The Dawn Chorus

Fresh Australian Feminism

Posts Tagged ‘religion’

Religion and the law

Posted by hannahcolman on September 14, 2009

I got along to a session at the Melbourne Writers Festival a couple of weeks ago called ‘Writer As Activist,’ which featured Zimbabwean writer Petina Gappah on the panel. Her debut collection of short stories, An Elegy for Easterly, is published by Faber. Gappah won Zimbabwe’s Mukuru Nyaya Award for comic writing, and was a runner-up in the SA/PEN HSBC short story competition judged by JM Coetzee. She has law degrees from Cambridge, Graz University and the University of Zimbabwe. She lives with her son Kush in Geneva, where she works as an international trade lawyer. She speaks English, German and French, as well as her native language, Shona.

I’m still trying to figure out when on earth she finds time to write fiction.

In the panel discussion, Gappah came across as an extremely intelligent, funny and sensitive woman. She did point out that she struggles with being referred to as “The voice of Zimbabwe” in the media. She also mentioned that she doesn’t necessarily consider herself an ‘activist’; rather, she identifies as a short story writer whose fictional characters inhabit contemporary Zimbabwe. She lamented that because of the nation’s current political situation and the overwhelming interest in Mugabe, she had never been asked, as a non-fiction writer, how she crafted her characters. (Later, during Q&A, a lovely man up the back did ask her this, which was met with appreciative laughter from both the audience and Gappah).

Anyway, I decided to have a look at her blog. She had posted about a story which appeared on the BBC news website regarding a new law in Mali which gives women equal rights in marriage. Here’s Gappah’s post in its entirety.

First they want an education, now this. This, right here, is exactly why women should remain poor and illiterate.

The irony of this story, pinched in its entirety from the BBC news website, is that the woman inveighing against “intellectuals” in this story will never appreciate the irony of that last sentence.


Tens of thousands of people in Mali’s capital, Bamako, have been protesting against a new law which gives women equal rights in marriage.

The law, passed earlier this month, also strengthens inheritance rights for women and children born out of wedlock.

The head of a Muslim women’s association says only a minority of Malian women – “the intellectuals” as she put it – supports the law.

Several other protests have taken place in other parts of the country.

The law was adopted by the Malian parliament at the beginning of August, and has yet to be signed into force by the president.

One of the most contentious issues in the new legislation is that women are no longer required to obey their husbands.

Hadja Sapiato Dembele of the National Union of Muslim Women’s Associations said the law goes against Islamic principles.

“We have to stick to the Koran,” Ms Dembele told the BBC’s Focus on Africa programme. “A man must protect his wife, a wife must obey her husband.”

“It’s a tiny minority of women here that wants this new law – the intellectuals. The poor and illiterate women of this country – the real Muslims – are against it,” she added.
Gappah is right. Irony WIN. The reality is pretty frightening, though.


Posted in Blog Watch, Faith and Religion, law | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

On banning the burqa

Posted by Nic Heath on August 18, 2009

As has been widely reported in the last few months, French President Nicholas Sarkozy has the burqa in his sights. In June he announced to his compatriots that France would not accept a garment that made prisoners of the women who wear it. The latest controversy has seen a woman banned from wearing a burqini in a French public pool, ostensibly on hygiene grounds.

Sarkozy is the latest in a long line of politicians who have attacked aspects of Islamic dress in the name of women and their rights. These moonlighting feminists, by headlining their stance with a women’s lib tag, I think mask the true scope of their agendas – which in Sarkozy’s case could be to protect a certain aspect of a country’s cultural identity, or to marginalize another, or to assert authority.

As much as I dislike the burqa myself, vilifying the aesthetics of fundamentalist Islam – rather than say, focusing on the actions and beliefs of those who oppress women in the name of Islam – is a misalignment of energy and policy. Symi Rom-Rymer says it well in the Christian Science Monitor:

There are, no doubt, some women who are forced to wear this all-encompassing garment by their families, just as there are non-Muslim French women who are mistreated by their families in other ways. But to view the garment solely as a prison and as a symbol of male oppression, as Sarkozy does, oversimplifies a complex issue and may end up hurting the very women he’s trying to help.

If Sarkozy is truly concerned about the rights and dignity of these women, he ought to use high-profile speeches to discuss their needs, their concerns, and to focus on what they can contribute to and gain from French society, rather than on what they wear while doing it.

What will happen to women not permitted to wear the burqa in French public life (of whom there are reportedly 400 in France)? Will they happily cast it off and bare their exposed faces to shopkeepers and bus drivers? Will they enroll in university or vocational courses? Will they leave abusive husbands? Will it solve all their problems?

