Wednesday, 6 of May of 2015

The Mad Women who led the way #Madmen

As we near the finale of the cult series Mad Men, I reflect on the women who really told the tale of the 1960’s, and how wider social change comes at a personal price
The Mad Women who led the way
Elisabeth Moss as Peggy Olsen in Mad Men. (Jaimie Trueblood / AMC / AP)

“Well, aren’t you lucky to have decisions?” This line is a defining moment in the cult television dramaMad Men, which is approaching its final episode.

The series follows the changing society of the 1960s and 1970s through the lens of the advertising industry, which epitomises the emergence of consumerism and the power of youth.

But the cleverest thing about Mad Men is how it has mapped the macro­cosmic shift in gender status and relations onto the microcosm of the lives of its protagonists. The title refers to the men of Madison Avenue, but the story arc over 10 years tells us how women broke out of the home and advanced in the world by making their own decisions.

Its central female character is Peggy Olson, who makes the sarcastic yet insightful statement about decisions belonging to men. She begins work at the ad agency in 1960 as a 20-year-old secretary and works her way up to copy chief. On the way, she gives up a child for adoption and loses out on several long-term relationships. At the end of the series, she is a successful career woman with her own property – but alone in the world.

Peggy nails the gender struggle perfectly: it’s about the price women have to pay to be able to make their own decisions. Creating social change comes at a personal cost.

Over the 10 years that the programme spans, the female characters develop from sycophantic secretaries who enjoy nothing more than being admired for their looks, to women with power and position. They are still banging their heads on the glass ceiling, but they don’t yet know what’s causing the headache.

There are some who will say that these changes were for the worse, that families broke down, that it was the beginning in the truest sense of the rise of individualism rather than the nuclear unit. And the focus of the series on the advertising world in the 1960s is no coincidence, because it captures a pivotal moment when life became about what we have, what we show, what we buy to reflect who we are – a facade rather than a depth.

But that’s nonsense, because, as Peggy says, the price paid has been to gain autonomy. Without self-determination there is no life worth living. Ultimately, despite the misery that being at the vanguard of change entails, the challenges these women face will be resolved in the next iteration of society.

For the women of this era, their gains came at a price – but one that I’ve no doubt they were happy to pay, for their own freedom, and for ours.

It’s easy to look back at a whole decade or even a century and feel proud of the social change that occurred. But to reach such transformation means individual women, one by one, paying a price – whether they be the characters of Mad Men or the real-life suffragettes of a hundred years ago.

When we fight for changes in society now, we must remember that there will be a personal cost. But women are where we are because of the price women before us paid, and our daughters will benefit from the sacrifices we made.

Muslim schoolgirls are being punished for wearing long skirts. In Europe. This isn’t a joke

As another French Muslim schoolgirl is sent home by teachers for wearing a long skirt, Shelina Janmohamed, explains why it’s time to tighten the bonds of sisterhood

Muslim schoolgirls

There has been a row over a French Muslim schoolgirl sent home for wearing long skirts because it was ‘ostentatious sign of religion’ Photo: Alamy

In 2009 the journalist Lubna al-Hussein was arrested in Sudan for wearing trousers. Under the country’s penal code she was guilty of wearing ‘obscene outfits’ in public and fined $200.

Sudanese journalist Lubna Ahmed al-Hussein

For women here the story was reported as something at best ridiculous, at worst outrageous – something that we didn’t need to worry too much about because they it was happening in a faraway place to women of far away cultures.

But these sorts of draconian measures are getting closer to home and it’s time for all women to worry. When what we wear can bar us from the ordinary activities like going to school, the office or just simply outdoors, we need to sit up and tighten the bonds of the sisterhood.

I’m talking about France of course, where last month a girl was sent home twice from school for wearing a long black skirt, which she bought from French high street shop Kiabi for €13. She was punished because the school deemed the non-descript skirt to be a ‘conspicuous’ sign of religion.

