Uncategorized

Can Mary Robinson please tell us the truth about that meeting with Princess Latifa now?

 

In the past few months we have seen Princess Haya, the 6th wife to the current ruler of Dubai, Sheikh bin Rashid al Maktoum, escape from her marital home and marriage and seek refuge in London. Divorce proceedings were subsequently launched at the High Court Family Division, with the Princess seeking full custody of their children because of fears they could be coerced into forced marriages and endure other human rights abuses if they are returned to their father and the UAE.

 

Those of us who have been following Dubai’s track record over the treatment women, especially those of Royal birth, will know that Princess Haya is not the first Dubai princess to leave the oil rich city-state. Both Princess Shamsa and Princess Latifa, daughters of Sheikh Maktoum from a previous marriage, tried and failed to leave the UAE. They have since all but disappeared from public life, with Princess Shamsa being seen sporadically at family gatherings in recent years. Princess Latifa was last seen in December 2018, after images showing her with Mary Robinson, former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and former Irish president, were shared with Sky News.

 

In the fallout that followed the release of the images and a car crash radio interview with the BBC’s Mishal Hussain, Robinson reiterated that she was asked to meet with Latifa by Princess Haya to reassure the world that she was save and in the “the loving care of her family”. So in other words, Robinson was asked to manipulate the world into believing that Princess Latifa was a ‘troubled’ woman and that Sheikh Maktoum was a nice guy after all, by her friend Princess Haya.

Don’t get me wrong, I am very pleased that Princess Haya managed to escape and is now ‘safe’ in the UK (or at least, a lot safer that she was while she lived a gilded life in Dubai) But what is still worrying is that, despite happily answering questions about Princess Haya, Robinson has failed to mention Princess Latifa or demand answers about her whereabouts and safety from Sheikh Maktoum. As a former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Robinson track record in fighting human rights abuses speaks for itself, which is perhaps why she was asked to meet and pose with Princess Latifa in the first place. Now that world has been shown (yet again) the true, brutish face of Sheikh Maktoum and how he treats his womenfolk as his personal possessions, why is Robinson still refusing to condemn him? After all, in a recent interview, Robinson took great pains to distance herself from the ruling family by claiming her friendship is with Princess Haya only. She also claimed she would not be commenting on her meeting with Princess Latifa despite calls from #FreeLatifa campaigner David Haigh as she is “respecting Princess Haya’s privacy in what is a private matter.” Since when did the disappearance of a grown woman (and royal princess) who has repeatedly tried to escape and released videos of her plight through her best friend Tiina Jauhiainen, count as a ‘private family matter?’

 

This ‘selective amnesia’ and ‘selective care for breach of human rights’ has damaged Robinson’s credibility more than it has helped either Princess Haya or Princess Latifa. Now may well be the best time for Robinson to finally come forward and tell us the truth about what happened during that obviously staged meeting with Princess Latifa in December. This is the very least Princess Latifa, Princess Shamsa and those of us who have been campaigning for their safe release, deserve.

 

 

Advertisements
Standard
Uncategorized

The perfect answer to today’s Bridezillas?

By Tasnim Jara

 

I walked into my wedding reception wearing grandmother’s white cotton saree with zero makeup and no jewellery. Many asked me why. So here is my reason.

I was troubled by the singular image of a bride that our society has – with tons of makeup, a weighty dress and mounds of jewellery weighing her down. Don’t be fooled, this lavish image of a bride does not represent the financial well-being or agency of a woman in the family. This sometimes rather happens against their will. As if the society has decided that if we really have to spend money on women, we spend it against their will and for a cause that won’t do them any good.

I have hardly attended any wedding where I didn’t overhear people gossiping: “Is the bride pretty enough?” “How much gold does she have on?” “How much did her dress cost?” Growing up listening to these questions, a bride feels pressured to look for the best makeup artist in town, pays a hefty amount in time, money and energy, and ends up looking nothing like herself; because the society constantly reminds her that her actual skin colour isn’t good enough for her own wedding.