I have no definitive answers of course but I imagine that the result could be otherwise – could lead to further marginalization, could leave women further ostracized and isolated from the general community. As difficult as it is, if one is concerned about the rights of women wearing the burqa, it would be more useful to take a positive stance through giving those women support and fostering opportunities for their self-determination.

The wider Australian community also has a strained relationship with Islamic dress. The burqa perfectly manifests the other when held against Australia’s traditional cultural identity – laidback laconic larrikins living it up on the beach etc. The burqa threatens many people’s sense of self and of belonging. As Irfan Yusuf noted in July in The Age, Muslim women wearing the burqa provide the media a ‘potent symbol of Islam in the West’, one that is regularly exploited by news outlets.

When one Sydney Muslim man called for polygamy to be legalised, the Herald Sun website carried a photo of two burqa-clad women crossing the street. The website of its Sydney equivalent regularly carries photos of burqa-clad women in any story even mildly related to Muslims.

Julie Posetti, speaking at a forum at the ANU in July (which you can watch at ABC Fora), sums up my position pretty well. She argues that banning the burqa would be an oppressive move, and that much of the language used in calls against the burqa recalls cultural imperialism. She rightly says that the state has no place in a woman’s wardrobe. Imagine the government legislating against bikinis, or Catholic nun’s habits – it becomes an ethical minefield. Similarly murky of course is the boundary between cultural sensitivity, or regard for an individual’s rights, and cultural relativism.

Banning the burqa looks more like another symptom of France’s troubled relationship with ethnic minorities than a step forward for feminism and women’s rights. Policies of social inclusion and education would surely be more beneficial than those of prohibition and exclusion.

Posted in Faith and Religion, Fashion, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Abortion: Do The Crime, Do The… Time?

Posted by Talia Cain on September 24, 2008

One particular aspect of the abortion debate that is rarely discussed is that if performing-slash-undergoing an abortion should be deemed an illegal act, then what is due punishment for the woman who commits this “crime”? Last year, Anna Quindlen of Newsweek wrote a compelling article addressing this conundrum, titled “How Much Jail Time?”.

Quindlen is not surprised by the responses of pro-lifers to this question in a mini-documentary:

The man behind the camera is asking demonstrators who want abortion criminalized what the penalty should be for a woman who has one nonetheless. You have rarely seen people look more gobsmacked. It’s as though the guy has asked them to solve quadratic equations. Here are a range of responses: “I’ve never really thought about it.” “I don’t have an answer for that.” “I don’t know.” “Just pray for them.”

It poses questions to those who classify abortion as murder. What do you propose as punishment? You consider it murder, so the first step would be incarcerating the medical team that perform and assist in the procedure. Will there be a non-parole period? Should the sentence differ if the aborted foetus is 1 week old or 28 weeks old? Surely not if you believe that “life begins at conception”. What of the woman that seeks out the aborting of a foetus? She’s a willing participant – perhaps a lesser sentence of say, manslaughter?

It’s stupid for me to play the guessing game, I’m pro-choice and believe abortion should be legal – so you tell me the answers. I’m fairly certain there would an uproar if we started to see women put through our courts and flung into jail for a harrowing decision they have made about their own body and pregnancy. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Faith and Religion, Politics, Women's Health | Tagged: , , , , | 10 Comments »

Denis Hart Would Rather Shut Down An Entire Hospital Than Have It Perform One Abortion

Posted by Clem Bastow on September 23, 2008

The abortion debate, and specifically, debate surrounding its decriminalisation in Victoria, is always bound to stir up highly emotive responses, and none more notably than when religious beliefs become involved. So, it’s no surprise to hear that Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart has thrown his two cents in.

What might be a surprise, however, is to hear the extent to which Hart will oppose abortion’s decriminalisation in Victoria – to wit, shutting down entire hospitals, if law reform makes providing either abortions or referrals for them (i.e. from medical practitioners and hospitals) mandatory.

Archbishop Hart said Catholic hospitals would not provide referrals for abortions — nor perform them — which would be mandatory under the law.

“In the worst-case scenario, if a government is determined to enforce such laws, we have no option. We might get out of hospitals altogether,” Archbishop Hart told The Age.

“Catholic hospitals cannot be part of any abortion. That has to be respected in the community. Even providing a referral is a co-operation in evil, and that impacts very strongly on us as Catholics,” he said.

He said the law would require Catholic doctors and nurses with a conscientious objection to abortion to break the law. “This poses a real threat to the continued existence of Catholic hospitals.”