France’s strict secular laws ban the display of any ‘ostentatious sign of religion’ from official public spaces like schools. This includes items like a headscarf, a skullcap or a large cross. But this 15-year-old was not wearing a headscarf when she entered the school, her misdemeanour was the black maxi skirt.

Nor is this an isolated incident. In total around 130 schoolgirls were sent home last year for wearing long skirts across France.

To me it’s clear that her punishment is because she is Muslim and reeks of discrimination: it’s about who she is – not what she did. Any other pupil could have worn the same skirt. Someone else decided that they didn’t like her wearing a long skirt and told her to go home.

Earlier this week Twitter creaked under the strain of the hashtag#JePorteMaJupeCommeJeVeux (‘I’ll wear my skirt how I like’) as people around the world took to social media to react to this outrageous situation. After all, how does a skirt have a religion? And to those arguing that she should have changed and come back – what should she have changed into? What could be more innocuous than a long black skirt? And was the underlying message that more flesh needs to be on display?

There’s a separate discussion to be had about the rights and wrongs of the French ban on veiling. But you don’t need to support or even like the niqab or hijab to see this should be a red flag for all women. The ban and now skirt-gate sets a worrying precedent that we women can once again be stopped from our ordinary day to day activities, prohibited from our rights such as an education, because someone else decided they don’t like the way we look.

If you think that the increasing pressure placed on how Muslim women appear in public is their own fault, and nothing to do with the pressures our society places on women generally to conform to a particular look or be excluded, think again. It wasn’t long ago that women were prevented from wearing trousers in offices. Even today the unspoken code that women should wear short skirts in male environments still persists (see image above).

Women are constantly fighting the pressure to conform to a particular body image. One of the biggest challenges is to avoid the early sexualisation of our young women and to give girls the confidence to project their own image. Yet here we have a girl doing exactly all of that and she is told that because she is wearing a long skirt she doesn’t conform to our idea of what a schoolgirl ought to look like. Because of course all schoolgirls should look like sexy Britney Spears. I jest of course.

Women are also repeatedly forced to conform to other homogenous ideals to be accepted. In America, several schools have banned black children from wearing their afro hair natural. In 2006, the Baltimore Police department banned cornrows, dreadlocks and twists deeming them to be “extreme” and a “fad” – this is despite them being the most practical style to certain hair types. The US army only recently revoked the same ludricrous ban, after much protesting from campaigners.

All of these denials of women’s difference, self-expression and womanhood need to be stitched together and seen as part of the same onslaught on the ways women are allowed to present themselves in order to be accepted in the public domain.

Don’t be distracted by the argument that this is to save Muslim women. Women’s rights have too long been sacrificed at the altar of ’saving’ other women. History shows us that this way danger lies and we must be vigilant.

At the end of the 19th century, the British consul general in Egypt Lord Cromer claimed we should be running that country to save Egyptian women from the “fatal obstacle” of Islam. The Egyptians should be “persuaded or forced” to become “civilised” by disposing of the veil. You might think he was the embodiment of the women’s rights movement but when he returned to the UK he set up the Men’s League for Opposing Women’s Suffrage, which tried, by any means possible, to stop women getting the vote.

Six year ago Lubna al-Hussein said that the prosecution for wearing trousers was ‘insulting’. It was insulting in Sudan and now it’s insulting in France. As a Muslim woman I’m not going to stand for being punished for wanting an education, or working in an office or just going about my business in an outfit I should be free to wear. I’ll damn well wear my skirt exactly as I please and stand shoulder to shoulder with my French sisters at the top of a very slippery slope. I hope you’ll join me.

Muslim woman student is stabbed – so why can’t we say that the fact she ‘looked Muslim’ might be a motive in her murder?

This posting is in reference to the tragic stabbing of Nahid Al-Manea in Colchester. Police said that they were investigating the possibility that the murder was motivated by the fact that she was visibly Muslim wearing an abaya and headscarf. There have also been questions raised about a similar stabbing of James Atfield.

One of the national newspapers asked me my thoughts on the police response to the terrible incident of the Muslim woman stabbed who was wearing visible Muslim clothing.

