Category: Featured

2019 Shortlist Announced, Emma Humphreys Memorial Prize, 3 October 2019

2019 Shortlist Announced, Emma Humphreys Memorial Prize, 3 October 2019

Afsana Lachaux has spent the past five years campaigning for women’s access to justice.  After having to flee Dubai, and whilst continuing to fight for the return of her son, Afsana has successfully campaigned for the FCO to include warnings to women about the potential impact of sharia law in travel guidance, as well as fighting an important defamation case brought against her by her ex-husband.

Arinola Araba is a survivor and campaigner who works on domestic violence and child sexual abuse. She has written two books on these topics, one of which has been made available for free to 100,000 young women in Africa. She recently held an awareness-raising event within her local council area, targeting professionals who may come into contact with women experiencing abuse.

Building Equality is a group of survivors organised through Edinburgh Women’s Aid. Together they have written a book called When Women Speak I Hear about their experiences, which is on sale from independent retailers across Edinburgh.

Fiona MacKenzie runs the ‘We Can’t Consent to This campaign’. She collects information on the use of ‘sex game gone wrong’ defences in killings of women and girls in the UK. She was the first person to systematically collect this data, which shows that this defence is being used increasingly and with some success. Her website honours the humanity of the women killed in this way and draws attention both to male violence and to the ways in which women are being let down by the criminal justice system.

Holly Archer is a survivor, campaigner, and founder of a service providing support to sexually exploited children. She worked with journalist Geraldine McKelvie for years, drawing on her own experiences to demand an inquiry into child sexual exploitation in her home town. This campaign was eventually successful but has led to threats and harassment from associates of key perpetrators. She has been through a long struggle to be awarded for funding for her new service and continues to campaign and raise awareness.

Lilly Lewis is a survivor and campaigner who has done her campaigning work over the last three years despite being incarcerated. After being sentenced to seven year’s imprisonment in 2016 she began to work with APPEAL’s Women’s Justice Initiative to use her story to campaign about the treatment of abused women by the criminal justice system. A peer mentor in custody, and a mentor for at risk young people when on day release, she intends to continue her campaigning after her release in December 2019.

Magdalen Berns was a campaigner for lesbian and other women’s rights. She produced YouTube videos in defence of women’s private spaces and sex specific rights. She had a wide reach in introducing new women to radical feminism and faced down a lot of hostility for publicising her views. Magdalen died in September 2019, aged 36.

Maryam Namazie was the first public female atheist from a Muslim background in the UK. Maryam began campaigning over a decade ago and has always focused on the issues of women from Muslim backgrounds. Her work challenges both sex inequality within Islam as well as the additional difficulties that women face after leaving Islam.

Meena Patel joined Southall Black Sisters in 1987. Since then she has spearheaded SBS’ campaigns to raise awareness of the violence experienced by Black and ethnic minority women. She also runs SBS’ survivor involvement work, and helps other women to politicise their experiences: many of these women have gone on to campaign with SBS. Meena was a key player in the campaign to free Kiranjit Ahluwalia. She also led an impromptu demonstration of SBS service users against the Home Office’s racist ‘Go Home’ vans in 2013, giving strength to service users and illustrating to other services the value of publicly opposing injustice.

Rachel Horman leads the Domestic Abuse, Stalking and Forced Marriage department at Watson Ramsbottom Ltd. Besides going above and beyond for women in her legal practice she campaigns for changes in the law as chair of the Paladin national stalking advocacy service, for example in the successful campaign to have coercive control included in law as a discrete offence. Rachel writes a blog in which she focuses on holding the state to account on violence against women. She regularly undertakes pro-bono training of the police, social services, and refuge services, on how to advocate for the interests of survivors of abuse.

We hope to see many of you at our awards event with the Centre for Women’s Justice on 8th November. Tickets are available here.

On 30 September, International #BlasphemyDay, #EndBlasphemyLaws #BlasphemyNotACrime

A quarter of the world’s countries and territories (26%) have anti-blasphemy laws or policies, and more than one-in-ten (13%) countries have laws or policies penalizing apostasy.

According to Pew research, laws restricting apostasy and blasphemy are most common in the Middle East and North Africa, where 18 of the region’s 20 countries (90%) criminalize blasphemy and 14 (70%) criminalize apostasy. While apostasy laws exist in two other regions of the world – Asia-Pacific and sub-Saharan Africa – blasphemy laws can be found in all regions, including Europe (in 16% of countries) and the Americas (29%).

