Wednesday, 10 July 2013

On Human Rights - EWTS Session Four

Notes and thoughts on session 3 of the EWTS conference, which was about Human Rights. Speakers were Dan Barker, Maryam Namazie and Jane Donnelly. 

Dan Barker is a prominent atheist activist in the US, and used to be a preacher. 

In the Bible hierarchy, women* are not as special or as important as men. Women* are seen as property, and this links in to how it is considerably more common for a woman* to take her husband's surname when they get married, rather than keeping her own, or the man changing his. When women* marry, they have a civil death - they lose their personal identity and instead are latched on to that of her husband. 

Human rights are not granted or bestowed - this implies that they may then be taken away. Human rights must be acknowledged. They must be recognised. They are inalienable. They aren't something we have to ask for, we get them for being human. But it is getting our human rights acknowledged by others which is the big difficulty. While we all have them, not all people recognise that we do, and as such, entire groups and communities of people are oppressed and denied their human rights. The UN Declaration of Human Rights doesn't mention any holy or religious text. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that all human beings should be treated with equality, dignity and respect, regardless of who they are or where they come from. Therefore, we need to find human rights within ourselves, not in a holy book. 

Women*'s rights are human rights - there is no distinction. When you deny a woman* human rights based on her gender, you are denying her her rights, her basic rights, as a human. We are all human, and we all have human rights.

Maryam Namazie is an Iranian-born activist and a spokesperson for the Council of Ex Muslims of Britain. 

Secularism is a basic human right. It is also an historical task and necessity. We want a secular world, not just a secular West. 

Sharia law prevents the advancement of secularism and women*'s rights in Islamist states. Veiling is enforced, and this enforced veiling is similar to FGM and foot binding practices in ancient China. Those who are in power decide and enforce their culture on the entire country. There are as many different types of Muslims as there are individual minds. The conflation of Islamists and their apologists with Muslims is a massive problem. There is a huge difference between being Muslim, which is personal, private faith, and Islamism, which is the politicised and extremist version of Islamic faith. 

Women are freer the less religion comes into play in the public sphere. Personal and private faith is completely fine in a secular society, but faith should not dictate the government, nor any laws or services. 

Human rights are not Eastern nor Western, they are universal, and secularism is a right and a cultural identity.

Jane Donnelly is the Atheist Ireland Education Officer. 

Ireland is a republic, and as such, is meant to have no discrimination. The state is meant to value human rights. Ireland is meant to have a fairly good human rights record, except when it comes to women*. The ECHR says that Ireland violated Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights due to lack of legislation for the constitutional right to abortion in certain circumstances.  Earlier in June, the Irish Commissioner for Human Rights said that the state failed to vindicate the human rights of the women* and girls who were institutionalised in the Magdalene Laundries. These women* were denied their right to equality, liberty, respect to private life, education and freedom from servitude, among others. The Laundries were run by the Catholic Church, but the state played a role in their development. Stronger regulations are needed between the state and non-state actors carrying out state actions. The state has a history of delegating human rights care to other bodies which interpret human rights in accordance with their religious views. Catholic human rights are not the same rights as those outlines in the UDHR. 

While accessing their human right to education, the state is not responsible to protect children from abuse in public schools. 92% of Irish schools are run by religious bodies separate from the state. Secular parents and children do not have equality regarding freedom of consciousness when it comes to choosing a school which will not shove religion down the throats of young children too young to have independently made up their mind about what they believe. Yet Catholic schools claim they are being discriminated against. 

When you look deeper, Ireland doesn't have a great human rights record, particularly when it comes to women*. It is important not to ask for your human rights, but to demand them.

Points made during Q&A session

-there is a complacency in Ireland regarding human rights - we have this idea that different cultures have different sets of human rights. Education about human rights is vital - a lot of people don't understand what discrimination means, that you need the power to oppress in order to discriminate. 

-in response to a man commenting on how shocked he was at the idea that white American women would allow themselves to be oppressed, but that he isn't shocked that it happens in Middle Eastern countries (i.e. he's a racist fuck), Maryam Namazie pointed out that women in Iran do fight back, they do resist. In one month, in one town, 1 million women were arrested for improper veiling. Do not assume that women in Iran or other Islamist countries are doing nothing, or unable to do anything. 

-Namazie also points out that you can be anti-Islamism without being racist. There is a difference between Islamism and being Muslim. It is important not to be paternalistic and assume you know what's best for Muslim women in Islamist states. Islamism is used by many Western states as a scapegoat against immigrants. Educating people on the difference between being Muslim and Islamism as a movement is vital.

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