C Explanatory memorandum, by Mrs Wurm
1 The rapporteur welcomes Mr Mota
Amaral’s report. Muslim communities in Europe are facing extremism.
This situation has special effects on women, who are the first victims
of religious fundamentalism, but who can also bring about important
changes in their community.
The Parliamentary Assembly has considered the situation of
Muslim women in Europe in various reports, including “Integration
of immigrant women in Europe”,Note
and religion in Europe”,Note
and “Situation of women in the Maghreb”.Note
Women, the first victims of cultural
and religious fundamentalism
3 The Committee on Equal Opportunities
for Women and Men regularly denounces the threat posed to the human
rights of women and girls by cultural and religious relativism.
This threat is, unfortunately, particularly pronounced in Muslim
communities, even in Europe. In fact, the first victims of Muslim
fundamentalism are often not the society or the polity at large
(via intercommunity violence or even terrorism), but the women and girls
within the communities themselves, many of whom suffer severe, repeated
and sustained violations of their human rights at the hands of extremists
within their communities or at the hands of relatives influenced by
the extremist ideology of Islamic fundamentalism.
It is thus imperative to fight all cultural and religious
relativism of women and girls’ human rights. As the Political Affairs
Committee’s rapporteur points out in his conclusions (paragraph
29), “European states are founded on the principle of secularism
(in French: laïcité
)”. Mr Mota
Amaral rightly suggests, in paragraph 18, that the “process of mutual
understanding should imply a frank and open debate over … some practices
– be they religious or cultural – which, although accepted or tolerated
by Muslim communities – sometimes even in Europe are and should
continue to be rejected by European societies: inequality between
men and women, honour killings, polygamy, forced marriages and harassment…”.
The Parliamentary Assembly has condemned these practices on several
they are still current, and the Committee on Equal Opportunities for
Women and Men intends to denounce them in forthcoming reports on
“Abduction and illegal confinement of women and girls in the name
of practices contrary to human rights” (rapporteur: Ms Papadoupoulos,
Cyprus, ALDE) and “The urgent need for action on so-called ‘honour
crimes’” (rapporteur: Mr Austin, United Kingdom, SOC).
While such practices as so-called “honour crimes” and forced
marriages find few defenders in Europe with the exception of Islamic
extremists, the introduction of certain parts of Sharia
law unfortunately has found some
defenders. Most recently, the Archbishop of Canterbury suggested
that the adoption of certain aspects of Sharia law in the United
Kingdom seemed “unavoidable”.Note
course, the Archbishop was not referring to Islamic penal law as
practiced in some states, but rather to some aspects of civil law.
However, the position of women in Sharia
(as currently practiced by fundamentalist states) is not equal to
that of men, also in civil law. The Committee on Equal Opportunities
for Women and Men adopted a whole report on “Respect for the principle
of gender equality in civil law”Note
as recently as last
year, which pinpointed several areas where discriminatory foreign
law provisions based on Sharia
put women at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to divorce or
child custody, to name but two examples.
It should also be noted that it is not even necessary, unfortunately,
for discriminatory and extremist provisions based on the Sharia
to be made law, or to be accepted as a “parallel” legal system in
Europe. Extremists have made considerable inroads into European
Muslim communities, and women and girls may be forced – or feel
forced – to adopt certain lifestyles without any legal provisions
enforcing them. The restrictions imposed on women and girls – in
particular by their own relatives (influenced by extremists) or
by peer pressure – can range from being/feeling forced to don the
veil, over restrictions on the freedom of movement, to being forbidden
to ride a bike: in the Netherlands, a fatwa issued in 2007 forbids
Muslim women to ride bicycles, since, according to the clerics responsible,
“contact with the bicycle’s saddle has a sexually arousing effect
on women, and this makes the bicycle a prohibited object”.Note
As Mrs Bilgehan emphasised, immigrant women are discriminated
against on two grounds – sex and origin. In Resolution 1478 (2006)
, the Assembly called on the member states to “take all
necessary action to protect the rights of immigrant women and to
combat the discrimination they face in their community of origin, by
refusing all forms of cultural and religious relativism which could
violate women’s fundamental rights” (paragraph 7.14). I can but
repeat this call to fight all forms of cultural and religious relativism
propagated by Islamic fundamentalists, which counts Muslim women
and girls as its prime victims.
Relying on women to integrate
successfully and combat extremism
8 However, Muslim women are not
just victims of Islamic fundamentalism: they can also be a positive
actor for change, within both their communities and society at large.
In particular within immigrant communities, women – as wives, daughters
and mothers – are often expected to conform to and also to transmit
“traditional” values. These values have, unfortunately, often been
corrupted by the ideology of Islamic fundamentalism, which can end
in women themselves imposing on other women (for example, daughters
or daughters-in-law) practices which violate human rights.
9 On the other hand, women can also be a bulwark against such
practices within their own communities if they are given the freedom
and the means to emancipate themselves and to benefit from the education
and the human rights culture in European society at large. As Mrs Bilgehan
pointed out in her report (op. cit.), the face of migration has
changed, and women now make up roughly half of all migrants. It
is in these women that host states need to invest. I am convinced
that ensuring the access of immigrant women in Europe to education,
training, employment, social and cultural rights and health services
help ensure that they are able to integrate into society and will
lead to greater social cohesion in the host country – and have a
knock-on effect on the ability of Muslim communities in Europe to
effectively fight extremism.
10 This is why it is so important that the measures proposed
by the Political Affairs Committee in paragraphs 8 and 9 of the
draft resolution include a gender dimension. Too often, the participation
of people with an immigrant background in political parties, trade
unions and NGOs is limited to men. Too often, the voice of Muslim
women is not heard, either in their own communities or in society
at large. Thus, special efforts should be made to increase the standing
and the role of Muslim women in Europe and to overcome stereotypes confining
them to subordinate and passive roles, for example, through appropriate
teaching in schools – including Muslim faith schools where they
exist – and through awareness-raising campaigns in the media.
11 The draft resolution tabled
by my colleague, Mr Mota Amaral, thus has my total support, and
I hope that he and the Political Affairs Committee will approve
the amendments I am suggesting, to ensure that the rights of women
in European Muslim communities confronted with extremism are fully
respected, and that Muslim women’s potential as agents of positive
change is realised.
Reporting committee: Political Affairs Committee.
Committee for opinion: Committee on Equal Opportunities for
Women and Men.
Reference to committee: Doc. 10705 and Reference No. 3145 of 7 October 2005.
Opinion adopted by the committee on 14 April 2008.
See 13th Sitting, 15 April 2008 (adoption of the draft resolution
and draft recommendation, as amended); and Resolution 1605 and Recommendation