Part 2 of 2 – Part 1: Fertility as a Feminist Issue at WOW Festival
In the second part of my WOW Festival 2018 coverage, I’m focussing on the panel, ‘We Stand Together: Muslim and Jewish Women Speak Out’. During this event, the women speaking came from the organisation Nisa-Nashim (‘women’ in Hebrew and Arabic). Joining co-chairs Julie Siddiqi and Laura Marks, were Judith and Aqueela. Although I’m not religious, I was interested in the discussion because I think it’s important for people from different backgrounds to come together, and because I am concerned about the reports of rising hate crimes against both groups.
hate crime is often gendered, especially with visual signifiers such as the hijab
Nisa-Nashim has branches throughout the UK, with each region led jointly by a Muslim woman and a Jewish woman, and they come together at regular events, as well as for community action such as running food banks. They stated that increasingly they are finding a commonality in the religious hatred both groups are facing. With this, it was noted that hate crime is often gendered, especially with visual signifiers such as the hijab in incidents such as attacks on public transport. They spoke about how, in this way, the discrimination they face is different. Traditional anti-Jewish tropes are still being played out, and issues about Israel and Zionism quickly turning anti-Semitic.
Aqueela spoke about many of the issues Muslim women face today, such as being seen as either oppressed or a threat, and in general women of faith being discriminated against within feminist circles. With the Muslim faith, she remarked on some mosques not allowing women in to pray, and it was later revealed that one third of mosques in the UK don’t have a space for women. Julie spoke on a policy level, discussing the gender disparity in terms of representation within Muslim charities, whilst also asserting that Muslim women don’t need saving.
Judith gave a compelling argument for the existence of faith schools, having experienced years of anti-Semitic bullying after a rise in BNP members in her area
Laura discussed community relations; that there is often a divide between Jewish and Muslim people, which is encouraged by those who stand to benefit from it. She stated that 60 percent of Jewish children go to Jewish schools. Although Muslim children tend to go to secular schools, communities and schooling somehow still becomes segregated in particular areas. During the audience questions, someone asked whether faith schools should be banned. However, Judith gave a compelling argument for the existence of faith schools, having experienced years of anti-Semitic bullying after a rise in BNP members in her area. She made the decision to go to a faith school for sixth form, going from a place with people who didn’t understand faith, to one where they only understood one faith. Acknowledging this culture shock, she believed there were many issues surrounding faith schools, but did not believe they should be banned. Relating this to my experience of attending a single sex school, my own position changed from the idea of banning to one for better integration outside of the classroom.
Towards the end, it was concluded that the Nisa-Nashim group is not only for Jewish and Muslim women, but that those who care enough to get involved are welcome whatever religion or non-religion.
She asserted the importance of not being defensive when shown you’re being oppressive
Having attended WOW Festival for many years, I felt it was important to widen my areas of interest, acknowledging that as someone who is irreligious, I have the privilege of not experiencing anti-religious oppression that exists both outside and inside feminist spaces. Touching on these thoughts in her closing keynote speech, Jude Kelly spoke about the importance of the women that make up the festival being critical friends, and how on taking on this leadership position she hoped to use it to renegotiate power. She addressed the topic of white privilege, and drew attention to the sea of white audience members by asking them to raise their hands. She asserted the importance of not being defensive when shown you’re being oppressive, and that a badge of experience doesn’t mean you don’t have to continue doing the work to achieve progress.
She also addressed the attitude that some older women, herself included, may at time have expressed the attitude that you just “put up with” sexism, but in doing so, you are complicit in your own subjugation, rewarding yourself for having done so, yet not really creating the necessary change. She urged us all to be braver, and more collective in our actions, also encouraging us to take hold of the power we have as consumers, with women and girls typically consuming more than boys and men. She ended with a message of sisterhood, about how we should be willing to learn rather than telling others they shouldn’t feel the way they do. WOW Festival has grown so much over the years, and is now a global movement, which is surely what International Women’s Day is all about.
Featured image – WOW Festival logo
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