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Speech at Status of Women Committee's solidarity and sisterhood

Homa Arjomand

April 20, 2005

Speech at Status of Women Committee's solidarity and sisterhood

I am very confident that gatherings such as this one will make powerful contributions to the struggle for women’s freedom by raising the profile of women’s rights. Such events draw attention to the urgent need for actions relating to ensuring the total equality of the sexes, to secularism, and towards the establishment of a society where all people are free and equal regardless of gender, race, nationality or country of origin.

In my speech I will discuss how political Islam under the name of "freedom of Religion" pushed back the women’s liberation movement and how it lowered the norm and the standards of today’s society not only in Middle East but also in the West. Then I will concentrate how to prevent the establishment of Sharia court in Canada and why that is necessary to defend secularism.

The establishment of Sharia court in Canada is part of an international move against the universal rights of women. It is a political thrust that is being promoted by political Islam, during the past three decades; it has succeeded in setting back the women’s liberation movement in general. To illustrate this, I refer you to the achievements of the women’s liberation movement between 1970 and 1980.

In the 70's, activists in women’s liberation movements, not only succeeded in making significant progress on issues such as Work equality and Labour standards for women locally, but they also managed to make gains globally. The women’s liberation movements were striving co-operatively to gain more rights socially, economically, and politically, all within a global prospective. Issues such as “International Labour Standards for Gender Equality”; “Equality of Opportunity and Treatment between men and women in health and medical services”; “Maternity Protection at work” and the "Universality of women’s rights and child protection” were recognized by the vast majority of people. Such universal awareness raised the norms and standards of society, especially in the West.

Unfortunately, now instead of fighting for universal rights for women and seeking new avenues for achieving equality, socially, economically, and politically, we still have to fight for the most basic rights, some of which were actually achieved three centuries ago. Rights, such as the rights relating to choice of employment, choice of clothing, travel, divorce, the nature of sexual relationships and rights related to child custody.

With the rise of political Islam, the general outlook of society has shifted drastically. Political Islam directly imposes its oppressive rules on women in a brutal manner in the so-called Islamic countries. Through Sharia, women have lost their rights and their dignity. They are being deprived of their most basic rights. They cannot travel or work without the consent of their husband or their father. They are segregated in society. They are forced to wear the veil at very early age. If they engage in sexual relationship outside of marriage, they will be stoned to death. Polygamy (The practice of having more than one wife at the same time) is permitted. Girls at very young age are forced into arranged marriages. The list of deprivation goes on and on.

Political Islam needed more power and influence and so it has spread its reactionary wings in the West. As result, religion gained an upper hand in those communities considered to be Islamic. Consequently, women coming from Islamic countries to the West, face the same brutal, suppressive and abusive situations that they left behind.

Unfortunately, multiculturalism provides a justification for this inhuman condition.

Only in this context, can the attempt to implement a Sharia Court in Canada be understood. This would be an intervention into the judicial system, and its first victims, as we have witnessed in Iran, Afghanistan ,Pakistan , and Algeria , will be women.

The sad reality is that the Ontario Arbitration Act 1991 legitimizes the endorsement of Sharia law.

We must recognize this move as reactionary and as anti-women. We must rise up against it and once more safeguard the complete separation of religion from the state and from the judicial system. We must demand that religion be declared the private affair of individuals. It is our duty to defend secularism; only then we can smooth the path for women’s liberation.

Women’s equality and freedom has direct connections with the state in two areas. One is in regard to legislation and the other relates to support organizations.

The question we face is: "What does our society do to guarantee legislation and action that defend the rights of full equality for all women?"

We must accept one set of progressive laws and regulations for all, irrespective of sex, race, ethnicity, etc.

We should remind people that the validation of Sharia court in Canada will put the life and safety of battered immigrant women in jeopardy. It would pressure them to remain in abusive relationships or face dire consequences. Therefore, we must demand the removal of family law from the Ontario Arbitration Act 1991.

We should not allow any cultural restrictions to interfere with our justice system. We should acknowledge the fact that religion and traditional cultures are serious barriers to women’s liberation.

We should mobilize people under the slogan of separation of religion from state and justice system.

We should acknowledge all religions as private matters. A person’s religion should not enter the picture in defining their social and political identity nor should it be a factor in their interactions with the state.

We should develop self-awareness and have a clear idea of our demands and objectives.

Finally, to protect women’s hard earned achievements; governments must educate all residents about their rights and provided them with appropriate and sufficient legal support services to ensure those rights.

I’d like to end my speech by making an appeal to you. As an activist for women’s equality and as a founder of the International Campaign against Sharia Court in Canada, I appeal to you to support this campaign for the total separation of religion from the justice system and for the removal of family law from the Ontario Arbitration Act 1991, in any way possible: financially, morally and by keeping people alert to the dangers our society faces.

Homa Arjomand was the guest speaker for the monthly dinner of the University Women's Club of Toronto

Speech at Status of Women Committee's Solidarity

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