The 14 countries that have the death penalty for blasphemy are all countries with Islamic law: Afghanistan, Brunei, Iran, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritania, Nigeria, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

66 countries have blasphemy laws: Afghanistan, Algeria, Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, Austria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Brazil, Brunei, Comoros, Cyprus, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Finland, Germany, Grenada, Guyana, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Liechtenstein, Malaysia, Mauritius, Montenegro, Morocco, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Poland, Qatar, Russia, Rwanda, San Marino, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Somalia, South Sudan, Spain, Sri Lanka, St Lucia, St. Vincent and Grenadines, Sudan, Suriname, Switzerland, Syria, Tanzania, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Vanuatu, Yemen, Zambia and Zimbabwe. (It used to be 71 but Canada, Denmark, Greece, Malta and New Zealand have dropped blasphemy codes from their books recently.)

On 30 September, International Blasphemy Day, let’s stand with blasphemers across the globe.

Blasphemy is not a crime; it is an integral part of freedom of expression and conscience. #EndBlasphemyLaws #BlasphemyNotACrime #BlasphemyDay

#IAmSohailArabi #Iran

#IAmSinaDehghan #Iran

#IAmPeymanMirzazadeh #Iran

#IAmSaharEliasi #IAmMohammadNouri #Iran

#IAmSherifGaber #Egypt

#IAmShahabMurtadhaGhafouri #Kuwait

#IAmMohamedRusthumMujuthab #Maldives

#IAmAbdulInyass #Nigeria

#IAmTaimoorReza #Pakistan

#IAmAyazNizami #Pakistan

#IAmShafqatEmmanuel #IAmShaguftaKausar #Pakistan

#IAmAhmedAl_Shamri #SaudiArabia

#IAmRaifBadawi #SaudiArabia

#IAmMahmoudJamaAhmed_Hamdi #Somalia

#IAmJabeurMejri #Tunisia

De Balie #CelebratingDissent Festival was an Astounding Success

The epic ‘Celebrating Dissent’ Festival took place between 30 August -1 September in Amsterdam, a collaboration between the prestigious art and debate institute De Balie and Maryam Namazie.

Consisting of a mixture of intense, probing conversations, comedy, art, poetry and dance performances, films, lectures and protest, the weekend was an education in the issues facing dissenters fighting religious constraints and the religious-Right. The work of ex-Muslims and women campaigners was particularly evident.

More than 50 speakers from 30 countries worldwide discussed Women’s Dissent; Touching the Holy Subject; Comedy, the Sacred and Islamophobia; Separation of Religion from the State; Women against Gods; Identity; and Fighting the Far-Right. The deep wound left by silence within families was portrayed in a gut-wrenching film ‘No Longer Without You’ by Nazmiyeh Oral. Nadia El Fani’s  brave film ‘Neither Allah nor Master’ explored the importance of laicité. Speaker upon speaker showed how some of the most vibrant responses to fundamentalism have come from the universal desire for freedom – especially where survival has become synonymous with challenging religion and the religious-Right.

To highlight the dangers facing dissenters, a public protest of 160 balloons with the names of those persecuted or murdered for blasphemy and apostasy was held. Participants at the Festival carried balloons to a nearby square and chalked the names of dissenters into the pavement as a memorial of sorts.

The historic event was an astounding celebration of apostasy, blasphemy and dissent. From the moment the city’s Mayor, Femke Halsema, opened the festival by welcoming ‘heretics, infidels and renegades,’ it was clear that this would be a historic and remarkable festival committed not only to defending free thought and expression but also the lives and freedoms of dissenters.

Video footage

30 August 2019

Celebrating Dissent: Interview Marathon with Maryam Namazie 
Celebrating Dissent: Interview Marathon with Taslima Nasrin
Celebrating Dissent: Interview Marathon with Inna Shevchenko
Celebrating Dissent: Interview Marathon with Saif Ul Malook

Celebrating Dissent: Interview Marathon with Zineb El Rhazoui. An empty chair since she was prevented from coming by Dutch government.

31 AUGUST 2019

A Conversation on Women’s Dissent with Inna Shevchenko, Maryam Namazie and Taslima Nasrin. Music by Shelley Segal. Protest Art by Victoria Guggenheim. Chair: Samira Bouchibti.

