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yazidiThe last few pieces drawn from the reporting I did  in the Middle East late last year are now out.

For the Spring issue of the World Policy Journal, I wrote about how Syrian women in Jordan are adjusting to life without men.

Studies show that at least a third of Syrian refugee households in Jordan are headed by women – meaning that, as in Sara’s case, there is no male provider. This is not unusual in war-time, given that men tend to enlist or be drafted. The number of female-headed households was thought to be even higher among displaced Iraqis during the first Gulf War . . .

Many of these women, hailing from traditional societies where men are the primary household earners, must work for the first time, even as they care for their children. As they deal with tough economic realities, many are also navigating bereavement, trauma, and loss.

The piece is no longer available for free online, but can be accessed here, and the first few pages of the clipping are below.

In the Spring issue of the New Humanist, I wrote a piece about the persecution of minorities in Iraq, and how their cause is being taken up by the far right in the west.

Dalu’s anger stems, in part, from a feeling that people overseas are not paying attention to the suffering of his community. But the persecution of religious minorities in Iraq has been exploited by international actors for many years, in ways that often exacerbate the problem. This raises serious ethical questions not just about assisting marginalised groups, but about the way these issues are discussed. In an era of increasing divisions and a worldwide narrative of a “clash of civilisations”, the situation of minorities in Iraq has been used to feed a dangerous discourse that does no favours to people like Dalu. How can outsiders support these groups without worsening the situation?

You can read the rest over at the New Humanist website.

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india_pakistan-620x413On the 14th and 15th August, Pakistan and India celebrated their respective Independence Days. This year, which marks 70 years since the Partition of India, the celebrations were accompanied by reflection. There has been a cultural reticence around discussion of the deep trauma inflicted by Partition – the ripple effects of which are still felt today.

In a piece for Prospect, I wrote about historians who are trying to gather oral histories of Partition – a project which is fast becoming a race against time as the last generation with vivid memories of this seismic event die out.

Oral history is particularly important given that there has been no major public reckoning with the seismic event of Partition. There are no memorials for the dead, no national reflection as there is today in Germany after the horrors of the Holocaust, no reconciliation committees as in Rwanda after the genocide. There are several possible reasons for this: not least the circumstances of Partition, which involved not only independence from years of subjugation but the birth of two new countries.

For The Pool, I wrote about the gender-specific traumas faced by women. In addition to a broader cultural reluctance to talk about Partition, these stories are hampered by stigma around sexual violence.

Urvashi Butalia, Indian feminist historian and author of The Other Side of Silence, has written about the gendered impact of Partition, and the need for a true engagement with this history: “Women were raped, kidnapped, abducted, forcibly impregnated by men of the ‘other’ religion, thousands of families were split apart, homes burnt down and destroyed, villages abandoned. Refugee camps became part of the landscape of most major cities in the north, but, a half century later, there is still no memorial, no memory, no recall, except what is guarded, and now rapidly dying, in families and collective memory.”

On a (slightly) more cheerful note, my 93 year old grandmother spoke to BBC Woman’s Hour about her own memories of Partition, when she was one of many privileged young women who joined the relief effort by working in refugee camps. You can listen online – she’s about 25 minutes in and is followed by a historian talking about the impact Partition had on women.

things i would tell you“The Things I Would Tell You: British Muslim Women Write” is a fantastic anthology, published by Saqi and edited by Sabrina Mahfouz. It contains writing from a wide range of women – poetry, short stories, essays, plays – from established writers like Kamila Shamsie and Ahdaf Soueif, as well as from young spoken word poets published here for the first time. I’ve got an essay in the book, a personal piece about the first time I travelled to Pakistan as an adult with my mother. It’s in good bookshops and, obviously, on Amazon.

There’s a big schedule of events planned for the book; the launch at Waterstone’s Piccadilly in April was a joyful occasion full of laughter and brilliant women. I spoke at Asia House, and will also be appearing at the Hay Festival on 3 June with Sabrina (the editor) and Aliyah Hasinah Holder.

hero-landscape-grunwick_jayaban-desai_gettyimagesThis December I wrote a couple of pieces for The Pool, looking at different aspects of integration in Britain. The first dealt with Louise Casey’s government-commissioned report into integration. My piece dealt, particularly, with her disproportionate focus on Muslim communities and her emphasis on patriarchy and the oppression of women.

