A man suspected of being involved in Huddersfield’s worst-ever mass murder has been arrested in Pakistan: Erasing male violence against women and girls

Shahid Mohammed a  man suspected of being involved in Huddersfield’s worst-ever mass murder has been arrested in Pakistan, the  – so far local – news tells us.

Almost 13 years ago, In May 2002, 8 people1, spanning three generations of one family, were killed and three others escaped, after petrol was poured through the letter box of a house, in Birkby, Hudsdersfield.  The house had been destroyed by the time fire engines had arrived, just four minutes after neighbours had called them upon hearing the windows smash as petrol-bombs were thrown. The youngest killed was a six-month-old baby, the oldest 54.

News of the arrest of Shahid Mohammed immediately caught my attention. Like the killers and their victims, I’m from Huddersfield. I was living and working there for an organisation that ran women’s refuges at the time of the fire.

Three young men were arrested shortly after the incident.  The following year, Shaied Iqbal was convicted of eight counts of murder whilst Shakiel Shazad Amir, and Nazar Hussain were convicted of manslaughter. Shahid Mohammed had also been  arrested but ran away whilst on bail.

What I haven’t seen in the news reports is an analysis of sex.  All those charged in connection with the murders were male, as is Shahid Mohammed.  That seven of the eight victims were women or girls seems to have evaded anyone’s notice. Every report has included the names of the dead, those who escaped and those charged. All but one of them, their visiting grandmother, were born and grew up in Huddersfield. Their names tell us that they were of south Asian descent.  I wish I could believe that the omission of mention of the race of both victims and perpetrators meant that this was not seen as important, that it was a reflection of a society where people are valued equally, but I don’t.  The names say enough, the names tell us ‘other’, the names tell us Muslim.  But the lack of mention of sex fails to locate this act within the context of men’s violence against women and girls.

We need to name male violence against women and girls. Identifying trends and making links is important, it helps us to identify causes and therefore – where there is the will – the potential to find solutions and create change. Men’s fatal violence against women and girls crosses boundaries of race, religion and culture but immediately when race or religion is a factor in violence, it is identified. Why isn’t it the same with sexist and misogynistic murder? Could it be that it is only when the primary aggressors are those acting against, not reinforcing the dominant ideology, that the majority make links?

1 Tayyaba Batool, 13, Rabiah Batool, 10, Ateeqa Nawaz, 6, Aneesa Nawaz, 2, Najeeba Nawaz, 6 months, their mother Nafeesa Aziz, 35, and their uncle Mohammed ateeq-ur-Rehman, 18, their grandmother, Zaib-un-Nisa, 54.

 

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Sorry, I can’t join your campaign to end male primogeniture, I’m washing my hair

Liza Campbell is campaigning to end male primogeniture – the practice of inheritance of estate and title by the eldest male child.  She explains why she believes it is a feminist issue here.  I’ve already written about becoming class conscious before sex-class conscious and self-identifying as a feminist here.  It didn’t take me long to work out how to reconcile class and sex oppression but I will never  forget that feeling of alienation, difference and being “less than”, when I first experienced ‘posh girls’  en masse (and yes, that’s exactly how I saw them and also exactly what I called them) at ‘A’ level college in Yorkshire in the mid-1980s.  So Campbell’s sentence: “ “Why the hell should we care about posh girls?” I hear you say.” gave me a good dose of ear steam.

Of course male primogeniture is wrong.  Of course.  Of course anything that privileges men over women is wrong.  But that doesn’t mean that ending the sex inequality is more important than ending the inequality.  Campbell ends her piece by saying that if we wish to sneer, then we must also sneer at Brahmin women and Senate Masupha too.  She’s right and I will.  I’d also ask her whether she is using cultural liberalism and the fear of appearing racist to bolster her argument in favour of maintaining inherited class privilege.  Indeed, she uses the practice of female genital mutilation, a form of abuse that for years many white liberals squirmed to condemn because of the fear of condemning a harmful practice in a culture subjugated in the UK, to illustrate the problem of female doorkeepers of patriarchy and the difficulty of dissent for a culture’s daughters.  Please don’t compare a girl’s right to survive with her genitals intact to another’s to be called Lady Blah-di-blah and inherit the family mansion.

