Social Media and Its Influence on Democratization in Africa

 

2016 is a year of elections: England voted to leave the European Union, the United States will elect a new president and multiple elections take place around the world. In Africa, in addition to local elections, 16 presidential elections are scheduled for this year. To ensure democratic elections, freedom of the press as well as free speech should be respected.

According to Freedom House, no African country had access to free, local media in 2015. Although the organization “African Media Initiative” with headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya, has advocated for a political, legal and economic framework for independent media since 2010, most countries are dominated by state run media which are often used as an organ of the government to suppress information. The state-owned South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC), for instance, decided in May 2016 to no longer report on protests that result in violence. However, often the SABC stations are the only radio and TV stations heard by the population and thus the only source of information.

Additionally, many countries have very restrictive media laws which allow the encroachment upon freedom of press and speech when governments argue “national security will be at risk,” if information is free and open. An assessment that, by nature, is made by organs of the state and could be used as a pretense.

In light of the above, the importance of social media as a means of communication, source of information as well as a political instrument in Africa is growing. Already today, no other continent uses social media as much for political discourse and mobilization. More people have access to smartphones and related internet than to uninterrupted electricity. Facebook is the most visited website. The power of social media to mobilize people and create political pressure was first seen during the Arab Spring in 2011. In October 2014, social media was used in Burkina Faso to prevent President Blaise Compaoré from changing the constitution which would have allowed him to run for another term after 27 years in office.

On a continent, whose democracies are, in the best case, fragile and oftentimes led by authoritarian rulers, this yields political tensions and poses a threat to the power of the governments. Currently, ten incumbent African Presidents have been in office for longer than 18 years and, at times, they use unconventional methods to stay in power. For example, especially in election years, freedom of speech is often constricted and used to avoid government-critical protests.

In 2011, Egypt was the first country to be cut off from the internet and social media for political reasons.

In January 2015, telecommunications providers in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) were requested by the government to not only discontinue the internet but also SMS services. The situation lasted for several days while the population protested against President Joseph Kabila. Presidential elections are scheduled for 27th November 2016. In neighboring Congo-Brazzaville (Republic of Congo), elections were held in March this year with a 48 hours’ blackout of internet, telephone and SMS services. President Denis Sassou Nguesso was once again elected into the office which he, apart from a five-year break, has occupied since 1979.

In April 2015, protests arose in Burundi after President Pierre Nkurunziza announced that he would be running for a third term in office which was widely regarded as unconstitutional. Social media was disconnected for several days in the country. Pierre Nkurunziza successfully suppressed the protest and remains in office to-date.

Since the beginning of 2016, the population of Chad no longer has access to social media. The measure was taken by the government after rape allegations against relatives of government officials and calls for protests arose. Further, the reelection of President Deby in April was controversially debated. The Blackout continues.

Kenya, Egypt, Central African Republic and Niger also experienced temporary outages of social media during elections. The government of Uganda ordered telecommunications providers to suspend their services twice in 2016: on election day in February and in May during the inauguration of President Yoweri Museveni for his fifth presidential term. Even the relatively exemplary democracy Ghana announced that it would disrupt social media services during the elections in November of this year.

In the beginning of July, the social media platform WhatsApp was inaccessible in Zimbabwe after criticizing the government and calls for President Mugabe’s resignation became louder and led to a general strike. The last time the country experienced protests of such magnitude was nine years ago. Although the government never officially ordered the social media outage, a day later, it warned the population that messages that could pose a risk to national security would be traced back to the originator and penalized.

Last year South Africa experienced the biggest protest since the end of Apartheid in 1994 which were organized via social media. Students organized via the networks which resulted in heavy confrontations with security personnel and property damage mounting to millions of Euros. In 2015, the campaign #Zumamustfall started, which calls for the ouster of President Jacob Zuma. So far the government has not responded with a social media blackout. During the municipal elections in August, social media was successfully used by voters and political parties to enhance transparency. Meanwhile, the country voted against a resolution on the protection of freedom of expression, privacy and human rights on the internet of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) – the “United Nations resolution on the promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights on the Internet.” However, the resolution was adopted by a majority of member states and condemns the shutting down of internet access and social media by governments. Kenya also voted against the resolution. Yet, the High Court in Nairobi had just ruled in April that Paragraph 29 of the Kenya Information and Communications Act (KICA), which creates the offense of misusing a telecommunications device by sending messages and internet posts known to be false was unconstitutional. The ruling was seen as a triumph in ensuring the freedom of expression in the country.

