outreach at the All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS Centre). Ms. Fariad is an Afghan-American who fled Afghanistan during the Soviet invasion as a child and came to the US as a refugee. Ms. Fariad’s work is centred around the inclusion of women and making sure the voices of women are part of the conversation. Follow her on twitter at @hurunnessa
The Analyst: Please tell us a little bit about yourself; at what age you fled Afghanistan, where did you land and what was your reaction to seeing the Taliban taking control of Kabul?
Hurunnessa Fariad: My name is Hurunnessa Fariad. I was born in Kabul, Afghanistan a year before the Soviet invasion. We fled in 1980 as refugees into Karachi, Pakistan, and stayed there for three years. We were then afforded to come to the United States through the refugee program while President Reagan was in office. We landed in Queens, New York City when I was five years old and that’s where I grew up. We had to get up and leave everything behind in Kabul. I was only two years old, so I don’t remember any of it. We had to leave most of our pictures and clothing in the house. Soviet soldiers were outside our house and there were tanks on the street. We were smuggled out of our own country into Pakistan through the Mujahideen, who at that time were fighting the Soviets.
Growing up in the United States, a lot of people didn’t know what Afghanistan was, where it was, and didn’t really care much about what was going on there. There’s a lot of what happened during the Soviet invasion and the aftermath that had residual effects on what’s occurring now. It’s all interconnected, whatever’s been going on for the past 40 years in Afghanistan. It all seems like a nightmare as these things are unfolding in Kabul and other cities. I have aunts, uncles, and cousins who live in Kabul and Mazar-i-Sharif in the North. People don’t trust the Taliban and don’t want them as leadership. Every day there’s multiple moving elements within the story. There are so many elements of surprise and devastation with displaced people that I really don’t know how this humanitarian crisis is going to be addressed.
The Analyst: In your Facebook post, you wrote, “Ghani sold Afghanistan back to the dark ages and left my people with no protection!” What do you think the Ghani government should have done differently to avoid Taliban domination?
Hurunnessa Fariad: I think there’s so much that could have been done many years ago in terms of a more rigorous leadership. In a place where corruption is so commonplace, it’s hard to give an anecdote or a remedy. However, what I am going to say resonates with the majority of Afghans both at home and abroad. First of all, nobody knew about the transition of power. As President Biden said, President Ghani did not inform the people. Even his own Minister of Defence was unaware of his next move. The other day the Minister of Education, Rangina Hamidi, who I know as a personal friend, said that she was shocked that the president who appointed her left without telling his own cabinet. He was supposed to have a two-week ceasefire deal with the Taliban but he just left, and that too with a lot of cash.
This is not presidential. After knowing that the US was evacuating its forces, even if the Taliban were to come and take over, as a President he should not have left his people. They didn’t elect him so that in a time of crisis, he is the first person to leave the country. It’s treachery in the eyes of Afghans. People moved from different cities to Kabul for protection because they thought Kabul would not be taken over. Now they’re displaced and have nowhere to go and have nothing to eat. Children are sleeping on the streets. The Kabul natives are trying to flee as well. The images of people falling off of a plane while trying to get on the plane stairs are horrifying. The desperation of my own people to the point that they are hugging a moving airplane, thinking that they’re going to find refuge if they just cling on to the plane is heart-breaking. It’s the most demeaning, frightful and devastating feeling to think that these people are so desperate to get out rather than live under a tyrannical regime. All the people who are running in the airport were born into war, they know nothing else. They needed leadership which was missing. President Ghani was supposed to be the last man standing. Even if they threaten to kill him, he should have stood his ground.
The Analyst: Taliban have been historically cruel to women. As a woman, how do you see the life of Afghan women going forward?
Hurunnessa Fariad: The situation for women is much worse now because now they’re going to bring back the burqa or the hijab. There’s a lot of confusion over what the ruling is going to be. Women are going to be subjected to a lot of abuse and violations because it’s super easy to violate women, especially in these types of places. They are saying that women can go to school and work, but they have to prove it. Looking at past history, I am not sure if they are going to keep their word. Already we are hearing horrendous tales about unmarried girls and women between the ages of 12 and 45 who are being forced into marriages or into sex slavery. These things are just barbaric and out of line of Islam. And then again we are going to have to refute and debunk everything they say that’s not Islamic. People will keep thinking that Taliban is what Islam is and we will keep on correcting them. It’s so tiring after a while.