She has learnt from her aunties, peers, and the corporates that a bride is “incomplete” without ornaments; that her and her families’ status depends on how much gold she puts on on the day. She can hardly afford to question if the amount of jewellery she puts on can indeed determine her and her families’ dignity. Because the society keeps pushing with, “You’re a girl. Why wouldn’t you wear gold on your wedding?”

Again, to look like a bride, she needs to wear a crazy expensive dress, which ironically makes walking difficult for her (due to its weight) and never comes of any use after the wedding. But the society won’t accept it any other way.

Don’t get me wrong, if a girl wants to use make-up, jewellery and expensive clothes for herself, I am all in for that. But it is a problem when she loses her agency in deciding what she would like to wear on her wedding day. When the society forces her to doll up and look like a different person, it gives a message that the authentic look of a girl isn’t good enough for her own wedding.

Personally, I feel that we need to change this mindset. A girl should not need a whitening lotion, a gold necklace or an expensive saree to be accepted as a bride or to make her feel confident. So I arrived at my wedding venue wearing my dadu’s saree, with zero makeup and no jewellery. People may call it simple, but it was very special to me, for what I believe in and what it means to me.

I faced a lot of resistance from many quarters after making this decision. Certain members of my family even said that they won’t take any photo with me because I didn’t dress like (they imagine) a bride. Shoutout to the few family members who have supported me in this, and special shoutout to this person beside me, Khaled, who has not only supported me unconditionally but also beamed at me with so much pride, for taking a stance against the stereotypes.

Standard
Uncategorized

Telegraph’s Camilla Tominey attacks Meghan Markle’s Vogue cover for being overly inclusive 🤦🏽‍♀️

 

@CamillaTominey article responding to the guest edited September edition of the fashion bible Vogue has elicited a great deal of reaction since it appeared on the @telegraph site on 31 July 2019, and rightly so.

 

In this particularly nasty hatchet piece, Tominey bemoans the fact that Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex, has dared to only feature five white women, compared to ten others from a Black, Ethnic, Minority Background (BAME). FIVE!

Tominey also berates Meghan for not including any men (the audacity!) and then bizarrely uses the mildly antagonistic phrase ‘pale, male and stale’ to drive her point across, as though she is the self-appointed voice of men over a certain age and hill who are just not capable of speaking out for themselves. Give it a rest, Camilla. We all know the reason you’ve written such a bitchy column and it is not because you are standing up for the rights of an oppressed minority or gender. Quite frankly, you are outraged that a woman of colour is using her considerable platform to raise and amplify the voices of other women. This is perhaps an alien concept to you, women looking out and helping other women, so maybe you could learn a thing or two, once you’ve put your sharpened quill down.

Let me tell you, seeing so many wonderful women around me, from all backgrounds and religions is an amazing, uplifting experience. For me, growing up as a child of the 80s and 90s, it was near impossible to see BAME women in any prominent position or role. Yes, we had Gita from EastEnders and we had Network East on Sunday mornings, but apart from that, there was nothing more substantial. The first book I read by a person of South Asian heritage was a ‘The God of Small Things’ by Arundhati Roy, when I was 17 which finally ‘spoke’ to me. Before that, when we studied literature such as ‘A Color Purple’ by Alice Walker or ‘Presents from my Aunts in Pakistan’ in my English lessons, some resonated, most didn’t. My family were working class, with my dad coming over from Pakistan in the 1960s to work in the Bradford mills and my mum a stay-at-home housewife, looking after my six siblings, (four of whom were disabled and had learning difficulties) There were definitely no saris (or indeed cardigans from Marks and Spencers!) in the house.