Campbell describes the dilemma of being someone who “by accident of birth, finds herself the daughter of an earl.” She says that she doesn’t use her title and is deracinated from that life.  She says that refusal to help her struck her as the worst sort of inverted snobbery.  I might just probably be too busy to help her ‘cos I am too busy googling ‘deracinated’ because my life chances haven’t brought that word in to my vocabulary just yet. Though seriously, I am not going to help her because the answer to one form of inequality of accidental birth (male primogeniture and indeed maleness per se) is not to overlook and ignore other forms of inherited privilege.

I do agree with Campbell that everything is connected.  Though where she argues that “every struggle for women’s rights should be supported; every infringement resisted” I cannot agree. No-one should inherit titles. No-one should inherit wealth, privilege and status over others. No-one should inherit a free-pass to a privileged education that will set that person up for privilege for life. No-one should inherit poverty under the benefits-cap, insecure housing, being born in a war zone.  Food, shelter, safety, education  – and world equality in our right to access these – are surely our goals.  I wish I believed that I’ll see a world in which inequality between people has been erased before I die, but I don’t.  However this will not stop me trying to contribute to creating that world.  In my vision of an equal world, women will be liberated from patriarchal oppression,  male primogeniture will not exist, but I am not interested in ending it for the benefit of privileged women.

25th November – What’s In A Name?

Mirabel sisters

In July 1981, at the first Feminist Conference  for Latin American and Caribbean Women in Bogota, Colombia, 25th November was declared an annual day of protest, the International Day Against Violence Against Women, in memory of three sisters who had been murdered.  Patria, Maria Teresa and Minerva Mirabel were assassinated in a ’car accident’ in the Dominican Republic in 1960. They were political activists, killed for their involvement in efforts to overthrow the fascist government of Rafael Trujillo.  At that first conference, women linked and denounced all forms men’s violence against women from domestic violence, rape and sexual harassment to state violence including torture and abuse of women political prisoners.

On 6th December 1989,  Marc Lépine shot 14 female  students  dead and injured another 10 at the University of Montreal, Canada claiming he was ‘fighting feminism’.  This led to  a group of men in Canada launched the first White Ribbon Campaign in 1991.  The White Ribbon Campaign has become a global campaign to ensure men take more responsibility for reducing the level of violence against women.  I support men’s acknowledgement of their role in ending violence against women, it is essential for this to happen if we are going to end men’s violence against women and girls.

On December 17, 1999, the United Nations General Assembly designated 25 November as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. The UN invited governments, international organisations and NGOs to organise activities designated to raise public awareness of violence against women on this day.

Increasing though, the 25th November is referred to as White Ribbon Day by the majority of the minority of people actively interested in ending men’s violence against women and girls.  The campaign by men overshadowing, not complementing, the International Day for the Elimination of  Violence Against Women.  Based on a huge assumption about the founders of White Ribbon Day,  one  might be tempted to question the race and sex dynamics at play when a campaign founded by white men eclipses a campaign founded by women of colour.

Sadly, many even fail to take the time to understand even the central them of ‘White Ribbon Day’ as illustrated by an email a colleague of mine received from an organiser of a ‘white ribbon event’ who told her that their day would be ‘for all victims of domestic violence, because men can be victims too’, simultaneously erasing the linking of the different forms of men’s violence against women and the campaign for men to take responsibility for their violence against women.

Men’s violence against women is endemic:

  • globally 35% of women have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence (World Health Organisation)
  • In Japan 15% of women reported physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime; in Ethiopia it is 71%
  • 17%of women in rural Tanzania, 24% in rural Peru, and 30% in rural Bangladesh reported their first sexual experience as forced
  • 66,000 women are killed through men’s violence every year, in the USA four women are killed though men’s violence every day
  • In the UK, 120 women were killed by men in 2012, so far in 2013, more than 100 have been killed; the Home Office estimates that  69,000, women are raped every year.