The Analyst: How do you feel about Biden’s speech? We saw some normalcy in the past 15 years. What’s your take on that?
Hurunnessa Fariad: It was definitely an extremely unplanned exodus of US troops. They took 2,500 out to bring 6,000 back in. That’s not planning. People are being picked up off of roofs, planes are running over people, and there’s no security at the airport. I think it would have been a lot better to have a solid plan so that people weren’t getting killed or shot. Two people got shot by the US forces at the airport. The US wasn’t expecting it to go down as quickly as it did in Kabul. People from the US embassy and green card holders are being pulled out or trying to get out. It’s a hot mess. I was a little disappointed that humanitarian issues weren’t addressed in President Biden’s speech. There should have been emphasis on making sure that the women and girls are protected, and that they have food and resources to live properly. President Biden made it clear that the US wasn’t in Afghanistan for nation-building. That we were there to get rid of terrorists. This is quite depressing as the US was in a county which has not had a government since the 70s. It’s not possible to beat insurgents without establishing a government. One of the biggest mistakes the US made during the Soviet invasion was that there was no post-war plan. They provided artillery to the Mujahideen during the war but there was no after plan. Then there was civil war. And now we are facing the aftermath of a lack of post-war planning. This is all going to become a bigger problem that President Biden will have to deal with.
The Analyst: The entire situation is painful. However, those who want to help don’t know where to start. Let us know how we can help.
Hurunnessa Fariad: One of the best ways is to reach out to your elected officials and explain the Afghanistan situation to them. Explain to them that they need to support humanitarian efforts to help the displaced people. Please donate to the trusted organisations. There are also Afghans that will be coming to the United States and many other parts of the world, so if you’re in an area that they are coming to, you can help them get furniture, clothing, and other needs.
Make religious education in Northern Ireland more diverse, says UNESCO
A study by UNESCO Education Centre concluded that schools in Northern Ireland should scrap Christian influenced religious education and daily acts of collective worship and replace religiously segregated schools with those that are more religiously diverse.
AnalystNews spoke to Dr Matthew Milliken, the study’s author, to find out how he thinks a more religiously open and diverse education system could bring much needed change to students at Northern Ireland’s mainstream schools.
Dr Milliken says that the purpose of this study was “to present a vision on empirical and academic evidence of what an education system in Northern Ireland could look like.” A vision that recognises various failings of the system which includes completely disregarding the idea of teaching students the different types of beliefs that society currently has, and the impact this has had on children who may be part of a faith which differs from the traditional Northern Irish beliefs of Catholicism or Protestantism. The signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, which brought an end to thirty years of the Troubles, introduced a new devolved government where unionists and nationalists would share power. But the arrangement did little for the country’s education system.
Unionists who believe Northern Ireland should remain part of the UK are usually Protestants and nationalists who believe that Northern Ireland should become part of a United Ireland are mainly Catholic. As the power to govern is shared between the two sides, schools have become completely segregated and students have been left with only two choices: attend Catholic or state Protestant schools. More than twenty-four years after the agreement, a surprising 93% of students in Northern Ireland still attend segregated schools.
“They still go to schools that are dominated by a Catholic ethos, present a particular image of Irish culture and Irish identity or they attend schools that are influenced, if not controlled, by Protestant denominations and propagate a particularly British view of society,” explains Dr Milliken. Students in Northern Ireland are kept religiously segregated from as young as three to eighteen.
But it’s not only the students. Teachers, too, attend separate training colleges. Dr Milliken elaborates, “They then go into university or for the sake of teachers, into separate training colleges. There’s a separate training college for Catholic schools and there’s a separate training college for state schools. And those teachers can go through their entire career, from age 3 through all of their school, through all of their further education, to going straight back into the classroom without ever having sat alongside anybody of the other faith.”
It hasn’t gone uncontested. The need for greater religious awareness has been a growing matter, and it predates the Good Friday Agreement. “There is a small integrated education system that accounts for about 7% of the schools here. It started about 40 years ago against great opposition. It was strongly resisted by the churches in particular,” states Dr Milliken.
And resistance has persisted. In July this year, a high court judge ruled that exclusively Christian religious education was unlawful. It came following a legal challenge by a father and daughter whose lawyers argued that the syllabus taught at the seven-year-old’s controlled primary school, violated her educational rights as laid out in the European Convention on Human Rights.