Without positive role models, I had no one to emulate or look up to, which became all the more difficult when it came to convincing my family to send me to college and then university.  The only ‘role models’ my friends and I had were women who stayed at home, obeyed their husbands and had lots of children. If they did work, it was in menial packing jobs for the local card factory that employed mainly Pakistani families for slave labour wages. No one from the same background as me had ever went to college or university or held positions of power or authority. In my (still) deeply patriarchal community, if ever a girl or woman showed any desire for a better education, a better job or indeed a better life, she was ridiculed and told to stop pretending “she was the daughter of a prime minister”.

Indeed, when Benazir Bhutto was re- elected as Prime Minister of Pakistan while I was visiting in 1993, I became wildly interested in politics but was told that the only reason Benazir was ‘allowed’ to be a PM was because her family was powerful and already in politics and that I had no right to entertain any thoughts of entering politics myself.

Role models matter, but only if they are the right ones. In the past decade or so, the advent of reality TV has seen a rise in the number of image related disorders where young girls are expected to emulate their favourite’s TV stars by buying their brand of fake hair, tan, nails, eyelashes, boobs etc etc. These impressionable young people are constantly told that looks are everything while looking after Numero Uno is the sole purpose in life. And yet, when Meghan has decided to put images of women who have gone out of their way to make a difference to other lives, she is attacked for doing so by a press that, it seems, is still coming to terms with Meghan’s presence.

Yes, Meghan chose to amplify the likes of Salma Hayek, who, in the past week since the announcement of the September issue, has been reduced to the mere wife of a billionaire that advertises his wares in Vogue, a lot. Well, before Salma Hayek was Mrs Francois- Henri Pinault, she was one of the first Hispanic woman with Arab heritage to appear in Hollywood, and has won as many awards for her women’s rights activism as for her acting.

This over-zealous obsession and nit picking by ‘journalists’ such as Tominey (and Piers Morgan, who is *still* bitching about being ‘ghosted’) over everything Meghan does or doesn’t do is becoming very tiresome. Joe, Jane and Jamila Public can see right through it. Yes, Meghan has struggled with some aspects of her transition from Hollywood actress to Royal, but seriously, the manner in which she is vilified over the smallest of things (such as shutting her own car door) is disproportionate, bullying and unfair. She is also accused of ‘hanging on the coattails’ of her husband, Prince Harry, and that “she’d be nothing without him.” The same, hypocritical people stayed schtum when the likes of Ayda Fields became a judge on the TV show X Factor and a presenter on Loose Women, principally because she is the wife to pop star Robbie Williams. They are the same people that didn’t moan when Tana Ramsey and Jules Oliver (married to chefs Gordon and Jamie respectively) both released books courtesy of their husband’s fame and success. Why is it so different for women of colour to take advantage or to do well if they are married to a successful man than it is for a white women? Why do WoC have to constantly prove themselves and to show they are worthy of success or a hand up, something never expected of our privilege endowed white sisters?

So, to all the ‘Camillas’ that are having a go at Meghan Markle right now, go away and check your privilege. And your conscience. And then ask yourself, ‘what purpose do I have in life if I use my platform to attack, belittle or moan about another woman who is clearly trying to use hers to make the world a slightly better place?’

Standard
bullying financial control VAWG EVAW, domestic violence, Uncategorized

Murder victim Susan Nicholson family to raise £5,000 for judicial review against Sussex Police failings

This thread was uploaded to Twitter on 30 July 2019 by @CCCBuryStEd and details the outright failings by @sussex_police to investigate properly the murder of Susan Nicholson by her then boyfriend Robert Trigg, who had a long history of violence and abuse against his partners. Her parents, now in their 80s, and two children are trying to  raise £5,000 for a full judicial review into the failings by the police.

Susan Nicholson was found dead, on her sofa on 17th April 2011. Her boyfriend, Robert Trigg had left the flat he shared with Susan, and walked to the newsagent to buy a pack of cigarettes. On his way home, he called his brother Michael and told him that Susan was dead.