The Nigerian Parliament is discussing draft legislation which stipulates that allegations in the media against government officials or agencies as well as politicians can be penalized with up to two years in prison or a fine. At the same time, Nigeria caused an international sensation during the last presidential elections in March 2015 when social media was used during campaigning and on election day to create transparency. For the first time in the country’s history, an incumbent President (Goodluck Jonathan) was voted out of office and President Muhammadu Buhari was elected.

In countries in which the freedom of speech and press is limited due to the access to and lack of independent media, social networks take on the roll as a primary source of information. Even though the risk of misinformation is higher due to the lack of controls, freedom of expression and the right to criticize government are an integral part of democracies. Especially young people turn to social media to get their information and get involved in local campaigns or protests. Particularly in countries with authoritarian rulers and the risk of unconstitutional changes in politics, the population uses social media to organize themselves and rally for change in a peaceful manner. Many African countries are economically, socially and politically on the verge of a new era.

With access to worldwide information, more and more of the populace experiences how democracies work and are demanding these rights. Suppression of the population and their rights to freedom of speech and assembly will only increase discontent and the notion to protest and resort to violence. This in turn will increase the likelihood of undemocratic power changes (such as coup d’états), violent protests and hostilities, moving the countries further away from their goal of democracy.

 

By           :              Eva Nolle

Date       :               August 11, 2016

Source    :              International Policy Digest (World News)

http://intpolicydigest.org/2016/08/11/social-media-influence-democratization-africa/

Posted in Democratization & Social Movements, Latest Post, Social Media & Activisms | Leave a comment

Fighting spatial apartheid in South Africa

 

Twenty-two years since the end of apartheid, Cape Town remains one of South Africa’s most segregated cities

Cape Town, South AfricaAt the bottom end of the suburb of Woodstock, near the old market and the train tracks, is Bromwell Street. The street is an incongruous mix of crumbling Victorian-era bungalows, dilapidated red-brick factory buildings with shattered windows and newly renovated apartment blocks. Bromwell’s historically close-knit, racially-mixed working-class community may be the latest casualty of Cape Town’s urban regeneration programme (PDF).

Graham Beukes, 35, has lived in the same small house on Bromwell Street since he was born. His parents lived there for 50 years.

Beukes and his family are among the 28 tenants due to be evicted from their homes in August to make way for a new development by the Woodstock Hub, a private investment group that bought the property two years ago. The Woodstock Hub has purchased a number of other buildings in the area and says that it intends to “redevelop both residential, commercial and mixed-use properties”.

The Woodstock Hub claims that Beukes and the other Bromwell Street tenants are being evicted for failure to pay rent. But while tenants concede that they have not been paying rent for the past two years, they say that they have been unable to establish any contact with the new owners since they took over the property. Residents believe that this has been part of a deliberate move to facilitate their eviction and avoid dealing with long-standing lease agreements.

“This gentrification thing, it could be a good thing because it creates jobs for people, but people are losing their houses. And these developers, they don’t care about the people that have been living so many years here,” Beukes told Al Jazeera.

“I’m worried. My work is just five minutes away from my house. And my children are just five minutes away from their school. I know all the people where I live, and now I’ll have to move somewhere far away where I know no one.”

Just a couple of blocks away on Alfred Street in the neighbouring suburb of Salt River is Nooran Dreyer, 42, who faces eviction in November to make way for a new dental practice. Dreyer says she has “almost given up hope” of being able to stay in her home of 11 years.

The outer walls and corrugated iron eaves of Dreyer’s single-storey apartment building have already received a new lick of grey paint as a first step in the proposed facelift. A Congolese-owned shop that sold cassava, plantains, salted fish and cigarettes on the corner of the property recently had to close its doors for good. A handwritten sign declaring “No urban regeneration without us” hangs from a lamp post in front of the building.

