Tuesday, 19 October 2010

English is my first language

"I will have to send for my husband to come here too, he cannot manage by himself, it is my duty and I am his wife" "But didn't you just tell me he used to hit you so badly you were hospitalised?" "Yes" So here was my introduction to human rights law. This woman, from Iran, sat in my office, wrapped up against the weather even though it was late summer, she was unused to the British climate. She was, as I was to discover, unused to just about everything British.

Firstly it is unusual to see a female muslim asylum seeker - almost unheard of from Afghanistan, or Pakistan, more common from Iran where the women seem to have more fight in them. Probably because they are educated. It is rare for tribal villagers in Afghanistan to educate their sons (beyond learning the Qur'an by rote) let alone their daughters. "A woman is a defect". Muslims are taught this misogyny from childhood. It is ingrained in their culture. It is, they believe, the eternal, uncreated word of God, meaning that the Qu'ran existed before the creation of the earth, before it was revealed to mankind, emphasis on "man". A brief google search will bring up numerous examples of the hatred espoused by this religion for women. Thus, when the chance comes to send a family member or two to the West to escape the horrors of war it is always the men who leave, never the women.

Perhaps the most difficult concept to convey to a woman who has lived in an androcentric culture entirely controlled by men, in which she has no self expression and is treated more or less as a slave or a child, is that she can now live as she chooses. There is no more fear of being alone in a culture which only values her as someone's wife, no matter how much of a drunken abuser that someone is. He is male. That is all that matters in a society which worships masculinity and despises femininity. In England she can work, go anywhere she pleases, she can drive, does not need to ask a male relatives permission to step outdoors. She need not cover herself from head to foot - nobody will look twice at her for walking outside wearing cool summer clothes, if she chooses. Above all, she does not need the "protection" of a husband. Her worth as a human being does not change because she is unmarried, divorced or widowed. She is not dependent on male approval - for anything.

Her new status as a free woman, independent of any man was a revelation to her. She quickly grasped that in England she had at last escaped her abusive husband. There was no law which ordered her to send for him. He, as an adult, could choose to seek asylum of his own accord. She would have nothing more to do with him. English law had not only granted her refugee status, it had given her sovereignty over her own life.