JAN Trust is a multi-award winning charity empowering and providing leadership for women in order to create positive and active citizens of society

Muslim females,

Burkini ban busted!

Nearly two weeks ago, mayors in about 30 French coastal resorts decided to impose a ban on the burkini (A burkini is a type of swimming costume that some Muslim women wear, which covers the arms, legs and hair). The ban prohibited women from wearing a burkini on public beaches or in the sea. If the ban was violated, a fine would have to be paid. Mayor Villeneuve-Loubet argued that in light of the recent attack on Nice it was ‘necessary, appropriate and proportionate’ to implement the ban in order to prevent public disorder. A French NGO, Human Rights League, and the Collective against Islamophobia in France challenged the ban arguing that the mayors had no right telling women what they can and cannot wear on beaches. They were successful and last week the burkini ban was overturned by France’s top court which ruled that the ban ‘violates basic freedoms.’ However, the mayors are refusing to lift the ban. The ban was also condemned by the UN who described it as “a grave and illegal breach of fundamental freedoms” and a “stupid reaction” to recent extremist attacks.

Within the French cabinet, most supported the ban but there was some disagreement over it. The French Prime Minister Manuel Valls stated that, “For me the burkini is a symbol of the enslavement of women.” Both the Education Minister and the Health Minister, Marisol Touraine, spoke out against the ban. The former said that the debate was fuelling racist rhetoric whilst the latter wrote on her website that “To pretend that swimming veiled or bathing on a beach dressed is in itself threatening to public order and the values of the Republic is to forget that those (secular) values are meant to allow each person to safeguard their identity.”

The burkini ban reached its climax last week when a photo was published of a Muslim woman on a beach in France surrounded by armed Police officers who made her take off her burkini. This sparked widespread furore which led to a protest against the ban outside of the French embassy in London in the form of a beach party. Despite being organised last-minute the protest received a lot of attention. Women in the city came together to show their solidarity with French Muslim women. The Mayor of London even spoke out against the ban telling the Evening Standard newspaper that “I’m quite firm on this. I don’t think anyone should tell women what they can and can’t wear. Full stop. It’s as simple as that”.

Mayor Villeneuve-Loubet’s claim that there is a security threat from women who show their religious affiliation is untrue. It is utterly absurd to link a piece of clothing with terrorism and in fact it is irresponsible to do so. The burkini ban is anecdotal of France’s rampant Islamophobia particularly against visibly Muslim women and follows the country’s ban on wearing the veil. There has been a wave of conservatism sweeping Europe and the rest of the world. In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives are calling for a partial ban on the niqab, whilst in Austria right-wing politicians have called for a ban on the burqa. In Switzerland there are calls for a popular vote on a ban on the burqa. Civil liberties are being curtailed on the pretext of national security which is very worrying.

State-sponsored Islamophobia is weakening community cohesion and has the potential to sow the seeds for conflict and hatred. The argument that the burkini is oppressive is offensive and ignores the fact that many women choose to wear the swimsuit because it allows them to go to a public beach or pool and swim and feel comfortable whilst doing so. It encourages social integration and can help overcome certain communities from being socially excluded. In the UK, many leisure centres hold women’s only swimming sessions where women of no faith and women of faith can swim. For many women from faith communities this enables them to undertake a healthy activity.

JAN Trust has done a lot of work on fostering community cohesion. Our experience of working on community engagement and community cohesion, as a charitable organisation, includes the delivery of training, projects and services aimed at socially and economically empowering women. For example, through our City and Guilds Fashion course and our IT for Beginners course we are not only skilling women but helping them to acquire the knowledge and tools to enter today’s challenging workforce. At the same time we are also promoting the enhancement of women as active members of society. Through our training, projects and services we are enabling independence and resilience by building the skills, resources and capacities of the BAMER community. Many of our women have gone on to become employed, self-employed or started volunteering.

We have also delivered a number of workshops across the country encouraging civic awareness amongst grassroots communities. In 2008, JAN trust organised Haringey’s first community cohesion conference called ‘One Community Many Voices’ (2008). The conference gave members of the public, in particular BAMER women, the opportunity to question the leader of the Council, their local Member of Parliament, the relevant portfolio holder for Communities and the local Police force.

If you’re interested in our work to promote community cohesion, please get in contact with us.

International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation

The term Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), is the procedure in which partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or sex organs are permanently cut. FGM practices are often deep-rooted in a community’s culture and identity, traditional values, and social norms. Within communities that have practiced FGM over multiple generations, the significance of the practice often continues within the elder population as traditionally FGM is thought to be empowering, a celebration, cleansing of a woman and a prerequisite for marriage.

Although FGM is deemed to be a rite of passage and coming of age for young girls and women in certain communities, this practice does not carry any health benefits, in fact often quite the reverse. I can cause sexual health complications, mental illness, infertility and even death. The National Society for Prevention and Cruelty to Children’s (NSPCC) short video shares FGM survivor’s personal accounts, the lifelong negative impacts from the cutting, and ideas going forward to promote the importance of grassroots initiatives, education and awareness rising to combat FGM practices for good.

From a social aspect, FGM is practiced due to gender inequality – it represents society’s control over women. It is estimated that over 200 million girls and women in the world today have gone through FGM, the majority in African, Asian, and Middle Eastern countries (source?). Woman Stats Project have developed a world map showing the prevalence of FGM at the global level. UNICEF’s FGM prevalence map shows the ‘percentage of girls and women aged 15 to 49 years who have undergone FGM by country’ in Africa and part of the Middle East. Across Africa, there is a high incidence of girls and women undergoing FGM, Somalia carries the highest prevalence rate of 98 percent, Followed by Guinea with 96 percent, and Djibouti with 93 percent (UNICEF, 2013). However, it is not just a problem in African and Asian nations, n England and Wales it is estimated that 137,000 women and girls are affected by FGM.

The World Health Organisation has released a report ‘Eliminating Female Genital Mutilation’, defines  the practice of FGM as a violation of the basic human rights of gender equality, and the right to life, freedom from torture and cruelty and non-discrimination based on sex.

In order to address FGM in the long term, both top down and bottom up approaches need to take place, combining grassroots and community-led initiatives to create behavioural change and ownership, with education programmes from governments and human rights groups education to empower and break social norms within these communities.

Despite these shocking statistics, in recent years there has been a vastly increased effort at the international level to stop FGM, in particular following the UN General Assembly Resolution Against FGM in 2012. Within the new Sustainable Development Goals launched in 2015,  Goal 5 is to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. The SDG 5.3 aims to “Eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation”. The UN Secretary General has stated that, “sustainable development demands full human rights for all women and girls. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development promises an end to this practice”.

The United Nations declared the 6th February an International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, with this year’s theme being “Building a solid and interactive bridge between Africa and the world to accelerate ending FGM by 2030.” With FGM predominately occurring in African countries, this strategy aims to change behaviour which has been ingrained over generations by educating women so that they feel empowered enough to end the practice.

At JAN Trust we provide workshops, raising awareness and support victims of FGM. Our campaign consists of workshops in schools, colleges, statutory agencies and community groups. In schools, the priority is to help both students and teachers detect cases of FGM, and know how to support victims. We provide training for practitioners including health professionals, social workers and the police in order to raise awareness about the practice, the law surrounding FGM as well as options and help available for victims.

In the last 4 years, we have delivered over 200 school sessions. We have worked with over 20,000 young people and practitioners across the UK and have worked in over 25 boroughs. Visit our website www.jantrust.org or Against FGM website to learn more about the work we do to campaign Against FGM.

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