A continuation of colonial relationship

Bevil Lucas is a member of a Cape Town social movement called the Housing Assembly and helps provide support and legal advice to potential evictees. He is a long-time resident of Salt River, an encyclopaedia of local history and a former anti-apartheid activist.

He points out that much of this former industrial area escaped the large-scale segregation of the apartheid state’s Group Areas Act, which ripped apart other similarly diverse Cape Town communities, most famously District 6.

The Act saw most Capetonians of colour cast out into the collection of marginalised townships now known as the Cape Flats and sometimes still referred to as the “apartheid’s dumping ground”.

Lucas says that the current gentrification of Salt River and neighbouring Woodstock, and the eviction of poor black and mixed-race residents, is a continuation of apartheid and the preceding colonial relationships that stretch all the way back to the late 17th century, when slaves were still sold in this area.

Most of these slaves came to the Cape from Asia and had brought with them a strong Islamic influence that is still present today. As Lucas speaks, a muezzin issues the call to evening prayer at a nearby mosque.

“I used to know all my neighbours here, but now I know just a few of them,” says Lucas, himself a Muslim descendant of slaves.

“There are more high walls going up, more electric fences going up. Fewer children are playing in the street. These new developments, they are changing the kind of residents that can live here and the cultural and social being of the area.”

Land for people, not for profit

Twenty-two years since the end of apartheid, this situation is being mirrored across Cape Town, with free market forces, favourable tax breaks and rocketing property prices entrenching Cape Town’s undesirable status as one of the most segregated cities in South Africa.

But a new campaign dubbed Reclaim the City aims to finally wrest Cape Town’s soul from apartheid’s enduring legacies and what activists see as its contemporary manifestation. Marching under the banner of “Land for people, not for profit”, the campaign is fighting to reimagine the city as a more racially and economically integrated and equal space.

Reclaim the City is coordinated by Ndifuna Ukwazi, a social justice organisation and law centre directed by Cape Town activist Zackie Achmat.

At present, Reclaim the City and Ndifuna Ukwazi’s primary battlegrounds are four key state-owned parcels of land around the city centre, which the Western Cape Provincial Governmentintends to sell off for lucrative property developments, but which the activists believe would be prime locations for affordable housing for the poor.

“We started noticing that the city centre was developing phenomenally fast, with major high rises, hotels, luxury apartments and so on, and increasingly, state land was being sold off for it to do so,” says Achmat.

“Meanwhile, our city has not been desegregated. People travel hours to get into the city, and hours [to get] back home, and they can spend more than 50 percent of their income just on transport.”

“And at the same time, young professionals increasingly cannot afford to live in the city any longer,” says Achmat. “So not only do you increasingly have the entrenched racial segregation, but increasingly poorer and lower-middle-class white people being forced out of the city, too. So clearly there’s a problem.”

Reclaim the City has quickly gathered considerable support across Cape Town, its suburbs and its sprawling townships. “For the first time in a hell of a long time in Cape Town, you’ve had people from all classes, all races, all nationalities come together and say this is wrong,” Achmat told Al Jazeera.

‘It’s not the rich who have made Sea Point what it is today’

After months of dogged campaigning, Reclaim the City and Ndifuna Ukwazi recently succeeded in temporarily halting the sale of Tafelberg, one of the four state-owned land parcels and a former remedial school, located in the fashionable and increasingly affluent seaside neighbourhood of Sea Point.

On July 29, Western Cape Premier Helen Zille agreed to conduct a feasibility study on the possible introduction of affordable housing to the Tafelberg site.

The Department of Transport and Public Works had received more than 8,000 comments concerning the proposed sale and 937 written objections from religious leaders, ratepayers, urban planners, academics, rights organisations and residents.

Transport department spokesman Byron La Hoe said that the newly-proposed Tafelberg model “is aimed at equipping cabinet to make an informed decision about the comments received”.

“We look forward to testing the viability of social housing on the Tafelberg properties based on sound financial modelling,” added Zille.

Malcolm McCarthy, the general manager of the National Association of Social Housing Organisations, says the move is a “very positive outcome”.

“I think that if we are going to have more economically integrated cities – and as soon as they become more economically integrated, they’ll become more racially integrated as well – then there is a price to pay, and that is in part through the release of appropriate land at the right cost and in the right place for social housing.”