UK media reports of violence against women and girls disproportionately cover violence against white and middle-class women in comparison to those of women of colour and working class women (unless they are sensationalising race and/or other oppressions, such as murders of prostituted women) and I do not want to contribute to this generally or specifically in relation to the erasure of Patria, Maria Teresa and Minerva Mirabel from the history of femicide:  men’s fatal violence against women.

Women’s activists have marked November 25 as a day to fight violence against women since 1981.  For me the 25th November is The International Day for the Elimination of  Violence Against Women.  It is about recognising the global nature of men’s violence against women. It is about standing side by side with my sisters.

On The International Day for the Elimination of  Violence Against Women this year, I’ll be commemorating the UK women killed through suspected male violence this year on the twitter account @countdeadwomen.  I will start with the 2nd January when Janelle Duncan Bailey, 25 was strangled by ex-boyfriend Jerome McDonald.  Every 10 minutes, I will move on and tweet the next date on which a woman was killed and the name of the women and the man convicted or primary suspect for her killing.  If I start at 6.00 am, and name a women every 10 minutes, I’ll still be naming women at midnight, 18 hours later.

On becoming a working class feminist and ‘choice’: a personal reflection

history is history of class struggles

I’ve been to two feminist events this year where the issue of class was presented by women who were not working-class or of working-class background. Each woman (three women, two events) was an articulate speaker who raised interesting and valid points but that isn’t the issue, as feminists there is no need for us to make class an anthropological issue.  Sure, feminism has a class problem, but that does not mean that there aren’t any feminists who are able to articulate class issues from a position as anything other than ‘other’.  It’s only as I wrote this that I realised how much I talked about ‘choice’ and how my own story is about the ways that class and sex influence and limit choice.

I’m not going to even try to define class here, I’ll leave that to the sociologists; but rather than continue to gripe about middle-class feminists commandeering class, I thought I ought to talk about what being a working-class feminist means to me.

My mother and biological father met working in John Crowther’s Mill, a textile manufacturing mill in Milnsbridge, West Yorkshire. It was 1967, the year that the Abortion Act was passed in the British parliament.  Pregnant at 17 to a married Sicilian immigrant who didn’t speak very much English, my mother married her on-off boyfriend,  I’m not sure how much ‘right to choose’ she really had.  She doesn’t recall knowing that abortion was an option –“I never even thought about it,” –  and the same with the pill, which had been available since 1961 “I never even thought about that either, I might’ve heard of it ….”.  There was perhaps a 50-50 chance that she was marrying the father of her soon-to-be child, but she wasn’t; the best-man, not the groom was the daddy, though it was  much later that I became aware of this.  As far as I was concerned, up until my early 20s, I was the daughter of an ex-mill worker/factory packer/auxiliary-nurse/shop-worker mother and a plumber/builder dad.

Class is not simply about poverty.  We weren’t poor. My mother had been, she’d grown up as the third child and oldest girl of 12 siblings.  I’ve heard stories of six-mile walks in winter by children to borrow coal from relatives; the need to get home early to get the best pick of clothes for a night out; shared beds, not just shared rooms; coats that doubled as blankets and lying to friends about birthday presents that never transpired.  I never went hungry and most of our meals were home cooked, the smattering of convenience foods being more about exciting 70s fashions than anything else.  My ‘dad’ was controlling (tight) with money, though I’d say this was more about control and power than poverty, he drove a flash American imported sports car, but my sister and I grew up in a mixture of new clothes, family hand-me-downs and jumble-sale bargains, but if that was poverty or disadvantage, I was barely aware of it .  My mum’s youngest sister, my aunt, was less than four years older than me and I looked up to her, growing into the clothes that she was growing out of was a welcomed rite of passage,  The annual jumble sale at my primary school a much anticipated event among all my friends.  Memories of a new coat from C&A (for anyone who doesn’t know, by no means an expensive brand) are bittersweet, my mum cutting the price label out and telling me to pretend that it had cost less than it actually had because she wasn’t supposed to spend that much on clothes. Years later,  she told me that one of the reasons she’d returned to work was because ‘she wasn’t given’ enough money for clothes for the children. I remember walking to school with a friend, I would have been any age between 8 and 11, and her telling me that her dad said ‘if he had your dad’s money, he’d spend more of it on his children’, and trying to argue my way out of the stinging indignant humiliation.

