Homa Arjomand

homawpi@rogers.com

Speech delivered on Wednesday September 15, 2004 at Media Conference “Make my community Safe” End sexual violence. 

I am pleased to be among you today. I am confident that the campaign, “Make my Community Safe,” launched by the OCRCC will strengthen the battle to eliminate sexual violence and that is a positive move towards building a better society for all. I encourage everyone to participate actively in supporting not only this campaign, but all campaigns of this nature.  

 As an activist for Women’s equality in Iran; as a transitional counsellor who works directly with abused women, particularly battered immigrant women; and as a founder of the Campaign against Sharia court in Canada, I have consistently opposed the  involvement of religion in the justice system.

 I would like to describe the situation of women and young girls living in the so called Islamic communities of Ontario .  Girls are segregated from boys at a very young age in Islamic schools and are forced, at this tender age, to wear veils (Islamic Hijab) and are prohibited from participating in sports and games in playgrounds.  Sexual assault is permitted by forcing girls as young as 13 into arranged marriages. Parents are given the right to deprive their daughters of education. Children are isolated from mainstream society. Polygamy ( the practice of having more than one wife at the one time)  is becoming the norm in these communities through the application of Sharia law.  

Just picture this reality: In these communities more than half the population is oppressed by the imposition on them of  backward traditions. Having a boyfriend is taboo. A women who disobeys gender norms may be disowned by her family and harassed by her community.  And the sad part is, the government of Ontario, despite the awareness raised by women’s activists and the Campaign Against Sharia Court in Canada, not only has kept quiet, but also, through its silence, legitimized the oppression, inequality and injustice in the name of respecting other cultures.  

Yes, the government of Ontario has already generated an atmosphere of fear and religious indoctrination among Moslem women. It is not an exaggeration to say that the Arbitration Act 1991 has already justified two sets of values and rights for the residents of Ontario .

If we are for safer communities by ending sexual violence; if we are for state intervention to protect children by use of a child protection law; if we are for “equal rights for all”, for, “one law for all” irrespective of sex race, religion and ethnicity, then we should not hesitate to call upon the authorities to empower battered immigrant women by removing family law from the Arbitration Act 1991. By providing battered women with appropriate support systems, the women would learn to understand their rights, such as the right to leave the abusers, the right to charge the abusers and the right to integrate into Canadian society.

 Only then we can ensure a safe place for all women; and indeed, for all Canadians.