Reclaim the City says that the Tafelberg site could sustain up to 341 affordable housing units, and in doing so, would set a precedent for reversing the apartheid spatial planning that currently continues to reserve areas like Sea Point for predominantly wealthy white residents.

Elizabeth Gqoboka, a spokeswoman for Reclaim the City, has lived and worked in Sea Point for 22 years as a domestic worker and carer.

“Mostly, people here make you feel that only the rich are supposed to live in Sea Point,” Gqoboka says.

“But it’s not the rich who have made Sea Point what it is today. We working-class black people have been contributing to this area for so long. So how can we still be excluded in this new South Africa they talk about?”

A ballooning housing crisis

Although the Reclaim the City campaign keeps gathering momentum, no social housing developments have been built in Cape Town’s Central Business District since 1994.

The local government continues to address what it has conceded is a ballooning housing crisis by building so-called Reconstruction and Development houses and Temporary Relocation Areas far from the city.

But according to Reclaim the City, the geographic distance of these developments dramatically restricts residents’ access to economic opportunity, education, good public services, safety and dignity.

Nowhere is this assertion better illustrated than in the sand-swept, destitute, corrugated iron settlement of the Symphony Way Temporary Relocation Area, which locals refer to by the more appropriate moniker of Blikkiesdorp, or “Tin Can Town” in English.

Alvin Johnson has lived in Blikkiesdorp for eight years after he and numerous others were evicted from Gympie Street, in Woodstock, in the run-up to the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Gympie was once one of Cape Town’s most notorious crime hotspots, but most of the street has now been renovated and its narrow, double-storey terraced houses were painted in pastel colours.

Johnson likens Blikkiesdorp to a “concentration camp”.

“Life here is very tough,” he says. “There is nothing here. Most people must resort to crime to support their families. There’s a lot of gangsterism, kids dropping out of school. The government told us it’s temporary. But eight years isn’t temporary.”

About 30km north of Cape Town, on an isolated and barren patch of farmland, is Wolwerivier, a new so-called incremental development area of roughly 500 corrugated shacks that bears a striking resemblance to Blikkiesdorp.

In 2015, Councillor Benedicta van Minnen, the City of Cape Town’s Mayoral Committee Member for Human Settlements, said that “the broader site of Wolwerivier is currently in the planning stages for mixed residential use and business development to take place. It will be increasingly well-located as development takes place in the growth corridor”.

However, Wolwerivier residents interviewed by Al Jazeera repeatedly referred to the settlement as a “dump site” for the poor.

Ndifuna Ukwazi’s Achmat maintains that the local government and municipality’s focus on developing outlying areas such as Wolwerivier to combat the city’s housing crisis is “economically, environmentally and socially unsustainable”.

He reaffirms that building affordable housing on sites such as Tafelberg in and around the city centre is not only a more sustainable long-term option, but a necessary step in healing the enduring wounds of apartheid in Cape Town.

“So many people’s imagination has been crushed to believe that they can only live in a ghetto,” he says. “What we need most of all is to create a new imagination of our city.”

 

By           :              Christopher Clark

Date       :               August 13, 2016

Source    :               Al Jazeera

http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2016/08/fighting-spatial-apartheid-south-africa-160808093343293.html

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The Democratization Of Health Care: Building Sustainable Communities

 

With competing crises dominating the daily news, the public may not be aware that healthcare policy is losing its way and that a new path forward is urgently needed. Recent news about healthcare policy has covered the cost of care, who would be reimbursed for what, and who would be able to afford access to care. The public should be concerned about this state of affairs. The health system emerging from these policy deliberations will be designed to meet financial objectives rather than to grow into an integrated, community-based learning system that delivers quality care while innovating quickly and rapidly, deploying novel therapies that promote community well-being.

The federal government is the nation’s largest single payer of healthcare in the United States, yet it has no coherent plan or strategic vision beyond developing and executing alternative payment models. [Footnote 1] It seems to interpret payment reform as the most urgent innovation, and it only incidentally invests in innovative therapies and devices. Indeed, some in government bemoan medical innovation as a driver of cost. [Footnote 2] There is little evidence that policy makers recognize that investment today could reduce cost and improve outcomes tomorrow or that we should reward novel therapies and system designs because we are working toward a comprehensive vision of healthcare in which managing population health is a component of building sustainable communities. The government treats the impact of its reimbursement models on human lives (short and long term) as a hidden variable that is neither measured nor disclosed, or it reduces life to a present-day financial value and determines that required therapies that exceed that value are not worth the investment. These alternative payment models are blind to the paradigm shift that is before us — the convergence leading us toward building sustainable communities.

