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UK terror police use International Women's Day to call for women to report on families

Critics say video describing women as 'real hub of the family' runs against spirit of IWD and raises questions about police commitment to equality
Lucy D'Orsi: 'Women are the real hub of the family and women often know more than anybody else in the family what is happening' (Twitter)

Counter-terrorism police in the UK have been criticised for using International Women’s Day to urge women to “join the fight against terrorism” by reporting on family members.

In a video posted on Twitter, London Metropolitan Police Deputy Assistant Commissioner Lucy D’Orsi suggested that women, who she said were the “real hub of the family,” were best placed to spot any concerning behaviour exhibited by family members.

“I think that today on International Women’s Day it is a real opportunity to think about the role that women play in the fight against terrorism,” said D’Orsi.

“For me, across all communities, women are the real hub of the family and women often know more than anybody else in the family what is happening, where people are concerned, where behaviour is different.

“On International Women’s Day I would encourage women to join policing in the fight against terrorism. I recognise that it is difficult to be courageous and brave to report something that you feel is different and of concern, but actually if you are courageous enough to do that you are probably going to save lives.”

The message was echoed by Bedfordshire Police who tweeted that “women, mothers, sisters, wives” were “instrumental in the fight against terrorism”.

The police force also highlighted a presentation delivered on Tuesday by Sue Beaumont of Luton Council, as part of a conference on how women could be utilised as part of the government’s Prevent counter-terrorism strategy.

One slide in the presentation suggested that women had a useful role to play because “women, particularly mothers, have a decisive influence on the future direction of society because they raise and nurture the next generation”.

But Arzu Merali, head of research at the Islamic Human Rights Commission, told Middle East Eye that the campaign raised questions about the police's commitment to equality.

"The push to get Muslim women to report family members, notably their children, using the celebration of International Women's Day is gut-churning," she said. 

"It runs against the spirit of International Women's Day, and questions what type of commitment UK law enforcement has to equality."

Shaista Gohir, of the Muslim Women’s Network UK, told MEE that she agreed that women should be encouraged to report suspicious behaviour, but said the timing of the campaign was ill-judged.

“This is something they do anyway from time to time and I can’t see the necessity of linking it to International Women's Day. I don't think on this particular day that is going to be at the forefront of women's minds. International Women's Day isn’t about spotting extremism. It is about advancing our rights.”

Hareem Ghani, women's officer at the National Union of Students, which has campaigned against the Prevent Strategy, said that the police tweet showed "a complete and utter disregard for the history of International Women's Day and its aims".

"International Women’s Day intends to be a celebration of women’s achievements. It does not and should not serve as a tool for the state apparatus to make tedious links between gender, motherhood and radicalisation," Ghani told MEE.

"In fact, the tweet undoes everything that #IWD2017 stands for. For one, it places Muslim women under intense scrutiny and places an unfair burden on them. Secondly, it further espouses damaging stereotypes of women as “domesticated” - stereotypes that we should always be challenging, especially in the 21st century.

"Targeting mothers is not a new strategy, however. Let us not forget that minority women (particularly Muslim mothers, Palestinian mothers and black mothers) are routinely accused of “harbouring terrorists”. This is just another attempt to further such a dangerous narrative."

Police in the UK have previously called on women to report on family members who they believed might be planning to travel to Syria.

The government has also backed counter-extremism initiatives fronted by Inspire, which campaigns to address inequalities facing Muslim women.

Advocates of the Prevent strategy say it is about safeguarding vulnerable individuals and preventing them from being drawn into terrorism.

But the strategy is accused by critics of being discriminatory against Muslims and of sowing distrust in Muslim communities.

A report published by the Council of Europe's Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (FCNM) on Thursday said that Prevent risked "fomenting fear and resentment among persons belonging to national and ethnic minorities, in particular in the Muslim community" and jeopardised work on integration.

It also highlighted comments made by then-prime minister David Cameron in January 2016 in which he suggested that Muslim wives who joined their husbands in the UK should be made to leave the country if they did not pass language tests as "counterproductive and contributing to stereotyping".

Speaking at an event at Garden Court Chambers in London on Tuesday examining the impact of Prevent on women, Sultana Parvin, a teacher from East London, said that Prevent affected the Muslim community “deeply and disproportionately”.

“As a Muslim mother who is raising sons, you are scared. You are telling your sons, ‘Be careful what you say because your teacher could take it completely the wrong way’,” said Parvin.

A spokesperson for the National Police Chiefs' Council told MEE: “International Women's Day is a chance for women in all walks of life to reach out to each other and ask for support in areas they feel passionate about.

“Lucy was expressing her views and others are entitled to debate them as they wish.”

Middle East Eye's Osha Al-Mossallami contributed to this story.

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