Instead of calling 999, he then called a neighbour, and told her the same thing. In the end, she stood with him and made the 999 call on his behalf. On the audio recording, Trigg can be heard saying “I think … could be suffocation,”

Trigg told them that after a night of heavy drinking, he and Susan had fallen asleep on the sofa and he had woken up to find himself on top of her. Her face was purple. He thought she was dead, he told the police. But he panicked and so went to the shops.

The pathologist conducted a postmortem and his findings confirmed it: the cause of death was likely to have been a mix of accidental smothering and the effects of intoxication. The police concluded that the death was not suspicious.

BUT… Trigg had previously been cautioned for assaulting Susan. AND 5 years earlier, Trigg had been in a relationship with a woman who had also died suddenly. AND THE POLICE KNEW ABOUT THIS.

Caroline Devlin died in 2006. It was Mother’s Day. Caroline’s body was discovered by her ten-year-old, after Trigg had said there was something wrong with the mother. Trigg did not call for an ambulance, he left it to Caroline’s children to do so.

The police knew that Trigg had been cautioned for assaulting another former girlfriend, Susan Holland, whom he had dated in 2003. But they did not see Devlin’s death as suspicious as a forensic pathologist, had concluded that the 35-year-old had died of an aneurysm.

Trigg’s previous relationships seem to all have been violent: A previous relationship ended in 2002 after nearly a decade because of his drinking and violent outbursts.

In 2003, he accused a girlfriend of sleeping with a neighbour. He beat her, kicking her in the head and face. She spent three weeks in hospital and Trigg was later convicted of assault.

In October 2014 he began another relationship. When the relationship broke down, he send more than a hundred abusive messages and phone calls. In November 2016, he was convicted of harassment and handed a restraining order. She was so terrified of him, she left the area.

In August 2016 he entered another relationship and when this ended, he too sent her many abusive text and voicemail messages. On 21 December 2016 he turned up drunk at the homeless charity shop where she worked.

He shouted grabbed her by the arm, pushing her, then followed her into a back room of the shop and pushed her, causing her to fall into a door. He was arrested and later pleaded guilty to assault, harassment, and racially aggravated harassment and was jailed for 12 weeks.

Susan Nicholsons’ parents were suspicious of Trigg, because of his violent past and because the sofa in question was too small for a couple to sleep on. They criticised the original investigation by Sussex Police, asking for their daughters’ death to be reinvestigated.

In March 2012, an article under Trigg’s name appeared in Take a Break magazine. Under the headline “Killed By a Cuddle”.

In May 2012, Susan’s parents wrote to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC). The IPCC recommended that Sussex police investigate the complaint and review the investigation.

They received a report dated 3 October 2012 which concluded the investigation had been satisfactory. There was no mention of Trigg’s history of violence, nor of Devlin’s death.

On 8 October 2012, Susan’s parents wrote to the IPCC again. In May 2013, the IPCC upheld the complaint and, once again, recommended that Sussex police reinvestigate. Again, a Sussex police report, concluded that the force had conducted a satisfactory investigation.

This report revealed new details: 1. One of the officers had been “particularly frustrated” and had asked several colleagues why Trigg had not been arrested. 2. Two days after Susan’s death, a senior officer decided that it would not be “advantageous” to arrest Trigg.

The report acknowledged FOR THE FIRST TIME that “the previous records of domestic violence” were considered. It revealed Trigg had admitted on the day of Susan’s death his arrest for domestic violence 4 weeks previously AND

On the day of Susan’s death, the DI was aware that Trigg’s previous partner had died – and that, just as with Susan, “he did not notice she was dead until the morning”.

In December 2013, the IPCC recommended again that the police reinvestigate. Almost another year later, in October 2014, Susan’s parents received another police report declaring the investigation satisfactory.

The report also revealed that the PC had been part of the initial response to Caroline Devlin’s death five years previously. The coroner’s officer on Susan’s case, responsible for liaising with the police, had also been assigned to the Caroline Devlin’s case.