Contemporary ideas about sustainability are rooted in efforts to associate our economies with energy supplies that do not destabilize the environments that make human society possible. But our interest in sustainable communities should drive a more fundamental awakening: A consciousness that we can — indeed, we must — empower ourselves to manage the complex social and physical forces that sustain life to produce community well-being. This empowerment will require the collaboration and integration of disciplines and fields of inquiry that have long existed in relative isolation from one another. Throughout human existence, our fate has been tied to the fundamental laws of nature. These laws sustain life, but they also govern the extinction of species. Here and there, as we better understand these laws, we have claimed small dominions where we have been able to regulate some outcomes: We are cleaning up our water, air, and food supplies for example, and we are making progress in medicine.

Immortality may be unachievable, but we certainly have within us the capacity to reduce preventable mortality and to make sure that no one in our society is exposed to unequal risks. Some physical and social environments are more beneficial than others to human life. Science tells us that postal codes predict life expectancy. Residents of one zip code may live many years longer than those of a neighboring zip code, and we are finding that social determinants of health are contributing to these variations in longevity. The inability of systems to deliver timely, equitable, quality healthcare, especially in many rural and urban communities, is a social determinant of health.

The inequalities festering in minority communities are evident in healthcare. We have inherited a healthcare system that plays favorites. Subsets of the US general population, including African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Native Americans, and poor whites, are adversely affected by healthcare disparities when contrasted to better-resourced communities. These healthcare disparities degrade the quality of life while raising the risk of premature death. We are in the midst of historic demographic change today: the majority of children born in the United States are minority, in four years 40% of the total population will be classified as minorities. In 2044, the United States will have no majority population group. [Footnote 3]

Now is the time for health policy makers to join efforts to build sustainable communities. We have the power to manage the social determinants of health, including the design of healthcare systems. We can use that power to improve health outcomes across our populations. Our goal should be to build sustainable communities where well-being is a measurable outcome, and we should strive to make sure that no community has to endure systemic health disparities.

As we work to establish a new foundation for our communities so that the energy that powers our living and working spaces no longer produces toxic wastes, we should extend the paradigm shift to upgrade our healthcare research, finance, and delivery systems. We encourage those who think and write about healthcare policy to look broader than alternative payment models. We urge them to contribute to a vision of sustainable communities, where we take responsibility for the management and regulation of population health. It is an awakening for which our children’s children will be grateful.

 

FOOTNOTES:

1 – National Health Expenditures 2014 Highlights, https://www.cms.gov/Research-Statistics-Data-and-Systems/Statistics-Trends-and-Reports/NationalHealthExpendData/Downloads/highlights.pdf

2 – Peter Orszag, CBO Testimony, https://www.cbo.gov/sites/default/files/cbofiles/ftpdocs/89xx/doc8948/01-31-healthtestimony.pdf, pg. 1.

3 – http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/06/23/its-official-minority-babies-are-the-majority-among-the-nations-infants-but-only-just/

 

Gary Puckrein is the Founder and President of the National Quality Forum

 

By           :               Gary Puckrein

Date       :               August 25, 2016

Source    :              The Huffington Post

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/gary-puckrein/the-democratization-of-health_b_11665460.html

Posted in Democratization & Social Movements, Health, Latest Post | Leave a comment

The Burqa and French Values

 

PARIS – Many Western media outlets were highly critical of France’s 2010 law banning face coverings, such as burqas that cover a woman’s face and entire body, and local decrees adopted this year banning full-body “burkini” swimsuits on public beaches have drawn further negative attention. French-bashing in the press is nothing new, but those who criticize these measures ignore the historical and sociopolitical reasons for why most French people support them.

For starters, secularism – or laïcité – is a defining principle of French society. Under the French Constitution – which upholds freedom of conscience as well as freedom of speech – all citizens may choose any religion, or none at all; alternatively, they may criticize and mock religious beliefs and customs.