Touching the Holy Subject with Nadia El Fani, Rishvin Ismath, Saif Ul Malook and Sarah Haider. Music by Veedu Vidz. Chair: Bahram Sadeghi.

Comedy, the Sacred and Islamophobia with Shabana Rehman, Ali Rizvi and Armin Nabavi. Chair: Sherin Seyda.

Public Art Protest commemorating dissenters in a public square.

Separation of Religion from the State with Afsana Lachaux, Annie Laurie Gaylor, Elżbieta Podleśna, Homa Arjomand and Sadia Hameed. Chair: Bercan Gunel.

Women against Gods with Gita Sahgal, Ibtissame Betty Lachgar, Maaike Meijer, Mineke Schipper and Rana Ahmad. Performance by Atoosa Farahmand. Chair: Ianthe Mosselman.


Film Screening Neither Allah Nor Master by Nadia El Fani followed by a conversation with Hind Bariaz, Karrar Al Asfoor, Wissam Charafeddine and Zara Kay. Chair: Sophie Rutenfrans.

Film Screening No Longer without You by Nazmiyeh Oral followed by a conversation with Cemal Knudsen Yucel, Fauzia Ilyas, Mimzy Vidz, Omar Makram, Rishvin Ismath, Sohail Ahmad and Zehra Pala. Chair: Parwin Mirahimy.

On Identity with Kenan Malik, Harris Sultan, Jimmy Bangash, Rahila Gupta and Yasmin Rehman. Poetry by Halima Salat. Chair: Jorgen Tjong a Fong.

Fighting the Far-Right; Celebrating Dissent with Halima Salat, Maryam Namazie, Mohamed Hisham, Muhammed Syed, Sadia Hameed and Sami Abdallah. Music by Shelley Segal. Chair: Samira Bouchibti.

There was also artwork by Mahshad Afshar and Jenny Wenhammar.

 Media coverage of De Balie #CelebratingDissent Festival

Photos of De Balie #CelebratingDissent Festival.


Palestinian Women Protest The Murder Of Israa Ghrayeb

The So Called “Honour” Killing Of Israa Ghrayeb Is A Stark Example Of Why Honour Culture Needs To Die A Death

The latest story about a brutal honour killing in Palestine feels poignant not just because of how harrowing the murder was, but because Israa Ghrayeb, the victim, could have been any one of us. 

By Hana Chelache and Momin Taha 

Israa Ghrayeb (also referred to as Israa Ghareeb or Esraa Ghareeb) was a 21 year old Palestinian woman from Bethlehem who had a lot going for her. She was a talented makeup artist with a large following on social media and was also engaged to be married. People who knew her have described her as hardworking, sweet and beautiful. Sadly, any dreams Israa had will now never be. Late last month, Israa became the victim of a brutal honour killing at the hands of her father and brothers. 

Firstly we must summarise what happened to Israa (and acknowledge that there are some contradictory accounts online). Shortly before she was due to marry, Israa Ghrayeb and her fiance met at a cafe, accompanied by her sister. She posted a video of the meetup on Snapchat. Israa’s uncle saw the picture and complained to her father and brothers that the date, her love of makeup and the way she dressed where dishonouring the family’s reputation. What happened next is very disturbing. Accounts tell that when she returned home Israa was severely beaten by her father and brothers and was taken to hospital with severe spinal cord injuries, requiring surgery. Despite her condition she showed remarkable resilience whilst in hospital, posting a picture of herself online, telling her followers, “Don’t send me messages telling me to be strong, I am strong. May God be the judge of those who oppressed me and hurt me.”

After receiving spinal surgery, a group of her male relatives went to the hospital and attacked her violently. Sadly, the doctors and nurses stood aside while this happened. Some speculated that this is because they feared repercussions for themselves if they were seen to intervene. However, a harrowing recording does exist of Israa screaming for help as she was beaten. Israa Ghrayeb died shortly afterwards. The family members who attacked her have since been charged with her murder by the authorities.

Iaraa Ghareeb, Esraa Ghareeb
Will there be justice for Israa Ghrayeb?

Before they were charged her relatives made victim blaming statements accusing her of being mad and possessed by jinn (evil spirits or demons) that they were trying to exorcise. Unfortunately, a minority of online commentators have stooped low enough to uphold this toxic narrative. 