Catholic schools in Northern Ireland prioritise a view of history from an Irish perspective, whilst their state-controlled Protestant counterparts learn the British version of history. This means that in a Catholic school, children learn the Irish language, focus on issues to do with Ireland, and understand British issues through an Irish lens. However, in a Protestant state-controlled school, children are more likely to learn a British version and understanding of history, which means learning history the same way it is taught in mainland British schools.
The influence this has on wider society may be profound. Everything is taught differently – from academic subjects to sports. So for example, a Protestant school normally has as part of its physical education curriculum rugby, cricket, and hockey, but in a Catholic school, sports closely allied with Irish national identity such as Gaelic football and hurling are played.
The issue “goes beyond religion” Dr Milliken says. “To simplify to religion doesn’t really help because at the core, both sides are Christian. However, the roots of that Christian-centric education system go right through the education system here.” Boards of education have representatives from the three Protestant denominations and the Catholic Church which are responsible for educational administration. And there are separate boards for the controlled state-side and the Catholic side.
To entrench matters further, places on the board of governors are protected. Dr Milliken told Analyst News: “A Catholic school is likely only to have Catholics sitting on the board of governors. A controlled-state school is likely only to have Protestants on that board, and Protestants only from three particular denominations. There are no protected places on any of them that management are governors or people from any other faith.” All schools are required to teach a religious syllabus that is laid down exclusively by those four Churches. Schools are “controlled, inspired, dominated by Christian thinking. And pupils do not have the opportunity to study what they refer to as World Religions: Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Sikhism, until they reach post-primary level,” he says.
Even so, the way that Christianity is taught is intense; a Catholic primary school must have teachers who have undertaken an additional qualification that is solely approved by the Catholic Bishops, who then sanction whether they can teach the Catholic faith in line with the teachings of the Church. The Certificate in Religious Education is one of the many interlinked matters that have been identified as limiting opportunities for teachers in Northern Ireland to accessing employment outside of those schools associated with their own educational background and community identity. “That certificate is a large barrier to Protestant teachers getting a job in a Catholic school,” according to Dr Milliken but “there is time for change now.”.
From a human rights perspective, faith schooling is considered a key part of schools’ ethos. Children are entitled to skip religious education lessons if they follow different faiths but they usually end up sitting in the corridor on their own. And this is problematic as Dr Milliken explains. “They are being excluded. It’s one thing if they want to identify themselves and their difference in the class. But when they’re being excluded and identified as different by the system of education. That’s not a healthy way to be.”
The result is isolation and a feeling of victimhood. If a fair and open-minded religious curriculum was taught rather than “a lesson that propagated a particular worldview,” these children would feel much more comfortable explaining, sharing, and talking about their views and faith.
Dr Milliken told Analyst News that exploring religion would ultimately help them understand other people’s faith and their cultures: “I think there is a need to help young people, to find out right from wrong, to explore their values and belief systems. I think there’s an absolute need to help young people form their own ethical view of the world.”
It doesn’t help that certain topics are not broached. Dr Milliken says: “They don’t explore the issues of controversy that still affect this part of the world. They don’t look at issues of faith, issues of identity, issues of culture, issues of nationality, issues of politics, issues of history, that are shared. Those are the issues that teachers need to come to terms with.”
He states in his study that controversial issues should be taught in classrooms such as ‘shared education’ which “is an effort to fund joint activity between divided schools.” Supported by state funding, he envisages Catholic and Protestant primary schools working in collaboration and discussing issues that surpass “safe territory.”
Change could come through an engagement with those controversial issues, opening up debate and listening to alternative views without prejudice or the possibility of indoctrination. Whilst acknowledging the many differences between the two educational approaches, Dr Milliken is hopeful that his study may draw on their similarities instead and “bring people forward to challenge and question the state of school.” And although “it’s not a quick fix”, he feels the research offers a steppingstone to further questions about the school system in Northern Ireland. Dr Milliken is adamant that “we can have a more inclusive system of education that becomes a more shared system of education. One that isn’t backward looking, and one that better prepares our children for a shared future.”
Pakistan’s policies exacerbated its flood disaster
Michael Kugelman from the Wilson Centre think tank on how Pakistan’s flood disaster could have been avoided.
“Corruption, corruption, corruption.”