In 2004, the French Constitutional Council deemed the French Constitution to be compliant with the European Union’s Charter of Fundamental Rights. In order “to reconcile the principle of freedom of religion and that of secularism,” the Council ruled, “the Constitution forbids “persons to profess religious beliefs for the purpose of noncompliance with the common rules governing relations between public communities and private individuals.”

In France, recent events seem to pose a direct challenge this principle. In 1765, the agnostic French Enlightenment philosopher Voltaire wrote: “Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.” The Charlie Hebdo cartoonists and journalists who were murdered by two Islamist radicals in January 2015 were carrying on the Enlightenment tradition Voltaire helped start, and that attack had a chilling effect on a distinctly French form of free speech. The death threats against Charlie Hebdo are still rolling in, most recently following its publication of cartoons depicting the burkini debate.

Alongside French secularism is feminism, a principle also enshrined in the Constitution. Since 1999, Article 1 has established a gender balance in all French decision-making bodies, from the National Assembly to local government bodies, boards of directors, and so forth. While the proverbial glass ceiling hasn’t been shattered entirely, there are now more women in high-level leadership positions in France than ever before.

Like secularism, this institutionalized gender parity is at odds with conservative interpretations of Islam, which often call for modest dress and gender segregation in hospitals, swimming pools, and driving schools. And, in many French Muslim communities, conservative imams have more influence in shaping the status of women than do school teachers or other local leaders.

With France’s strong culture of feminism, many French citizens consider gender segregation and face covering to be repressive, even when they are said to be a woman’s choice. France has a history of welcoming immigrants, especially between the two World Wars; but it has never before been confronted with attitudes and behavior that not only violate its constitutional principles, but openly defy them.

French law forbids data-collection based on ethnicity or religion, but it is estimated that 8-9% of France’s 66 million citizens are Muslim – alongside Germany, the largest Muslim population in Europe – and half are believed to be younger than 24 years old. Most French Muslims are not new arrivals, but came during the Algerian, Moroccan, and Tunisian independence movements in the 1960s, meaning that young Muslims today belong to the third generation of that immigration wave. Many have been very successful, especially the young women, who are excelling in an increasingly competitive labor market.

However, many young Muslims feel frustrated with their living conditions and betrayed by the French promise of equality, leading them to question and challenge French principles. As a demographic group, they feel the weight of endemic unemployment, which averages 25% among young people and 40% in the banlieues, the housing estates surrounding many of France’s major cities, where many Muslim families live.

Under these conditions, it is common for young people to blame society, which they believe has given them short shrift, for their poor school performance and other adverse outcomes. For some, alienation finds an outlet in hatred of France, violent anti-Semitism, and rejection of French values, to the point that they come to define their identity more through an extreme interpretation of Islam than through French citizenship.

For decades, French governments have tried to paint over the problem by pouring billions of euros into so-called “urban-policy” programs to fix up dilapidated housing projects. But there can be no painting over the heinous crimes perpetrated in France over the past two years by disenchanted young Muslims who had embraced radical Islam.

The list is alarming. After the attacks on Charlie Hebdo and a kosher grocery in January 2015, there was the mass murder committed at the Bataclan theater and other Paris sites in November 2015; the truck attack on Nice’s Promenade des Anglais this summer; the subsequent murder at a Catholic church in Normandy of a beloved priest, whose throat was cut during mass; the attack on a private home outside Paris, where a married couple of police officers were murdered in front of their child; and the stabbing of a Jewish man in Strasbourg this month.

These incidents are reinforcing populist movements in France and throughout Europe. In France itself, such attacks are being used to justify more anti-Muslim rhetoric from politicians such as Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far-right National Front, who could make it to the second round of next year’s presidential election.

Against this backdrop of collective trauma, many French citizens believe that the survival of the Republic itself is at stake. And they see no reason why France’s characteristic pluralism and tolerance should become the means of its destruction.

 

Noëlle Lenoir, a former French Minister of European Affairs, is currently President of the European Institute at the Hautes Etudes de Commerce in Paris, and is the Founder and President of Cercle des Européens, a think tank.