I was educated at local state schools, attending one of the country’s first purpose-built comprehensives, long before the concept of choice was widely used in free education.  For whatever reasons, I did ‘well’ at school.  My secondary school was large, I think approximately 1,800 pupils;  some classes were streamed according to ability, so in time, though I wasn’t conscious of this, my peers became increasingly (but by no means exclusively) those doing well at school  and, therefore,  not coincidentally, increasingly those from relatively privileged backgrounds.  Looking back, class meant my subject choices at ‘O’ and ‘A’ level weren’t hampered by the parental influence of the need to build a good career foundation, less pressure to revise and no pressure to stick at learning to play an instrument, things that I experienced as freedoms and which were sometimes the envy of friends from more advantaged backgrounds. So, I picked ‘O’ levels based on a mixture of what I wanted, which teachers I wanted to avoid and some minor school regulations based on what was deemed appropriate –or not – for a bright kid. (Therefore a language and not typing or the wonderfully named ‘office practise’, and physics not general science.)

I didn’t really choose to do ‘A’ levels but picked some because that’s what my peers were doing (again free choice so: Sociology, Geography and Art) and a further education college rather than the  small school sixth form because I’d snogged and was avoiding too many of the boys that would have been in the sixth form.  I wasn’t sure that I’d end up at the sixth form college anyway, I applied for jobs over the summer holiday and remember receiving a lovely hand-written letter from  Batley’s Cash and Carry telling me that I had ‘far too much going for me’ to leave school and work there.  My ‘dad’ asked me why I was bothering, I’d only be having babies, so I was just wasting time.

‘A’ level college was the first time I recall experiencing class making me feel different.  The main intakes were from local fee-paying schools, or so it seemed, maybe it was just that I knew only a handful of similar stragglers from my old school and they were a slightly larger,  but much louder,  pack. I felt silenced by their confident chatter, although also from Huddersfield their accents were different from mine.  I didn’t mix with them. I couldn’t like The  Smiths, ‘cos they did. I dropped ‘A’ level art because I couldn’t find my voice amongst theirs, I had a nagging feeling that I was as good as most of them, better than some, but I knew that after college, if this was what I had to compete with, I would be lost.

Around the same time, I started doing an evening class in psychology.  I hadn’t chosen biology ‘O’ level, so this was my introduction to dominant and recessive genes. The tutor of my class must have been relieved when I decided that my impossible ‘dominant gene’ brown eyes from parents with recessive gene blue and green eyes and my blond and blue-eyed younger brother and sister meant that I must be a ‘genetic throw-back’.  I remember coming home and talking about it, and what now I might call the sound of tumbleweed.

Through sociology, I found a name for the feeling of being different: class.  It was 1984/85, although Huddersfield was a mill not a mining town, the miners’ strike felt alive around us and anyway the job losses were echoed in the decline of the mills.  I discovered Billy Bragg and pop and politics merged in my teenage identity. Sometime after ‘class’, sociology introduced me to the concept of feminism.   “How stupid!”, I thought, how could I ever have more in common with the posh girls from the private schools than a man who worked in a pit? Luckily though, as we moved on to socialist and radical feminism, the ideas of women like Shulasmith Firestone and Sheila Rowbotham showed me how class and feminist politics needn’t be mutually exclusive – and honestly, since the exposure to ideas through ‘A’ level sociology,  nothing has been the same.