So in January 2015, after their fourth Christmas without their daughter, Susan’s parents approached a solicitor, Hannah Bennett, who took on the case and appointed a barrister, Matthew Farmer.

A Home Office forensic pathologist who had worked on a number of high-profile cases, including the Hillsborough disaster and the poisoning of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko was instructed to look again at Nicholson’s and Devlin’s deaths. The report was damning.

“In my opinion … accidental airway obstruction must be the least likely possibility in this case. In terms of the proposed positions on the sofa, this is not a matter of expert evidence but as a matter of common sense there must have been very limited space for two individuals”

“In my career, I have never previously encountered a case where accidental death was thought to have happened in the manner apparently accepted in this case.” The pathologist concluded the injuries suggested “traumatic asphyxia”. Susan had been suffocated, possibly strangled.

In all the time the police had been rebuffing Susan Nicholson’s parents, Trigg had remained a free man. Free to continue his reign of abuse

On 5 January 2016, Trigg pleaded guilty to an offence of harassment. But, even so, it was not until the police received the report from the pathologist that they decided to reopen the Susan Nicholson’s case.

While out on police bail, in 2016, Trigg sent his girlfriend more than 100 abusive messages, some of which included racial slurs. “You are an Irish cunt, with your Irish black hair and ugly body,” he wrote in one message. On the 21 December, he turned up and was arrested.

On 30 March 2017, he pleaded guilty to offences of assault by beating, harassment and racially aggravated harassment upon Yarwood. But he denied killing Susan Nicholson and Caroline Devlin.

His denial failed to convince the jury at Lewes crown court. On 6th July 2017, after a 10-day trial, the jurors convicted the 52-year-old in just six hours. Susan’s parents had spent more than £10,000 to get to this point.

Susan’s family now want an inquest to look properly at whether the police could have prevented Susan’s death, so that this does not have to happen to other families. They have set up a crowdfund:

https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/justice-for-susan/

Please read and share and donate to ensure that lessons actually WILL be learnt. Thank you.

Sussex Police have also been recently criticised after teen Shana Grice was murdered by her ex boyfriend Michael Lane after a campaign of harassment. A full judicial review is likely to expose more of the force’s failings towards victims of domestic violence so please share as widely as possible.

Standard
Uncategorized

Thinking of a public proposal? Don’t do it!

Just don’t, ok. Trust us on this. 

If you haven’t seen the video of the guy proposing to his girlfriend in the middle (IN THE MIDDLE!!) of her graduation ceremony, don’t worry, you soon will. It’s just the sort of clip that is destined to go viral and give narcissists the world over more ideas on how to make even a graduation ceremony for hundreds of graduands, all about themselves.

The 0:37 second clip first appeared on the official twitter account of University of Essex with the hashtags #shesaidyes #weddingbells (hang your head in shame, UoE!)

Let us dissect the video a little. Amid a cacophony of noise and hollering, a man gets onto his knees in front of his girlfriend (and the entire, packed hall) who seems to be overwhelmed by what is happening. He then proceeds to put a ring on her finger after she says yes (well, she can’t very well say no even if she wanted to seeing as there are around a thousand people watching her!) He then picks her up, swings her around in a hug and kisses her. All while she is clutching her degree certificate (did I mention that this was a graduation ceremony? For the girlfriend? Degree certificate?!) After kissing her at least twice, the boyfriend allows her to finally go back to her seat. And all this is being played across the giant screen in front of the graduands and their families and friends, who have actually made the effort to turn up and help the graduates celebrate their special day.

Why do I have an issue with this proposal? Surely its romantic and exactly the sort of public declaration of love that makes all the girls go weak at the knees? Errrr. Nope.

Public declarations of love smack of egotism and a need for the party making the fuss to be acknowledged and given a round of applause (exactly what happened here) This does not bode well for the relationship. When someone craves such public attention and adulation all the time, there can only be space for one person and their ego in that relationship.