My thoughts, jotted briefly are below. When I put these thoughts forward, I was told that they wanted not my thoughts ‘as a Muslim woman’ but an ‘alternative viewpoint’:

- finally! the recognition that muslim women are highly vulnerable is being raised at a national level

- i’m shocked at the negativity that is surrounding the police suggesting this may be a possible reason for the attack. It’s as though how dare Muslim women say that they are being attacked for being visibly Muslim! Why such vehement denial that it is a possibility? As with all crimes, the police have some theories and I’m glad this has been recognised as one possibility. Nobody is saying this for sure, simply that it is one angle. We know that hate crimes against Muslims have increased manyfold recently. So why shouldn’t this be one motive? To me it smacks of a wider public denial that there is a growth of hate against Muslims. Or even that it is ok to attack Muslims, especially women.

- if this is a legitimate line of enquiry, then why should the police keep quiet? Generally they share their lines of enquiry, what is different here?

- If anything, this poor student came here with a hope of doing everything that is demanded of Muslim women – ‘free’ herself, come to the west, gain an education.  Why can’t we square in our minds that she was a practising Muslim too, and that we have a problem in our society dealing with this?

- In my view it is people’s response that is bizarre – and that is what is damaging to community relations – why can’t we admit that hatred against Muslims is an issue and that women bear the brunt of this?

- Finally, if the police did not pursue this line of enquiry, or worse if they are pressured into dropping this line of enquiry, then that would be even more damaging to community relations. It is as bad practice to rule it out as it would be to say it was the sole factor or the only factor of investigation.

Update: this is stream of consciousness writing, so some further thoughts with inputs from various other Muslim women (thank you!):

- The police have said it is one line of enquiry, in a seemingly matter of fact way just as in many murders they talk of many lines of enquiry. My problem with saying they shouldn’t mention it ‘due to community tensions’ stems from the fact that our broad population can’t accept that this is a possibility, that somehow it is an abnormal aberration which can be an actual reason for such nastiness in what is obviously our lovely Muslim-friendly society. I actually think it shows a more balanced ‘healthy’ (if that’s the right word in such a horrible context) to be able to be honest and say yes this is a possibility just like several other possibilities. For both Muslims and the anti-Muslim brigade to be milking this as either ’see!!!! we told you!’ versus ‘how dare Muslims be victims’ shows a lack of acceptance of due process and legitimacy that this could be anti-Muslim, or it might not be.

The politics of housework, and why doing the dishes is not a trivial matter

This was published on Saturday in The National

If fathers want their daughters to aspire to successful careers, a new study has revealed the answer: fathers should share housework with their wives. While mothers’ gender and work-equality beliefs were key factors in predicting youngsters’ attitudes towards the roles of women and men, the strongest predictor of daughters’ own professional ambitions was their fathers’ approach to household chores.

The findings follow other studies revealing the benefits of sharing housework, such as improvements in marital harmony and making wives feel more attracted to their husbands.

Aside from the fact that it’s simply fair for adults to share the housework, such studies demonstrate that even with selfish motives, sharing housework has immediate and long-term benefits for men.

Yet housework is still overwhelmingly done by women even though many also work like their husbands, and most childcare is still women’s responsibility. The division of housework is politics at play in the home.

In 1970, the US feminist group Redstockings published an article titled The Politics of Housework. Depressingly, nearly 50 years later, it still holds true. Writer Patricia Mainardi recounts the struggle with her husband about who should do the housework: he admits in principle that he ought to, because that’s fair, but when the time comes he proffers excuses. Everyone agrees housework is dull, says Mainardi, but she deconstructs the reasons – the same ones still used today – that men give for not doing it. Such as: women are naturally cleaner or women do it better. When a man says women are better at it, what he means, according to Mainardi, is: “I don’t engage in dull work, but it’s OK if you do.” When he says he doesn’t know how to do it, it means he has better things to do.