I drifted into university much in the same was that I drifted into ‘A’ levels.  My mum had left my dad.  I was the first of my family to go to university, though my grandparents’ twelve children have had twenty-five children between them and several of my cousins and one of my aunts have also since attended university.  I was in the South at the University of Kent. Northern, working-class, from a broken-home, back-combed hair, second hand 50/60s dresses and old men’s coats.  I felt different and I wanted it that way, but when the daughter of a doctor (she was studying law)  told me I was lucky, that I had a credibility that she could never have, I knew she was talking shite.  I stuck with sociology, read more about Marx, about domestic and sexual violence, about patriarchy.  We marched for miners, we marched against Thatcher, against Clause 28 and against the Poll Tax.  I learnt the truth about my parentage and those dominant gene brown eyes.  I wasn’t a genetic throw-back but half-Italian. What I saw in the mirror now made sense. I met my biological dad (if I was expecting Al Pacino or Robert De Niro, I got Danny De Vito) a handful of new half-brothers and sisters and my Sicilian/Italian family.

Having the benefit of a degree (through a free education) and a working-class background places me on a class margin, add to that a sense of always feeling ‘a bit different’ in the home I grew up in but not knowing why.  Neither one thing nor the other, always a bit too much of ‘something different’ to truly feel in place anywhere. If I’d ever doubted it, my work history in women’s refuges and hostels means that I have met countless women and children whose backgrounds and life chances make my own look steeped in advantage and privilege.  I can compare my own life to that of my mum, to my sister and brother and know that I have had opportunities that they have been denied.  But still, attending meetings with people whom I don’t know, especially ‘higher-ranking’ professionals means that when I first open my mouth and speak and my working-class Yorkshire accent comes out, I frequently detect a quick flicker of surprise in their eyes.  Being a woman and working-class means that I am no stranger to hearing an ignored suggestion that I have made earlier,  later  repeated by a man, or in a different accent or both, accepted and valued.  Being a woman and working-class means that only very recently, I stopped telling myself that long-haul holidays, talking on the radio, writing a blog, buying the car that I wanted were not for ‘people like me’.

Unlike age, disability, gender reassignment, disability, marriage/civil-partnership, pregnancy/maternity, race, religion/belief, sex and sexual orientation, class it not a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010 which sought to protect people from discrimination in the workplace and in wider society, replacing previous anti-discrimination laws with a single Act.  It means that the analysis of class, of poverty, of the importance of access to education and their impact on life chances is missing from most equalities training and equality policies.  Its inclusion could potentially have created a tool with which to fight the policies of class-hate, the welfare reforms that disadvantage the poor  and stigmatise poverty,  the erosion of free education pushed through by recent governments of all persuasions.  Many of the accidental and fortuitous ‘choices’ that I made, are now denied to children who are like the child I was.

My mum has told me that she doesn’t know where I got my ‘strong opinions’ but I do: free education, a sociology degree and feminism.  Choice doesn’t exist without the limits of social context.  My life experiences and my education have made me the woman that I am, the choices that I didn’t have are as much part of me as the choices that I made.  Professor Liz Kelly recently made what seemed at the time to be a passing comment, that class was about access to ideas.  Looking at myself, this was absolutely critical.  The thing that changed me was access to ideas.

To those through history who fought for free and compulsory education for all children, for equality for girls and women, for every feminist, class warrior and teacher who shaped my ideas, and my mum –  accidental teenage parent without the choice of the pill or abortion and with a baby to ‘the wrong man’ – thank you for giving me somewhere to grow ‘strong opinions’.  To organisers of feminist events who, rightfully want to talk about the advantages and disadvantages of life opportunities according to class, let us working-class women with strong opinions speak for ourselves. We can, you know; and we have things to say that are worth listening to.

Femicide: UK women killed through suspected male violence January – August 2013

Many people know the statistic: ‘two women in England and Wales a week are killed through domestic violence‘; but how many try to connect with that and to feel the impact of what it really means?

Through naming the women killed, I’m trying to made the horror and unacceptability of what is happening to women feel more real. I began, in January 2012, by  recording the names of all women killed through domestic violence but as time went on, I wanted to make the connections between the different forms of fatal male violence against women. Since I started the list, I’ve counted 197 dead women.  I’m not going to stop counting and naming the women until I think the government is doing the same, ‘counting dead women’ and doing all it can to make the connections, making good its commitment to end male violence against women.  Please join me demanding action from the government by clicking here and signing my petition.