That was the refrain chorused by the many millions of people left homeless and in disarray following severe flash flooding in Pakistan’s northwestern region in 2010. But 12 years later, not much has changed. Once again, as torrential monsoon rains hit northern Pakistan, displacing more than 33 million people, killing 1,500 others, and destroying homes and livelihoods, decades of government negligence in the region can hardly be disguised by the simple narrative of a climate change-induced disaster.
To probe how far government corruption engendered and exacerbated the aftermath of catastrophic floods in Pakistan’s Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces, Analyst News spoke to Michael Kugelman, Deputy Director of the Asia Program and Senior Associate for South Asia at the Wilson Centre.
“Had ecological governance been practised more effectively in previous decades, Pakistan could have avoided some of the most damaging effects.”
Michael, who has just returned from Pakistan, witnessed the dire effects of the flood that submerged one-third of the country under water and calls the lack of “ecological governance”, which he explains as “policies that ensure the violent aspects of climate change can be managed”, one of the most critical contributing factors behind the devastating floods.
He adds: “Had ecological governance been practised more effectively in previous decades, Pakistan could have avoided some of the most damaging effects.”
But Pakistan’s northern tourism haven, Swat, is particularly prone to the effects of extreme weather conditions because of developmental failures: “We’ve seen in recent years, a lack of regulation of construction along rivers. You have had these encroachments as they describe it in South Asia. You’ve had all types of buildings put up alongside rivers, which means that when you have any types of floods, it means that, immediately, you’re going to have a lot of building damage and that entails possible losses of lives.” Whilst “no policy could have stopped these floods from happening because no policy could have prevented the rains from coming as early as they did”, had they “been better in the past, perhaps the damage wouldn’t have been quite as catastrophic as it was”.
New hotels and residential facilities have helped in the region’s development, but political expediency and prejudice towards the people that reside there, has rendered it vulnerable.
In 2002, the government introduced the North-Western River Protection Ordinance, prohibiting further development within 200 metres of riverbanks, and requiring the owners or managers of existing buildings to implement measures such as septic tanks and soaking pits. Then, in 2014, it implemented the Khyber Pakhtunhwa River Act, cementing the ban with the threat of legal action at special court trials to be set up for those who defied it. Yet no such courts ever were created, and reports suggest most of the constructions occurred under the Pakistan Tehreek e Insaaf (PTI) government, which itself enacted the penalty.
Michael explains that if Pakistan had paid heed to climate change warnings, “there would’ve been better efforts to maintain water infrastructure, dams, canals”.
“In Pakistan in recent years, these once mighty water infrastructures have fallen in hard times. They’ve become dilapidated because they haven’t received the maintenance that they need. So, canals sprung leaks, and dams, including Tarbela Dam, which is one of the biggest earth-filled dams in the world, lost a lot of storage capacity just because of erosion and other problems that weren’t addressed.”
“Unfortunately, the lessons that need to be learned will not be learned just like they weren’t learned so many other times in the past.”
Although he agreed that the impact of the floods was too intense to be controlled with well-maintained reservoirs, “better water infrastructure maintenance and a more robust repair regime would have been helpful”.
But on whether change could happen, he says: “Unfortunately, the lessons that need to be learned will not be learned just like they weren’t learned so many other times in the past.”
Timber mafias and power elites have for decades exploited the country. Commenting on this exploitation of power, Michael describes how people have taken advantage of their power and contributed to the human corruption aspect of the disasters.
“Nefarious actions that have been taken out of pure self-interest, which has ended up worsening the damage of floods.” For example, “wealthy landowners in the province of Sindh… have taken actions that have redirected flood waters away from their natural path so that they could avoid damaging the agriculture and the farms and the property of these landowners.”
“Nefarious actions that have been taken out of pure self-interest, which has ended up worsening the damage of floods.”
Deforestation was a contributor to the floods in 2010 that claimed the lives of around two thousand people and one of the contributing factors to the floods was deforestation. Commenting on how Pakistan has brought this under control since, Michael says whilst “the rate of deforestation has actually decreased over the last few years, there is so much of it over the last few decades that it put Pakistan in the position where it was deprived of what would’ve been a very powerful bull walk against flood waters”.
The National Disaster Management Authority Pakistan issued its first warning for devastating monsoon rain in the middle of June, just a day before the rainfall. This did not give enough time for the relevant authorities to take precautionary measures.