To put that into perspective, Catholic hospitals in the Melbourne area include St Vincent’s (public and private), Mercy (public and private) and Cabrini, amongst others – roughly 15 in total – in other words, some of Melbourne’s major healthcare providers. And it’s safe to say that their general healthcare and emergency services provided would far outnumber abortions or abortion referrals, if the law reform comes through, no matter how much of an avalanche of terminations the pro-lifers always like to tell us will happen if abortion is decriminalised.

The excellent Lauredhel at Hoyden About Town has more on the topic.

Posted in Blog Watch, Faith and Religion, Media Watch, Politics, Women's Health | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

A Lesson In Insensitivity From The Age Online Subs

Posted by Clem Bastow on July 17, 2008

You’ve likely heard the news lately about Bishop Anthony Fisher describing parents of two girls, Emma and Katherine Foster, who were raped by a Catholic priest, as having been “dwelling crankily […] on old wounds” because they are seeking an apology from Cardinal George Pell (our girl Rhiana writes about it here). Emma committed suicide this year, aged 26; Katherine apparently drank heavily before she was run over by a drunk driver in ’99, and is now disabled.

The girls’ parents, Anthony and Christine, arrived in Sydney this morning after flying in from England.

Here’s how the front page of The Age Online thought to deal with it (and thanks to Audrey for the tip off):

If you can’t read the caption down the bottom, it says “rape girls’ father”. And then again, when you click through to the story, you get this headline:

Bishop’s comments ‘disgusting’: rape girls’ father

Hey, The Age Online, you know what else is insensitive? Referring to these women – one of whom, tragically, is no longer with us – as “rape girls”.

Get a clue, sub-editors.

Posted in Media Watch | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Is This What A Paedophile Looks Like?

Posted by Cate on July 14, 2008

Well, maybe not a paedophile, but it seems the Pope is busy apologising for the sexual abuse perpetrated by certain members of the Catholic Church wherever he goes.

Dawn Chorus reader Chris sent me details from this website, Catholic House And Garden. Catholic Children’s costumes! Just in time for the Pope! The costumes are Made in the USA by American Farm women (their bolding suggested national pride preferences their identities as women and farm women at that).

The Pope:

Our Lady of Lourdes:

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , | 4 Comments »

The Ethics Of Clothing – How To Dress For Polygamy

Posted by Cate on July 3, 2008

So, you’re down with the No Sweat shoes, you don’t wear fur and you like buying fashions that are ‘refashioned’ or ‘upcycled’ as all the entrepreneurs are calling it. Clothing that is made by small businesses, not factories with a nod to history. Well, you now have another option.

Women from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) have released their own fashion line and online shop. You may recall the FLDS, a polygamous sect in Texas where over 400 children and teens were taken into custody The children were taken into custody after someone called a hot line claiming to be a pregnant, abused teenage wife. Officials said girls were being “groomed” to accept sex with their middle-aged “spiritual husbands” as soon as they hit puberty and boys were being indoctrinated to perpetuate the cycle of abuse, but disturbingly no arrests have been made.

So what kind of fashions might they provide?

According to The Age:

The austere dresses with long-sleeves and high collars, loose-fitting pants, long-johns and modest blouses worn by members of the sect are reminiscent of 19th century American pioneers and highlighted the sect’s isolation.

They are starting with children’s and babieswear. The website is painfully slow to load, but news media reports a significant interest in the clothing as it is ‘modest’ and well made. A lot of feminists (myself included) are horrified by some of the ‘tweens’ fashions out there. From tiny bras and g- strings to t shirts like these from Jay Jay’s:

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Fashion | Tagged: , , , , | 4 Comments »

Quote Of The Day

Posted by Lee on June 26, 2008

“I am sick and tired of people referring to the hijab debate when speaking about being an Islamic woman. Get over it! It’s just a piece of material.”

Susan Carland, Salam Café panellist, Monash University lecturer, mother of two and 2004 “Muslim of the Year”.

Interesting how the argument is frequently played out in public (and by many feminists too I might add) that women who wear a hijab are seen as doing so by force or fear of religious or cultural persecution should they choose to not adhere to the scarf.

The hysterical ranting about the erosion of the rights of our sisters by a misogynistic and secular practice depicted in the Qur’an is, in my view, very often completely misguided and reeking of authoritarian hypocrisy.

Just as women have the right to seek out equal pay, equal work opportunities, equal access to the television remote control; is it not our Muslim lady-friends right too to have equal say in how they wish to express their religious freedoms?

Why preach of female liberties when neglecting to take into account that the vast majority of Muslim women choose to wear the hijab for their own cultural purposes? Many Muslim women who practice the hijab feel that it liberates them from body-image stereotyping and allows them to be closer to the truer version of themselves where they are valued for their intellect, social and family contributions and not on how they look.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , | 7 Comments »