When I started keeping the list, I was shocked and angry about the lack of attention given to these murders, and what feels like a wilful refusal to look at the links between the forms and causes of violence against women. Male violence against women and girls is a cause and consequence of inequality between women and men, and until a government seriously approaches the issue from that perspective, women and girls will continue to be beaten, raped, assaulted, abused, controlled and killed by men.

The list below is the 78 UK women killed through suspected male violence so far in 2013.  78 women in  243 days, that’s one  woman every 3.1 days.

Janelle   Duncan Bailey 25 02-Jan
Akua   Agyueman 23 03-Jan
Anastasia   Voykina 23 07-Jan
Myrna   Kirby 57 11-Jan
Suzanne Bavette Newton 45 13-Jan
Virginja   Jurkiene 49 19-Jan
Chloe   Siokos 80 22-Jan
Debbie   Levey 44 28-Jan
Sasha   Marsden 16 31-Jan
Una   Crown 86 31-Jan
Hayley   Pointon 30 03-Feb
Pernella   Forgie 79 07-Feb
Ganimete   Hoti 42 11-Feb
Samantha   Medland 24 17-Feb
Alexis   Durant 42 20-Feb
Glynis   Solmaz 65 20-Feb
Dimitrina   Borisova 46 21-Feb
Victoria   Rose 58 02-Mar
Chantelle   Barnsdale-Quean 35 04-Mar
Susan   Cole 54 06-Mar
Christina   Edkins 16 06-Mar
Jennifer   Rennie 26 11-Mar
Daneshia   Arthur 30 18-Mar
Pamela   Jackson 55 last seen 20 March
Ellen   Ash 83 21-Mar
Mary   Roberts 50 27-Mar
Janis   Dundas 63 05-Apr
Deborah   Simister 45 08-Apr
Lisa   Clay 41 09-Apr
Mariam   Ali Shaaban Hussain Khesroh 24 11-Apr
Dawn   Warburton 40 13-Apr
Naika   Inayat 52 17-Apr
Jabeen   Younis 32 19-Apr
Irene   Dale 78 27-Apr
Heather   Arthur 50 29-Apr
Salma   Parveen 22 29-Apr
Christine   Baker 52 30-Apr
Margaret   Knight 77 01-May
Margaret   Mercati 63 15-May
Margery   Gilbey 88 24-May
Georgia   Williams 17 26-May
Yvonne   Walsh 25 02-Jun
Krishnamaya   Mabo 39 03-Jun
Myrna   Holman 76 03-Jun
Reema   Ramzan 18 04-Jun
Katie   Jenkin 20 08-Jun
Alice   McMeekin 58 08-Jun
Marianne   Stones 58 09-Jun
Lilima   Akter 27 14-Jun
Zaneta   Kindzierska 32 16-Jun
Mushammod   Asma Begum 21 20-Jun
Linzi   Ashton 25 29-Jun
Rania   Alayed 25
Louisa   Denby 84 01-Jul
Susan   White 51 01-Jul
Kate   Dixon 40 02-Jul
Denise   Williamson 44 05-Jul
Sabeen   Thandi 37 07-Jul
Shavani   Kapoor 35 10-Jul
Jane   McRae 55 17-Jul
Julie   Beattie 24 19-Jul
Rosemary   Gill 48 20-Jul
Alexandra   Kovacs 25 21-Jul
Jean   Redfern 67 22-Jul
Sarah   Redfern 33 22-Jul
Keisha   McKenzie 28 29-Jul
Linah   Keza 29 31-Jul
 
Anu   Kappor 27 04-Aug
Caroline   Parry 46 08-Aug
Mayurathy   Perinpamoorihy 06-Aug
Judith   Maude 57 11-Aug
Gail   Lucas 51 14-Aug
Orina   Morawiec 21 15-Aug
Julie   Connaughton 57 16-Aug
Jane   Wiggett 57 16-Aug
Sabrina   Moss 24 24-Aug
Merissa   McColm 31 25-Aug
Betty   Gallagher 87 25-Aug