“The track record of Pakistani governments when it comes to emergency responses after national disasters leave a lot to be desired. And it’s actually quite notorious that state capacities responding to natural disasters are very weak. And as a result, we’ve seen the same patterns play out in these floods that we’ve seen so many other times, the 2010 floods, the 2005 earthquake, and other big natural disasters before that,” he says.
Whilst corruption and incompetence added to the devastation, similar attitudes in the relief efforts stand in the way of rehabilitating and aiding the stranded and displaced.
Government officials, including the Prime Minister and the foreign minister of Pakistan, are engaging the international community in their calls for relief aid. Just this month, the UK pledged a further £10 million in humanitarian aid, in addition to the £16.5 million it had already donated. The US has given £50.1 million in humanitarian relief since 12th August.
But concerns around its proper coordination are growing.
“The question is how effective that will be, and if the government is able to get the type of assistance that it needs can we expect that the money will be transmitted to the people that need to get that assistance?” Michael asks.
History bears testament that atomising federal funds to the powerful in control has impeded disaster prevention and efforts for relief. Revelations emerged of a dam scandal that began when PTI
Donors, Michael says, are looking for a reliable party to hand the money over to: “So that’s a bigger, broader challenge of being confident that all of this money that’s actually pledged will be delivered and, when it’s delivered, will get to the people that need it the most.”
But the international community cannot do much in the way of affecting this:
“The UN’s appeals for assistance haven’t really been met” because “the bigger story here is donor fatigue, which is one reason why you haven’t seen as much money going to Pakistan as would be desired,” he tells us.
“There is not a lot of clarity as to what happened to the money that actually was delivered”.
He acknowledges there are people in Pakistan who can mobilise an effort to gather disaster relief donations at a time of disaster. The former prime minister Imran Khan has in the past, “mobilized funds” but there have been “some concerns from informed observers that a lot more was pledged than delivered. And there is not a lot of clarity as to what happened to the money that actually was delivered”.
Growing political, social, and cultural polarization that has contributed to power exploitation and increased corruption is another reason why Michael believes no timely long-term planning to tackle environmental concerns in the region will take place. There are currently different opposing parties ruling in all four provinces of Pakistan, and there would be issues in managing the flood relief across the provinces.
“I think in an ideal world, you would have the central government coordinating with provincial governments on assistance and recovery efforts. And we just don’t have that. I guess it could have been worse if this happened a few months ago because Sindh is the worst affected province and it is controlled by the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), which of course is one of the members of the ruling coalition. So, I think coordination could be an issue for reasons other than politics, but I think that KPK is a problem in the sense that the province is controlled by the PTI, and of course, the PTI is at blogger heads with the federal government,” Michael says.
Pakistan is far from reaching this ideal world when political figures keep their vested interests at the forefront. According to Michael, it is unlikely that the recent floods will act as a lesson for the government.
“I don’t necessarily think you’re going to have a new paradigm that sort of prioritises public welfare and that uses the floods as a lesson for some type of major paradigm shift that entails putting everything else on hold, including politics and other things. And instead, focus on how to work to make the country more climate resilient and take efforts to ensure that the vulnerable are actually protected more and receive the support they get. Unfortunately, I don’t see that happening,” he says.
“One of the mantras of Pakistan is that it has a really resilient society.”
But despite political corruption, the exploitation of resources and power by the elite, and growing polarization, Michael is still hopeful that Pakistan will find a way to bounce back.
“One of the mantras of Pakistan is that it has a really resilient society. The people step in to address big challenges because the government is often missing in action and I think that certainly was the case here. I think many victims have concluded that in many cases they’ll need to fend for themselves but they will also look for help from their fellow Pakistanis, private citizens, those with charities, NGOs and so on.”
“It’s going to amplify for the Pakistani people the need to focus on their own grassroots level efforts to pre-emptively prepare themselves for future possible emergencies but also to recognise that they really are going to be on their own,” he adds.
But he says it would be difficult for them to do it alone. “If you are going to talk about climate-proofing villages by allowing people to have access to sturdier building materials that aren’t susceptible to collapse or destruction when hit by floods, they are going to need money for that, they are going to need technical support, and so on. And oftentimes they need the government to get involved.
“You need the international community to an extent as well.”
Can the Labour Party really save Britain?