Casey talks a lot about not shying away from “tough questions” but much of her report covers common ground, reflecting prevalent prejudices and offering little in the way of new solutions. What good would an oath to Britishness do? Surely more effective strategies would be better funding for local services that can seek to access isolated woman with English lessons or simply information about the support that is available to them; for careers training, community groups, English teaching, and women’s refuges. This type of small-scale, local level community work has fallen out of fashion in favour of sweeping statements about extremism and a failure to integrate, but it is where our best hope lies.

You can read the full piece here.

My second piece for The Pool was totally different in tone. It looked back at the Grunwick Strike, a historic moment in 1976 when Indian women factory workers led a strike that was backed across the country. It was a remarkable moment of solidarity with the “strikers in saris”, which feels particularly poignant given the current political climate.

The Grunwick strike failed after 23 months. The factory refused to reinstate sacked workers or recognize their right to a union. But regardless of this ultimate defeat, it was a victory in race relations at a time when the broader political picture was bleak. The strike was significant because it was started by immigrant women bravely standing up to injustice – but even more so because it was not limited to those women or those immigrants. It became a wider movement against injustice and unfair working conditions, where people from different communities stood side by side. For 20,000 people to stand alongside a small group of disenfranchised Indian women was a moment of huge symbolism.

The rest of the piece is here.

bgnsIn August, it was reported that Kadiza Sultana, one of three teenagers who had left their homes in Bethnal Green to go to Syria, had been killed in an airstrike. The three girls had become one of the best known cases of young Brits travelling to join ISIS, their photographs published on the front of every newspaper. In this report for the New Statesman, I spoke to the family lawyer and people from local communities about what happened, and interviewed experts about why young women might decide to make this journey at all.

In Syria, out of the glare of the world’s media, Sultana soon regretted her decision to join Isis. Her husband, an American fighter of Somali origin, was killed in late 2015. She was scared. “She simply did not feel safe or comfortable there, she didn’t feel she could trust anyone other than her immediate circle and she didn’t want to stay in that environment any longer,” says Akunjee. Sultana spoke regularly to her eldest sister, Halima Khanom, who is 33 and lives in London. It was difficult for her to convey her fears given the risk of phone calls being monitored by Isis.

The full piece is available at the New Statesman website, and a clipping will follow.

A street in Johar Town, Lahore. Three women left for Syria from this area in December 2015.

A street in Johar Town, Lahore. Three women left for Syria from this area in December 2015.

My most recent trip to Pakistan (from March-April this year) was with the Times newspaper, under the auspices of the Richard Beeston Bursary. As well as covering general news, I was researching support for ISIS in Pakistan. The authorities have been keen to downplay any threat from ISIS within their borders, claiming that it is non-existent as a political force there – but there have been numerous attacks claimed by the group’s supporters. I was surprised by what I found; while there is currently little evidence of an organisational presence of ISIS in any meaningful sense – for instance, a fighting force with the capability of capturing territory – there are significant pockets of support. Those that I met did not fit the stereotypical demographic of militants in Pakistan, who are stereotypically rural and from lower income backgrounds. The first of my pieces on the topic for the Times came out on Saturday 11th June, and looked at support for ISIS (and other terrorist groups) amongst educated women. You can read the piece at the Times website here (link behind paywall) and the clipping is below.

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460545326Back in October, I travelled to Delhi. While I was there, I spoke to various women about how safe they feel in the city, and to activists about the long fight for change. It has been two years since the brutal gang rape of a student on a Delhi bus caused national and international outrage, prompted city-wide protests, and a series of legal changes. But did the incident have any lasting impact?

Sexual violence and violence against women is a global problem, and many of the issues that Indian campaigners describe are common to countries all over the world: a lack of funding for crisis centres and counselling, police refusing to record cases or making victims feel uncomfortable, a lack of female officers. “The police are generally very harsh,” says Dorothy Kamal, a rape counsellor for CSR. “People are afraid of them.” India’s police forces are chronically overstretched; and misogynistic social norms still dominate, for all the current public discussion. “Recognising the problem is positive, but when it comes to solutions, we are still grasping in the dark,” says Kumar.

 

You can read the rest of the article at the New Statesman website.