Mainardi’s most important point is that housework is considered “trivial”. Why do women go on about such trivial matters? Because it fundamentally shapes their lives and choices. The demands of housework and childcare determine where they can go, the decisions they make about their lives and how they engage in the public space. That’s why women have attempted to put it on to the political agenda. Campaigns such as “Wages for Housework” attempt to counter the “unimportance” of housework by putting an economic value on it. In a modern capitalist economy when something is “free” it is not valued, because only “paid” employment is worthwhile.

If women want paid work, they still bear household responsibilities, restricting them to part-time work, or preventing full focus on their careers in the way men are free to do without a care about who will look after the children or how food, utilities and daily life will be managed.

Of course, the counterargument is that running a household is an important job, requiring skill, effort and tireless devotion, and that our society should focus on developing pride in housework and childcare for whoever does it.

I agree. That’s exactly my point. Housework is considered trivial, playing second fiddle to “paid” work. If it was considered of value, we would hear men boasting to their friends about how they have washed all the dishes, and filled the freezer with lunches for the children.

The next time you’ve vacuumed, cooked, bathed the kids, put them to bed, done the laundry and paid the bills, remember that your housework is a political act. Don’t consider it to be trivial.

Are women really like pearls and lollipops?

Published today in The National

Attention ladies. Are you a pearl or a lollipop? These are two analogies that are increasingly being used for women, so as to encourage them to be more modest.

Like pearls (apparently), women are beautiful creations that should be enveloped in oysters, otherwise their beauty and value will be robbed. Women are also like lollipops. Take off the wrapping and they will be swarmed by flies eager to taste their sweetness.

At first blush it sounds quite good to be compared to a pearl. The problem is that the expensive silk-smooth bauble is valued for the way it looks, and the implication for women is that we too only retain our value by being objects that are revered for the way they look.

No wonder, a woman is bought and sold on the basis of her beauty – a passive object to be traded by others.

It’s an analogy that paves the way for “fair” women to be valued and for “dark” women to have reduced social status. In other words, it robs women of their right to self-determination.

The pearl’s passive beauty is determined by the outside world. It has no power to exercise self-determination.

Men see them the way they want to – as temptresses who must be controlled for their own good. It is because of this that the imagery of the lollipop (surrounded by flies) is so offensive.

It’s not hard to understand why the analogy of the pearl locked in her oyster can lead to a Taliban-esque view of women who should be locked up at home with no education or medical care on the excuse that they should be protected from the outside world.

It’s also not hard to understand how this could lead to women being airbrushed out of the public space, political and civic arenas. There is no recognition of the variety and diversity of women.

I don’t want to be a pearl. I sometimes want to be a rock, sometimes like a wave, sometimes a cloud. Beauty is not my defining factor. I’m not an object to put in a box and be cooed at. I’m a real woman, with aspirations for self-determination, whose worth is recognisable in and of myself.

Of course, women have an inherent value, just as pearls have an inherent value. But the analogy here is erroneous, because it is particularly about hiding women away owing to their beauty or “tastiness”.

I have even bigger issues with comparing women to pearls and lollipops.

For example, why are men alluding to themselves as treasure-robbing pirates? Why should they be portrayed as flies? How offensive it is for them.

My biggest issue, however, is this: if women should act as pearls, then society must put in place the structures that underscore women as inherently valuable.

Just last week, a woman in Pakistan was stoned to death by her family for escaping a forced marriage. How is she then a pearl? Also last week, a female student in Saudi Arabia died of a heart attack, because the paramedics, who were men, refused to enter a female area. How does that reflect an honour for the value of a pearl?

To call a woman a pearl and then treat her like dirt shows that the comparison is superficial. It’s like laughing in the face of every oppressed woman. If women are not treated as valuable, then calling them pearls will change nothing.

Them and us, the West and the Muslim world, and the question of who owns the truth

Published in The National today

In 2006, a news story hit the front pages of UK newspapers about a 12 year old Muslim girl – Misbah – who had been “kidnapped” by her Scottish Muslim father and taken back to his family’s home in Pakistan. His marriage to Scottish Muslim convert Louise had broken down after 15 years and four children.