Is the Labour Party really the answer to 12 years of austerity culminating in the economic fallout of Brexit and the pandemic?
As newly-elected UK Prime Minister Liz Truss oversees the plummeting of support for the Conservatives since her and her ex-Chancellor’s dire “mini-budget” only 3 weeks ago, the Leader of the Opposition and the Labour Party, Sir Keir Starmer is calling for a general election. The people, he says, are now “looking to Labour for the answers”.
Taking advantage of Truss’ embarrassing U-turns, the disastrous falling pound and the cost-of-living crisis, Labour are lucky to be up at a huge 51% in the polls, with the Tories trailing at 23%. But is the Labour Party really the answer to 12 years of austerity culminating in the economic fallout of Brexit and the pandemic? Could it be the antidote to the unethical behaviour which saw the end of Boris Johnson’s premiership?
There are worrying signs that it might not be. Soon after being elected, Sir Keir backtracked on some of the ten pledges on which he ran his leadership bid. Renationalisation of the railway and utilities was ditched as was the plan to raise corporation tax. Many left-wing members in the party were dismayed that Starmer openly admitted “winning” the election was the most important thing for him, even at the expense of his promises. And earlier this year, Starmer stated he was side-lining the 2019 Labour socialist manifesto and “starting from scratch” even though he had described it as a “foundational document”. If Starmer is prepared to win at all costs, what does that say about his own convictions and level of integrity?
Starmer and the party machine have demonstrated a callousness which doesn’t fit with traditional Labour values by watering down socialist policies and the treatment of his own party members. From removing the whip from his predecessor Jeremy Corbyn – meaning he can no longer sit as a Labour MP – to the dreadful handling of the trigger ballot of domestic-abuse survivor, Apsana Begum, Labour has been accused of purging left-leaning ideas and candidates. Critics have noted that other hardworking, long-standing members like Sam Tarry and MP of the Year Ian Byrne, have had trigger ballots imposed on them, been deselected or not allowed to stand for selection. The common denominator seems to be previous support for Corbyn and socialism.
Plagued by accusations of antisemitism during Corbyn’s leadership, the Labour Party did admittedly vow to clean up its act. However, the mostly disregarded Forde report highlighted a “hierarchy of racism” and the use of antisemitism as a “factional weapon” to undermine Corbyn. Whilst the mainstream media has been quick and dogged in its amplifying of antisemitism charges, it has failed – probably wilfully – to accurately report on the Forde Inquiry’s findings. Furthermore, the shocking and derogatory treatment of veteran MP Diane Abbot by officials has been met with a deafening silence by Starmer and his shadow cabinet. Abbot and other black and Asian members demanded an apology for the racism experienced in the Labour Party in an open letter. The party’s response, that “Starmer is now in control,” was concise but it was hardly reassuring.
And yet antisemitism still seems to be an issue. With the expulsion of a disproportionate number of Jewish activists on the left of the party in the last 3 years, Labour is actively ensuring there is no dissent. But a recent documentary series bringing evidence to light of the appalling harassment of local Jewish and Muslim members, has been largely ignored by the Labour front bench and media. Maybe because it was commissioned by Al Jazeera?
On balance, Labour have an upper hand. Being in opposition for so long, it can now pretty much present itself as a fresh alternative to the present chaotic government. People are tired of economic and political crisis after crisis, a characteristic of Johnson’s and now Truss’ leadership. But with Starmer’s raison d’etre seeming to be about winning at all costs – including apparently jettisoning basic Labour values – is he in danger of losing core Labour voters? More to the point, is the wider electorate prepared to overlook Starmer’s fickleness and double standards for something that looks like a safe pair of hands?
Can the UK be trusted to support women’s rights in Saudi Arabia?
The UK has been found to be providing aid with ambiguous motives. The term “women’s rights” was cast aside when describing the purpose of the Gulf Strategy Fund (GSF), suggesting that the UK has either opted for silence on the matter or is supporting the discrimination of women.
The UK is a nation that traditionally champions women’s rights, but sometimes money and politics seem to get in the way. This time, the UK has been found to be providing aid with ambiguous motives. The term “women’s rights” was cast aside when describing the purpose of the Gulf Strategy Fund (GSF), suggesting that the UK has either opted for silence on the matter or is supporting the discrimination of women.