Now, someone pointed out to me when I first mentioned this on my twitter account, this could be exactly what was perhaps discussed between the couple and that she may have given her blessing for such a proposal. Indeed, for some people, this is exactly the sort of over the top, Kim Kardashian/ Kanye proposal they dream of.

Sorry, I don’t buy it. Why would you want to spoil the one occasion that you’ve been waiting for while studying hard at university, the one occasion where your immediate family (and friends) can witness the fruits of your sweat, blood and tears? Surely, there could have been other occasions that could have sufficed? The post-graduation dinner perhaps? Or at a gathering at her parent’s home a few days later?

And for those who still insist this is romantic, let me tell you it isn’t. No woman should be put under any pressure to say yes to a marriage proposal even if you are in a committed, long term relationship and this is exactly what she has dreamed of all of her life. It is unfair and unless expressly agreed to, a way to back her into a corner so she feels she has no option but to agree. Many victims of coercive control have relayed their experiences of their partners using third parties as audiences to force them to ‘behave’ or agree to something they wouldn’t have normally done so.

Indeed, I suppose the only silver lining comes from the responses people have left under the video- which show that there are many who are clearly not impressed with either the boyfriend or with the University of Essex. Times are most certainly changing!

It also doesn’t help that (male dominated) movie industry is always showing the hero proposing to his lover (often after a tiff or a misunderstanding) in a public setting, helped along with some random stranger in the crowd (think Pretty Woman, Love Actually, Crazy Rich Asians etc) and then everyone goes home and lives happily ever after. We have got to stop feeding our impressionable young folk such rubbish. Lifelong romance isn’t about a viral public proposal video, it is about putting the hard work in away from the public eye and the lure of likes and shares. And it is also about letting your girlfriend enjoy her moment in the limelight for something she has spent three-four years of her life working for. Oh, and next time any idiot decides to gatecrash a graduation ceremony, I sincerely hope the University of Essex put her foot down and says no, instead of posting the cringeworthy video.

Standard
Uncategorized

David Challen speaks out to help other victims of coercive control within the family.

Sally Challen, with her sons James and David, who both campaigned for her release after she murdered her abusive husband Richard.

On 3rd July, a statement by David Challen was read out in the House of Commons, in front of a panel of domestic violence campaigners and activists which included Harriet Wistrich of Centre for Women’s Justice, Afsana Lachaux, Rebecca Humphries, Huda Jawad, Peter Manning OBE and Fatima Mourad. The event was titled ‘Coercive Control Within Families’ and was hosted by Khalid Mahmood MP.

David’s mother, Sally Challen had recently won her freedom after the Court of Appeal had ruled that her treatment at the hands of her abusive husband, Richard Challen, had not been explored fully during her trial for murder. Sally had murdered Richard after years of domestic violence and abuse, which included coercive control of the entire family. David and his brother spent many years campaigning for the release of their mother, and trying to explain what coercive control was and the effects it had had on them as teenagers and into later life.

Here is David Challen’s full statement:

“I’d like to personally thank, on behalf of my mother Sally Challen and I, Aisha Ali-Khan and Kahlid Mahmood MP for putting on this important seminar to discuss the impact coercive control can have on victims, their partners and their families.

Growing up my mother Sally Challen in my eyes was a meek, mild, loving and strong woman. A shepherd throughout my life like any mother is to their children. As I grew into my mid-teens my father started to pursue his own life and started to openly psychologically control my mother in front of my brother and I, in front of friends and in front of family. It became apparent as the years passed these acts were not new but had been ever present throughout their relationship. My mother who once appeared strong was in fact a prisoner all along and worst of all she thought it was normal.

