Marieme Helie Lucas is an Algerian sociologist, activist, founder of ‘Secularism is a Women’s Issue,’ and founder and former International Coordinator of ‘Women Living Under Muslim Laws.’ Here we talk about the case of Noura Hammad. Noura has been sentenced to death and has 15 days to appeal the decision.
The hashtag for the campaign: #JusticeForNoura. Email name and country if you would like to sign the petition: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: How come is this inequality in the law for women?
Marieme Helie Lucas: As you know, Scott, in many – but not all – instances women in predominantly Muslim contexts are never considered as coming to adult age; and they are considered, in the law, as forever legal minors – it took a long time everywhere (including in the West, of course) to grant women legal equal rights.
As in Noura’s case, we can be given in marriage by our matrimonial tutors or wali (most of the time our fathers but otherwise any male guardian in the family); interestingly enough, this wali can even be our youngest son: being a male is what is being considered…
It is important to note that many so-called Muslim countries do not hold these conservative views, do not try to hide patriarchal ideology under the guise of religion, and that their national laws grant women citizens a lot more rights, including the right to sign a contract ( marriage or commercial) – and in some countries equal rights in marriage.
However, the global trend in the past few decades has been a political tightening by broad alliances ranging from conservative to extreme right forces, which, among other undemocratic provisions, severely curtail women’s rights – legally and otherwise.
Jacobsen: Why are women having to resort to extreme measures in self-protection from sexual violence in forced marriages?
Helie Lucas: Certainly because they do not have the protection of the law, but moreover, as can be seen in Noura’s case, they do not have the protection of their immediate family either. Religiously sanctioned patriarchy is prevalent everywhere.
So-called honor crimes exist over all the continents (last year, one woman died under the blows of her male partner every three days in France) – even when the law criminalizes such crimes.
Hence the importance of pushing for changes concomitantly – at the same time: at the level of changing laws, of course, but also at the level of changing society, where there is a crucial need for support for women’s rights, and for human rights work in general. Right now, funding for women’s organizations has drastically fallen, everywhere.
But even where there are organizations for the defense of women, it is difficult for ordinary people to access them. Women are most often left to fend for themselves, and, in desperation, they usually attempt to their lives; the cases where they physically defend themselves against the aggressor are much fewer.
From age 15, Noura has steadily refused a forced marriage for four years before taking arms against the husband imposed on her against her expressed will, and she only resorted to self-defense after having suffered a first public rape in the name of marital rights and being threatened with a second one.
She is a hero. She deserves to be supported the world over.
Jacobsen: How does the family, community, society, and religion conspire to restrict women?
Helie Lucas: I think I answered that question first. What I want to underline here is that, against all these regressive forces, there are – everywhere, always, I can testify to it, very courageous women’s organisations and progressive individuals, male and female, who stand up for universal human rights at the risk of their liberty and sometimes of their life; they affirm that this human rights stand in no way contravene to their interpretation of their religion; that in no way does it contradict their being deeply rooted in their local culture, nor does it conflict with their national identity.
These voices are rarely heard outside the national context and they need to be heard, in order to confront ideological simplifications of ‘ they’ (barbaric ones) and ‘us’ (civilized ones) that still prevail.
The danger in Noura’s case is that it would be used to stigmatize specific countries (‘backward’ Africa) or a religion (‘violent’ Islam) and reinforce racism; this can be avoided by simply supporting the work of Sudanese and African local human rights and women’s rights advocates and organisations, by giving them the visibility and credentials they hardly ever get.
It will also help progressive westerners to overcome their ‘white guilt’. We need them now: they should not avoid supporting Noura for fear of being labeled ‘Islamophobic’ or ‘racist’. Support the existing local women’s rights and human rights work and the young courageous Noura.
One cannot even think that Noura deserves fewer rights than any other human being, just because she is Sudanese and was raised in a Muslim context: this is sheer nonsense… No cultural relativism here, please…
Jacobsen: hat is the current state of Hammad’s case?
Helie Lucas: Noura will be delivered a sentence today; she admitted to her crime in self-defence and willingly went to the police station with her father to explain the circumstances; women’s rights organisations which have taken up her defence in Sudan think she will be sentenced to death today, but still hope international pressure will save her life and avoid execution.
She has 15 days to appeal the judgment.
Jacobsen: How can people best help her, and others like her in the future?
Helie Lucas: Support local organisations standing in her defence – follow their advice, they know the context best; write to Noura in the prison; alert your local human rights and women’s rights organisations; send letters to Sudanese authorities; and to the African Union, the UN and special rap on violence against women; speak to the media about the case: 15 days is a very short time to save Noura’s life…
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Marieme.
The hashtag: #JusticeForNoura. Again, the email if you would like to sign: email@example.com.