The GSF addresses various concerns in the gulf region including security, cyber, innovation and leadership and seeks to alleviate problems in the area by encouraging developments in tech and education. The role of women in these endeavours has been obscured, except for events on a small scale like the International Women’s Day Celebrations, Leadership Expos and Exhibitions for artists. The GSF has refused to be transparent regarding organisations to which funding is directly provided and the outcomes achieved through it. It is highly likely that the funding has been allocated to government organisations which are responsible for human rights abuses and oppression in their strict measures against dissent in Saudi Arabia.
Recently, two female Saudi activists were sentenced to prison over their undaunted tweets and social media presence. Broadly perceived as a tool inciting rebellion in Saudi society, Twitter users have often been subjected to severe consequences as a stern warning to the population. Nourah bint Saeed Al-Qahtani was sentenced to 45 years in prison for tweeting in favour of women’s rights, a risky attempt to break through the social structure of the country. And Salma al-Shehab, another activist was given a 34-year sentence for her bold statements, including a demand to release other journalists and activists. The nature of trials for these activists, which normally take place away from the limelight, remains a concern for many human rights institutions Over the years however, the Saudi Kingdom has revised its constitution and allowed women to adopt greater roles in society. This includes the ability to drive, relaxed dress code and more roles in the workforce. Whether or not these changes have made a significant difference to the lives of women in Saudi is debatable.
But Britain’s participation in the GSF is problematic precisely because of the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office’s suspicious lack of transparency around why women’s rights is no longer a featured purpose of the fund. In its endeavour to what appears to be not wanting to rock the boat with Saudi Arabia, is the UK compromising and selling out its own long-held principles? How can the UK be expected to be taken seriously when it calls out other regimes on their human rights abuses? It seems that maybe Britain can look the other way when the price is right.
Arab Gulf States: “Remove content that violates Islamic values or face legal action, Arab Gulf states tell Netflix”
Six Arab Gulf States as well as Saudi Arabia have threatened Netflix with legal measures if they continue showing content with any kind of LGBTQ+ representation, since it does not align with ‘Islamic values’.
A joint statement was published by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), consisting of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. It did not mention any content specifically, but said that it “contradicts Islamic and societal values”. The statement also mentioned that “the platform was contacted to remove this content, including content directed to children, and to ensure adherence to the laws.”
On Saudi state TV a woman, who was identified as a behavioural consultant, also called Netflix the “official sponsor of homosexuality”. Another segment also suggested that Netflix could be banned in Saudi Arabia due to programming deemed to negatively influence children.
“Even though it might seem harsh to some, these bans are understandable. Since countries like Saudi Arabia are Muslim countries, whose laws are also somewhat based on Islamic values, laws like this are justified. Just because the Western world is normalising these things, doesn’t mean we have to adapt our values to theirs.” Anisa Ali, a Saudi woman living in Germany, told Analyst News.
The UAE, Saudi Arabia and 12 other countries have banned movies with gay characters before. Just earlier this year Walt Disney’s new ‘Buzz Lightyear’ movie, a movie based on the Toy Story franchise, was banned in the UAE, due to showing two women kissing. In 2020 the Pixar movie ‘Onward’, an animated movie set in a fantasy world with elves, was banned in Arab Gulf States such as Kuwait, Oman and Qatar, as it showed a female character saying she’s lesbian. Marvel’s ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’, which was released earlier this year, was also banned in some Muslim Arab countries, because it also featured America Chavez, a lesbian character. Some fans even blamed Xochiti Gomez, the actress that played America, for ‘ruining’ the movie, despite the character already being gay in the comics.
As well as content featuring LGBTQ+ themes, an episode of Hasan Minhaj’s show ‘Patriot Act’ criticising Prince Mohammed, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, over the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi as well as Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the Yemeni war, was also removed off Saudi Netflix.
These bans are happening due to the contradiction with Islamic values. People of the LGBTQ+ community are seen as sinful, which is why most Muslim countries have not legalised homosexuality. However, countries like Bahrain, which have legalised homosexuality for citizens above the age of 21, still maintain anti-gay views, since they also joined the GCC’s recent statement and have not legalised same-sex marriage. In Qatar, along with several other Muslim countries such as Kuwait and Somalia, homosexuality is punishable by law for up to 10 years. Other countries such as Sudan or Mauritania have the death penalty for same-sex relationships.