Femicide is of course a global problem but as tragic as the case of Israa Ghrayeb is, this is not just an isolated incident of an abusive family murdering their child, but part of a wider practice known as honour killings. In some high control or extremely reactionary Arab and South Asian communities, a family’s honour is tied up with how individual members of the family, especially the young women are seen by the wider community. If a member of the family transgresses against a code of honour, then the family as a whole has been dishonoured, in the community’s eyes. In very extreme cases, members of the family or wider community assault or kill that person to restore the family’s honour. Reasons for honour killings have included a woman choosing a husband that the family did not approve of, acting in a way that is perceived as immodest or being discovered to be LGBT. According to Palestinian NGO Against Domestic Violence Against Women, this is the 19th known honour killing case in the Palestinian territories, in 2019. They also report that 12% of known homicides in the Palestinian territories are honour killings. Unfortunately honour based violence and murder is a problem throughout the wider Levantine region, with nearby Jordan having one of the highest rates of honour killings in the world. Many honour killings and instances of honour based violence also go unreported because they are conducted by people who are close to the victim.

This story has sparked outrage globally but has especially struck a chord amongst progressive people in the Arab world. As of early September, the hashtag #WeAreAllIsraa has been tweeted over 50,000 times on Arabic language Twitter. Large numbers of people in the Palestinian Territories have also attended peaceful protests demanding justice for Israa and the government to do more to protect the women from violence, including honour based violence. There is a sense that people are absolutely sick of these sorts of things happening and are hungry to see real change. 

Palestinian Women Protest The Murder Of Israa Ghrayeb
Women protesting in Ramallah outside the Prime Minister’s office, on 2 September 2019.

Britain’s progressive Arab community are also similarly outraged. Alham Akhram, Founder and Director of BASIRA, British Arabs Supporting Universal Women’s Rights says, “We call for justice and equality of all women. We want a change in the laws in the Arab region that give lenient punishments to murderers when it is a so called “honour” killing. We want a full and open investigation of Israa Ghrayeb’s murder, to learn the truth about what happened and we want her murderers held to justice.”

Palestinian human rights workers based in Great Britain are also planning to organise a protest to demand justice for Israa outside the Palestinian Consulate in London, which they are asking the British public to come to and support.

So what needs to change to protect more young people befalling the same fate as Israa? Firstly, the laws surrounding honour crimes in the Palestinian territories are grossly inadequate. A legal loophole based on article 340 of the Jordanian penal code, states that a murderer can have their sentence reduced to just six months if the perpetrator states that preserving their honour was a motivation. A form of what translates into English as “social law”, “tribal law” or “clan law” is also widely practised, where the killer’s sentence can be reduced if the family of the murdered person agrees to forgive them. These sorts of laws that put a family’s so called “honour” above protecting victims of murder and domestic violence shouldn’t have a place in the 21st century, infact, they’re an absolute joke. The Palestinian Authorities promised to overturn these laws in 2014, but little progress has been made to do so and unfortunately, we are not holding our breath.

What also needs to change are the bad ideas that lead to these sorts of crimes being committed in the first place. It is stifling to expect young people to live their lives according to a code of honour, that is defined by forces beyond their control. Surely individual rights, such as the right to socialise with who you please, choose who you love or marry, the right to a private life or the right to freedom of expression should come before community rights and expectations. There is no point blaming the victims of honour crimes, or suggesting that there are actions that they could have taken to avoid their fate. Today, its the girl who met her fiancee in a coffee shop, tomorrow its the woman who dressed too “provocatively” for her family’s liking, after that its the man who was found to be gay. The most pious or profane person could find themselves on the wrong side of honour culture, there’s no point trying to appease it. Better the idea that someone needs to be punished for transgressing social norms dies a death instead.

We’ll end this article with the worlds of Dina Tadrous, a 23 year old Palestinian woman who spoke to journalists at a recent women’s rights protest in Ramallah. “Her story actually talks about the story of every woman in Palestine,” said Tadrous, “Every woman who is at risk of getting killed because she wanted to express herself freely.”

When we think of Israa Ghrayeb’s story, what strikes us most however is how normal her actions were. We think of ourselves, and all the people we know who have been on a date, who have met our partner for coffee, who’ve shared aspects of our lives on social media, taking it for granted that it would not put our lives at risk. The only difference between us and Israa was how we were treated by the people in our lives. In that sense, I am Israa, you are Israa, we are all Israa.

Israa Ghrayeb’s brother is of Canadian citizenship and is currently studying in Greece. There is a petition online asking the authorities there to prosecute him. Sign the petition.

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