Misbah, also known as Molly, asserted in front of the world’s media at a global press conference convened in her Pakistani home that she had willingly moved to Pakistan to be with her father and three older siblings and was in no way being forced.

Alongside having her father painted as a bearded fundamentalist, her mother was portrayed as a deranged drug addict who was an unfit mother after a nervous breakdown.

Misbah’s story symbolised the war between “us” and “them”, caught between an apparently decadent, broken West and an apparently fundamentalist woman-hating Muslim world. Trapped between these two caricatures, Molly/Misbah’s story was baffling to the West – why would she escape away from the “modern” West towards “backwards” Pakistan, supposed land of forced marriages and female misery?

What the global media furore showed us beyond the heartache of the family in question was something far more fundamental: depending on who we define as “us” and “them” alters our perception of which version is the truth, and whose story gets to be the final say.

This week a play My Name is … has opened based on the verbatim accounts recorded by a playwright who spoke to mother, father and daughter. The reality of their stories – their human personal struggles – are of course more complicated than the clash of civilisations narratives that hijacked their story of a painful family breakdown complicated by culture, geography, religion and self-imposed compromises.

The play is sufficiently removed from the family and media events to prompt us to ask: who gets to tell the story? Who owns the truth? And most importantly, how hard is it for us to accept something that is not how we ourselves accept the “truth”?

In this case, the Western media could not accept a Muslim girl asserting herself against the grain, and when she did, was baffled how she could leave the “liberated” West?

When news articles about individual stories start to dominate global discussions, Molly’s tale should prompt us to ask why such a story is being told, and why is it being told in this particular way?

The story of Boko Haram’s abduction of 200 schoolgirls has gone global, and horrific a story though it is, its effect is heightened because it resonates with a seemingly accepted truth that this is obviously Islamism and Islamists are supposedly violent. But the presumptions of this truth ought to be tested.

The same presumptions underlie the feting of Malala Yousufzai. The horror of the abduction, and the awesomeness of Yousufzai’s courage are not in question. Rather, how does their global fame reinforce certain truths of “us” and “them”?

We like the kind of truth that is black and white, and fits with our pre-existing view of the world. While the media can fall foul of this gross simplification, today’s globalised reporting, if ever there was the chance, gives us the opportunity to see other truths, to be both Molly and Misbah.

Why #bringbackourgirls, Boko Haram and the story of an abduction that went viral is not so simple

Published on Saturday in The National

Like many people around the world over the past few weeks, I’ve been anxiously following the story of the 200 Nigerian schoolgirls who were abducted by Boko Haram.

The #bringbackourgirls campaign has grabbed global attention, most notably featuring Michelle Obama holding up a card with the hashtag. I can’t imagine that Boko Haram gives two hoots about a load of tweets, and I’m sceptical about clicktivists and the power of Twitter to frighten quite frankly looney groups like this. It’s possible that the global groundswell of anger may be giving heart on the ground to activists in Nigeria to strengthen their campaign, and is putting pressure on Goodluck Jonathan’s administration to actually do something out of shame. But it is a corrupt government, and one that Nigerians are angry about. This should alert us to the fact that this situation is not as simple as “crazy jihadis kidnap children”.

The well-being of the girls is paramount. But our concern for them doesn’t mean we shouldn’t think about why these girls have captured the attention of Ms Obama and the twittersphere. As some have pointed out, when she said “bring back our girls”, did she mean the ones killed by her husband’s drones in Pakistan? This spawned a counter campaign, #bringbackyourdrones.

We are sophisticated enough to be able to balance concern for the girls with analysis of the political forces at play.

Boko Haram hasn’t come out of nowhere. It was part of a wider reaction to local corruption that its members believed could be remedied by their strict version of “sharia law”.

Kidnapping children to engage in warfare is a scourge across west and central Africa and has been going on for many years in the Central African Republic and Democratic Republic of Congo.