 

By           :              Noelle Lenoir

Date       :               August 25, 2016

Source    :              https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/france-secularism-burkini-ban-by-no-lle-lenoir-2016-08

 

Posted in Gender and Human Rights, Latest Post | Leave a comment

Yes, Muslim women face discrimination – but they’re pushing for change

 

A British parliamentary committee recently discovered what many people in Muslim communities have known for ages – that Muslim women face discrimination on account of their gender, their ethnicity and their religion.

As the most disadvantaged members of the most socially and economically deprived communities in Britain, Muslim women suffer astronomical levels of unemployment and economic inactivity. In 2015 ONS figures showed only 35% of Muslim women aged 16 to 64 were employed. That compares with 69% of all British women in the same age range. We also learnt that 58% are economically inactive (not looking for work). That compares with 27% of working age women across the British population.

The committee also concluded that while Muslim women suffered a “triple penalty” on account of their gender, ethnicity and religion, it was the latter that poses the most barriers. Muslims face discrimination in many areas of public life but women are held back further because they are seen as passive, uninformed and uninterested in the world beyond their doorstep.

Muslim women, especially those wearing Islamic dress, represent what is considered a backward faith which disrupts western ways of life. Islam is also regarded as a barrier to their advancement outside the home because it stresses women’s role as care givers and homemakers. It apparently compels them to cover their hair and face and excludes them from Islamic thought and governance.

Large numbers of Muslim women in Britain argue that it is the intersecting effects of Islamophobia, including public stereotyping and male-dominated interpretations of Islam from within Muslim communities or assumptions made by non-Muslims, which constrain them.

For some time, they have been seeking to fight back – particularly in the years following 9/11. Muslim communities have come under heavy surveillance and women have had to play different family roles. Wives, mothers, sisters of men charged with or imprisoned for “terrorist” activity have undertaken traditional male responsibilities. Others have been subjected to surveillance themselves.

They have become rapidly politicised and active in public arenas. They are involved in campaigns to counter Islamophobia and also patriarchal attitudes in their ethnic and religious communities.

The British government also courts Muslim women to act as “bridge-builders” between Muslim communities and majority British society.

The Preventing Violent Extremism programme, which ran between 2007 and 2010, for instance, encouraged Muslim women to play a greater role in civic life. The idea was to prevent extremism and promote Muslim integration.

Institutional representation

In 2010, three women identifying as Muslim were elected to the House of Commons. They were joined by another five in 2015. The number of Muslim women in local councils has also increased in the 9/11 era.

These elections marked the culmination of Muslim women’s involvement in party politics in the 2000s. And while most of these women would stress that they represent all constituents regardless of gender, ethnicity, race or faith, many feel they bear responsibility for changing the way in which Muslim women are perceived. They also want to show that that they make a valuable contribution to British society. Some have also challenged the clan-based system within Muslim communities which promotes men as community and political leaders while excluding women.

Far larger numbers of Muslim women also participate in women’s community organisations and NGOs today than 15 years ago. These organisations work not just on issues concerning Muslim women – empowering them to deal with oppressive cultural and religious practices – but also to build capacity among Muslim women. They provide women with the knowledge and skills needed to enter public life and the labour market.

Muslim women have also become active in street politics. In the 2000s, girls and young women were foremost participants in the Stop the War movement and more recently they’ve been involved in support for Syrian refugees.

They are countering male domination within their communities by challenging the way in which mosques are dominated and run in Britain by all-male committees. Some women’s organisations are planning women-only mosques, while others have called for transparency in mosque governance structures. They are pushing for more women to be involved in making decisions.

So Muslim women are working hard to increase their presence in public arenas and break down stereotypes. That said, it is recognised that too many Muslim women still remain on the margins of society and the economy. State support is crucial in bringing them centre stage.

However, it is important to show that Muslim women are not passive or isolated in the way that media representations suggest. They are subjects in their own right.

 

Khursheed Wadia is a principal Research Fellow at the Centre for the Study of Safety and Well-Being in the University of Warwick. 

 

By           :               Khursheed Wadia

Date       :               August 17, 2016

Source    :               https://theconversation.com/yes-muslim-women-face-discrimination-but-theyre-pushing-for-change-63952

Posted in Gender and Human Rights, Latest Post | Leave a comment
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