My mother, Sally, was aged 15 when she met our father, who was 22; the abuse started shortly afterwards and continued over the course of 40 years. Our father bullied and humiliated her, isolated her from her friends and family, controlled who she could socialise with, controlled her money, restricted her movement and created a culture of fear and dependency. Our father fed into our mother’s mind that the abuse she was suffering over 40 years was normal.

In August 2009 my mother found the strength to leave. Separated for a year we felt she was safe, in actuality she was suffering further. She was trying to exist in reality without her abuser, without her prison guard to dictate how to live and without her abuser who she was taught to think and care about at all times. My mother was tempted to get back with our father having struggled to exist without his control, our father recognised her weakness and promised reconciliation so long as she signed a post-nuptial that economically abused her further and made her a disposable guest in her home. It was a demand for total control.

The time that followed led to more mind games and control that eventually led to a loss of control that led our mother to kill our father in 2010.

For the 9 years she has been in prison I have struggled to find the words to explain the control my mother suffered all her adult life. The lack of vocabulary left an edible mark on me growing up through my twenties. In 2015 I found the words in coercive control. As a child I felt voiceless, trapped and at times considered my father as another toxic traditional male. Many other people in society today believe abuse like this is a toxic relationship or traditional, it is not and we are not beyond understanding this as a society so we must believe we can help raise awareness of coercive control, not just in adult relationships, but with children and with the elderly who are victims of this abuse also.

If anything I believe the campaign as a family we have run for the last 2 years to recognise our mother abuse has helped display the public does have the ability to understand coercive control is severe, attitudes have shifted in the recent years. However, we all must acknowledge this is not nearly enough. Workplaces, the criminal justice system, the media, these are just some of the biggest institutions in society that help perpetuate attitudes of abuse, telling us the abuse is not that severe or victim blame. Bosses, friends, family, judges and journalists.

My mother and I are proud of all the voices who are speaking this evening personally affected by coercive control and thankful for the dedication of the event to my mother and her journey to freedom that she completed last month.

Every victims voice has the power to create real change and to stop coercive control. Together we can and will stop this abuse.” – David Challen

Standard
Uncategorized

BAME and Muslim women are the true casualties in Bradford Literature Festival funding fallout

Bradford Literature Festival 6th annual event is just days away, and it is bigger and better than ever before, with 500 writers, 400 events and thousands of visitors expected over 10 days, making it the ‘Tourism Event of the Year’. The fact that is was founded by two local British Pakistani, Muslim women who just wanted to help people fall in love with books and help improve literacy levels just makes it even more of a draw.

Of course, last minute drop outs and changes are par for the course of any major event, but this year, the BLF has found itself facing awkward questions over where some of its funding come from. Bradford-born poet Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan announced that she would be dropping out as she didn’t agree with BLF receiving funds the ‘Building a Stronger Britain Together’ fund. (On the official website, the fund is described as providing ‘funding and support for groups involved in counter-extremism projects in their communities’) Although this does not come under the Government’s controversial Prevent Strategy, it is still part of the 2015 counter-extremism strategy and funds more than 230 groups, some of whom are local community centres, arts organisations and BAME women related projects.

Since Suhaiymah’s announcement, further writers and activists have pulled out and some have now decided to hold an alternative event instead.

The Prevent Strategy has come under fire repeatedly for singling out and demonising the Muslim community, especially young Muslim men. It is clearly obvious that the topic and the impact it has had on the community is a difficult subject; many within the community still feel stigmatised and demonised simply for being Muslim and further conversations are desperately needed to begin to unpick the damage caused by years of being under the spotlight and only perceived through the lens of being terrorists or terrorist- apologists.

The founder of the Festival, Syima Aslam, responded with a statement outlining that the funds were used to carry out ‘important work with women’s community groups’ which included a local project to promote literacy among local BAME women across Bradford. In essence, the fund was used as a one-off to plug gaps in delivering short range projects and services that local councils and local communities are failing to provide for.

Image result for syima aslam

Syima Aslam, the founder of Bradford Literature Festival. 

