It is near impossible to understand how, in today’s Britain, teenage girls can abandon all freedom and voluntarily submit themselves to slavery. For that is what the girls who travel to Syria to join IS have done. They are not going to be fighters, but submissive wives, with no choice whose wife they become, confined at home, required to obey every command of their husband, and facing an uncertain future should their husband get killed. Even in the warped worldview of the so-called “Islamic State” (IS), there is no glory for women, only for the men whom they must serve.
Some will say that these girls are driven by their faith. It is true that faith can inspire and give people the strength to do great things, but faith in the God of Abraham, who is love, must lead to doing good in the world, not to supporting killers and those who are now wreaking destruction on civilisation and heritage. The girls who go to Syria, and indeed the men also, are not impelled by faith but are brainwashed. They remind me of the three Maoist women who were held as slaves in Lambeth for thirty years by the man known as Comrade Bala, a former leader of a small Maoist group in the 1970s.
The girls who went to Syria were educated, studying for their exams. IS and those like them would prevent girls being educated. Boko Haram in Nigeria has just declared allegiance to IS. It is Boko Haram that is still holding probably about 200 girls kidnapped from a boarding school who, like the many other girls and young women Boko Haram has kidnapped, have most likely been given to militants as sex slaves. In Pakistan Malala Yousafzai was shot because she wrote of her wish for girls in her country to have the chance of education.
Today is International Women’s Day, and while we should celebrate the advances women have made in many parts of the world, we know there is still much to do, and not merely where militant Islam hold sway. Female genital mutilation is still widespread to the extent that even in the UK schools, both secondary and primary, must look for the signs that pupils might be at risk of the procedure.
The revelations of the sexual grooming of young girls in this country continue to shock. The fact that this could go on in so many towns for so many years is scandalous. Equally disgraceful is the fact that the young victims were not listened to, not believed, when they tried to tell those responsible for them what was happening. Some of that is the result of a misconceived view that it is normal for girls of 12, 13 upwards to be having sex, so their complaints were dismissed as the result of falling out with a boyfriend.
In parts of India and in some other countries a woman who has been raped is not treated as a victim of a despicable crime and as being in need of care and support, but is ostracised from her community. And let us also think of those women living in extreme poverty who labour long hours to feed their families. Often it is women who suffer most when there is not enough to eat and women who toil the hardest to produce whatever they can from the land.
Many of the problems that women face in the world are the result of a lack of respect for women as valued individuals, entitled to the same rights and freedoms as men, and whose voices must be heard. Women in this country fought hard for equality, we need to defend women’s hard-won rights against those, such as IS, who would reverse them, and continue the fight on those many fronts where women are still treated as second-class citizens.