No one is even sure what “Boko Haram” means. In fact, we know very little at all about the region, its politics and its local tensions. Nonetheless they are portrayed as Islamists wielding barbarity through their Islam. The name is translated in the media as being a rejection of the West (“western education is haram”), designed to raise western hackles. But the alternative translation “corruption is haram” gives us better insight into the local problems.

There’s a strong feeling, once again, that this is about saving women from crazy violent Muslim men. Just like Afghanistan, we must “save” women in Nigeria. It is rather convenient that this is also the region where locals have been protesting against multinational corporations that have been exploiting resources and where oil companies have caused spillages, meaning many Nigerians want them out.

The infamous Kony2012 campaign saw a similar groundswell of global support for American intervention and combat troops were duly dispatched. Joseph Kony hasn’t been found, but the troops remain.

Boko Haram’s behaviour is horrific. While its members talk with the language of Islam, their actions are far from Islamic. But if it was foreign intervention and the propping up of a corrupt government that Boko Haram was set up to counter, and if this is what a wider number of groups in the country are fighting about, then American intervention will only exacerbate the problem.

These girls are important human beings who must be safely returned to their families. But they are also important for the insight they provide into how easily their horrific plight has been exploited for political gain, both by their abductors and by outside vested interests.

We should celebrate un-yummy mummies

My weekly news column published in The National today.

The annual celebration of “Mother’s Day” – held in March for much of the Arab world, held in May in the West – should be renamed “Super-woman Day”, or “I keep the whole house running and still smile” Day or possibly just “who else is going to do the laundry if I don’t?” Day.

Yes, it’s that annual festival of chocolates and flowers, symbolising how utterly amazing mothers are. But whether you’re a mother’s day cynic or not, I would still have that cup of coffee in bed, and a day – a whole day – to myself. Until an emergency at 11am only mummy can fix.

It’s tough to be a mother, it always has been. But it feels like it’s harder now than ever. Alongside the fact more women are working, we are still in charge of the majority of the world’s housework. And of course, being a mum is itself a full-time job. We get verbal recognition of this, but it feels like when we’re being awarded the medal, the pedestal we’re put on is ever higher and more exacting.

I’m not complaining that being a mother is lauded. If anything, the challenges of motherhood need greater accommodation in our social structures and attitudes. The problem is that motherhood has become airbrushed. The days when we’re covered in vomit, haven’t slept for 48 hours or will scream just as loudly as our toddlers are our shameful secrets, rather than just part of the ebb and flow of motherhood.

Instead, we’re supposed to manage motherhood and domesticity without breaking a sweat, look like we have stepped out of an advert for yummy mummies, cook gourmet food in our nightgowns like Nigella and still be the exciting women that our husbands first married.

A recent survey found 97 per cent of Millennial mums (those born after 1980) said their children are more important to them than anyone else. By comparison, only 86 per cent of Generation X mums (those born after 1960) feel the same.

And yet more than ever before, this all-consuming motherhood seems to be a source of stress, and something that mums might want to (at least occasionally) escape from.

One quarter of Millennial mums say they find parenthood a burden compared to 8 per cent of Gen X mums. And 30 per cent of Millennial mums feel like they’ve lost some of their identity compared to 10 per cent of Gen X mums. A whopping 34 per cent of Millennial mums say if they had to stay at home day after day with their children they would lose their minds, compared to 18 per cent of Gen X mums.

There’s clearly a conflict in the reality of day-to-day motherhood. Because when it comes to the grand overarching experience of being a mum, there is no doubt at all: 92 per cent agree that motherhood brings happiness. But beyond that it seems like mums are struggling to balance their own self-definition with that of being a mother.

This is a not a problem that critics of women working might characterise as women complaining when they try to “have it all”. This is a problem that when we put motherhood on a pedestal and define it as having to be 110 per cent engaged in children while looking perfect then a sense of failure is inevitable.

Motherhood is messy, unpredictable and a roller-coaster ride of successes and failures. If we want to recognise motherhood then we should celebrate the fact that sometimes it’s great, sometimes it’s terrible, and once in a while it’s just fantastic to sit in bed with a coffee and no kids at all. And that’s fine.