The Government’s austerity measures and swinging cuts have obliterated services for the most marginalised and stigmatised of groups and Muslim women are at the top of the list of most affected. Since 2010, the Conservative Government’s austerity measures have seen up to 1000 Sure Start centres shut down and other services such as free literacy classes for BAME women shelved. Libraries and other public services have also been affected, with 127 public libraries being closed across Britain in the period 2017-18, affecting all prisms of society from mums and toddler groups, to teenagers studying for their exams to pensioners for whom weekly visits to the local library are a lifeline to wider society.

Alan Wylie, a library worker and activist campaigning against library closures nationally also recognises this: ‘…Cuts to public libraries have a detrimental effect on the lives, education and wellbeing of young people. We know that young people use libraries for reading but we also know that those that live in overcrowded housing use them for studying/homework and many see them as a safe space.’

The impact of sacrificing free literacy classes for BAME women has been felt even more keenly in inner city areas such as Bradford. Without such classes, mothers cannot help their children with their homework, share bedtime stories or even read letters or fill in forms for themselves. Literature festivals and projects such as BLF are wonderful in helping people fall in love with books, poetry and arts (which does has a knock-on effect of improving literacy) but without the public services supporting the most vulnerable, there will be very little, long-term progress in tackling the issues that are known to contribute to intergenerational poverty.

Image result for shaimah manzoor-khan

Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan dropped out of the Bradford Literature Festival over funding concerns

This is something that was also raised Casey Review: ‘poor language skills, (which) could be holding some women back from knowing their rights in the UK’ thus impeding integration and participation in wider society. Baroness Sayeeda Warsi tweeted at the time ‘Close inter-ethnic friendship more likely for people who are younger, more educated, have a higher income and are proficient in English,’ again underlining the importance of the English language as a means to interact with others. (The entire thread is available here and is well worth a read)

I am finding it impossible to discuss the BSBT funding for BLF issue without also addressing these other issues too. Yes, as a former English teacher, I am perhaps not unbiased when I say that literacy skills is the single most important factor in helping to break cyclical intergenerational poverty and tackle low aspirations and achievements. Yes, BLF has tried to engage with many different communities and has done great work in breaking down barriers. But there still remain pockets of BAME women that need help and support, and quite frankly, will be the main ones losing out when similar pre-festival engagement and literacy work cannot go ahead because of funding issues. And no, we don’t have people who are, quite frankly, more than capable, coming forward from the community themselves and offering to fund such projects.

Some people have taken to social media to unfairly tarnish the entire Festival as some kind of vehicle to spy or gather information, which is completely untrue. This is the Festival has brought together a wide range of people who would never have met otherwise to hear each other’s stories in a totally neutral, inclusive environment. It has allowed feminist writers and other BAME writers to enter mainstream consciousness rather than stay on the fringes, where sadly many had languished for years.

I have now attended three BLFs since it started in 2014, and am very much looking forward to attending some of this year’s 10-day programme, with many events hosted by my alma mater, University of Bradford. I am more aware than most how hard it has been for Bradford to shed it’s drug- and crime- related image (which was recently reinforced via the BBC3 documentary ‘Hometown’) but since 2014, BLF has brought a much needed positive spot light on Bradford and the surrounding areas. Other local festivals such as the Bradford Fringe Festival have also sprung up, while UNESCO choice of Bradford as the first ever City of Film has further helped to  cement Bradford’s reputation as a creative hub.

The alternative event on Sunday also looks interesting, and I am planning on attending. Mixing with people even if you don’t agree with each other’s views do go a long way in helping to dissipate those echo chambers! But we cannot afford to ignore the bigger picture; when everything has been packed away after another successful year of events and all the dust has settled, the actual reality for those BAME women will remain unchanged. If we really want to take a stand, then let’s start by recognising that other structures of oppression exist, and one of them is not being able to write one’s own name.

See you all in Bradford next week!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Standard