Hijab-Wearing Muslim Women Face Discrimination in Hiring Practices
Muslim women around the world find themselves in the middle of heated political and social debates, because of their choice to wear the Muslim veil.
Muslim women around the world find themselves in the middle of heated political and social debates, because of their choice to wear the Muslim veil. Their Hijab is a barrier towards their participation in a western society, not because of any barrier the head covering presents, but because of the discrimination and prejudice surrounding it.
A new report from a group of researchers at the University of Oxford, Utrecht, and Berlin revealed that Muslim women in the Netherlands and Germany are less likely to get hired for high customer-contact jobs if they wear the Hijab. The field experiment also included Spain, where they found less discrimination compared to the other two countries.
In an interview with Analyst News, senior University of Oxford researcher, and co-author of the paper, Mariña Fernández Reino said that the funding and reason for publishing this paper comes from a push from the European commission “to assess and measure discrimination against ethnic minorities.”
The paper reports that the average callback rate for native women in the Netherlands who did not wear the Hijab in their application photo, was around 70%. But for women who did wear the Hijab in their photos the callback rate was only 35%.
For a country like the Netherlands, known as one of the more accommodating nations towards religious minorities, these statistics are concerning. This shows that employers take Hijabi women at face-value, in a country that is normally known for its progressive practices towards people of all backgrounds.
The ongoing politicisation of visible Muslim women has prejudiced people — customers and employees alike — against those that choose to wear the veil. The Netherlands, despite its otherwise progressive stance on religious freedom, has policies in place that discriminate against Muslim women, such as the burqa ban. But the discriminatory practices that have been proven to exist in employment fields further ostracize Muslim women who wear the Hijab from participating in society.
Germany had a similar, albeit, less staggering, difference than the Netherlands: 53% of native German unveiled applicants received a callback for their job applications, whereas the veiled applicants received callbacks at a rate of around 25%.
Khola Hübsch, a German journalist known as the “face of Muslim women” in Germany tells Analyst News that, “In Germany we had public discussions on the hijab for years.”
In these discussions, however, she points out that Hijabi Muslim women were never included themselves. This meant many prejudices were perpetuated through one-sided dialogue. She says, “As a consequence, we had hijab-bans for teachers and public servants.”
Although these bans were later rescinded, they left their impact, ostracising Hijabi women in society — and thus, the workplace.
Spain which was described in the paper as a country with “high competition for jobs in a context of high unemployment” had a 25% average callback rate for non-Hijabi native Spanish women compared to 15.8% for Hijabi applicants.
Reino says that in addition to competition and unemployment, the lack of discussion surrounding the Hijab on a political level in Spain as compared to Germany and the Netherlands could be a reason it didn’t matter much in employers’ decision for callbacks.
The study further looked at the difference in discrimination in callback rates between non-Hijabi Muslim women and Hijabi Muslim women, to see at what extent employers consider the veil as a barrier to a job.
For high-contact jobs, such as front desk reception, the average callback rates among non-Hijabi Muslim women were 42%, 52%, and 14% for the Netherlands, Germany, and Spain. These rates are still less compared to the native majority callback rates, perhaps showcasing a general discrimination towards Muslim women.
But for Hijabi women, the callback rates for these jobs were 18% for both the Netherlands and Germany, and 10% for Spain, showing an even greater disparity.
Reino tells Analyst News the logic they put behind the numbers is that human resource officers during the hiring process consider that, “women that wear a Hijab will be seen and contacted by customers.”
Due to negative societal beliefs surrounding the Hijab in countries like the Netherlands and Germany, she says, “customers might discriminate against employees, and thus businesses, so having public Hijabi employees might be considered bad for business.”
Reino says, “The main take of all this discrimination study is that what happens in the labour market reflects what happens in society.”
To change the inequality and discrimination in hiring practices, the change must start at a societal level. The larger anti-Islam narrative in the West must be studied and addressed.
To do that, Hübsch says “It is important to give those a public voice who are affected. Hijab-wearing women must be involved in the debate.”
Both Reino and Hübsch say that in addition to training employers to remove their prejudices, educational work to debunk the myths surrounding Islam and the Hijab must also be implemented.
The change in the labour market will have to be in tandem with the change in society.
I am a student from Ontario, Canada, and an aspiring journalist. I enjoy reading, writing and learning about the world around us - the issues with it and how we can make it a better place.
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