The War Over Muslim Women Must Stop

My weekly newspaper column published in The National today.

The war over Muslim women continues to rage, as though we are a territory to be owned, a missile to be deployed in the vested interests of others, and as collateral damage in a cosmic conflict.

If you open Western newspapers and there is a story about terrorism, you will find our picture next to it. If you read justifications of military action in Afghanistan, it is our “liberation” that is cited. If societies where Muslims live as minorities are failing, our niqabs, our economic inactivity, our supposed segregation is to blame. But also, if you listen to Muslim religious leaders we are responsible for being the buffer before a wave of catastrophic western evil. Our headscarves are the sandbags holding back the fire of western feminism. We are told that our fight for rights is a bid to destroy family and society.

This war is constant with no benefit to us as Muslim women. We are dispensable in the war effort but also required to be first in the line of fire.

In the UK this week, a police campaign was launched encouraging Muslim women to inform on any menfolk they suspect of joining the war effort in Syria. The British government is concerned about Muslim men who will become radicalised in Syria and then return to the UK. No mention of those who go abroad to join other armies.

Video entitled "A Mother's Thoughts On The Crisis In Syria"

The campaign is part of the UK government’s wider Prevent strategy that has been running for the last several years, targeting Muslim communities in the bid to fight terrorism. It is a widely discredited programme that invested money in deprived Muslim communities with the goal of averting them from terrorism. The flaw in the logic of course was that, as in all communities, just a handful inhabit a criminal fringe. And like all communities, if the authorities start to view an entire community as one collective homogeneous mass with only one defining factor – being a potential terrorist – then there can never be a relationship of trust with authorities.

Muslim women find ourselves on the sharp end of this demonisation. On the one hand we are nothing but meek, oppressed, submissive. The subject of veiling – whether it is niqab or hijab – is constantly on the radar. Political leaders and influencers talk about women “forced” to cover, needing “help”, and being “liberated” by embracing “secular” values.

Suddenly we Muslim women have the burden of responsibility to “save” everyone. Suddenly, we have been co-opted into spying on husbands and sons. Before the accusation is levelled at Muslim women that we share responsibility for society’s safety like anyone else, I want to be quite clear: we are not so stupid that we can’t work out right from wrong. We already work to safeguard our own families from any misguided sense of violent heroics. Already, we are under scrutiny as potential terrorists, presumed guilty. And now, if Muslim men do take part, then we Muslim women will be held accountable. We are both victim and criminal.

In this campaign, we don’t hear about Abbas Khan, who went to Syria to help as a doctor in the humanitarian cause. He was kidnapped and killed. It is his mother spearheading the campaign to find out what happened to him.

When Muslim women raise their voices for access to education and employment, or autonomy or rights, we are rarely listened to. But as weapons against the other, suddenly we become significant. I’ve had enough. The war over Muslim women must stop.

Shelina Zahra Janmohamed is the author of Love in a Headscarf and blogs at

This week I’m going to Live Below The Line in support of eradicating poverty

Live Below the Line is a global campaign spearheaded by UNICEF and which I’m taking part in with Made in Europe.

More than 1.2 billion people around the world have just £1 each day for food and drink (and that’s adjusted for local prices!). Just £1 per day. Unbelievable, I know.

So this week, along with other participants and campaigners, we will be living on £1 per day as well to gain and share an insight into what this means. And yes, there are people in our own localities and countries facing this.

I’m doing the campaign with my husband, so we have £10 between us to cover breakfast, lunch and dinner for five days. You can see the ingredients we have selected here.  The total came to £10.01.

If you feel moved to participate, please do sign up, we’ve just started today. Alternatively, you can sponsor me and your donations will go to Made in Europe’s campaign against poverty.

Wish us well, and wish our prayers to relieve the actual poverty facing those around the world. I’m conscious that at any time I can eat anything I like. That’s not so for 1.2 billion people around the world. It’s a sobering thought.

My ingredients for Live Below The Line