The British Asian activists attacked for promoting women’s rights
- 26 March 2012
- From the section England
Their job is to protect women, but it means they are coming under attack themselves.
Many British Asian women say are being persecuted for the work they do in promoting female rights.
They say they frequently receive hate mail, harassment and even death threats for dealing with issues such as forced marriage and honour-based violence.
The persecution has been compared with that suffered by the Suffragette movement and, according to the Crown Prosecution Service, much of it is being hidden.
Renu, whose name has been changed to protect her identity, said: "They called me all the names under the sun; they called me a home-wrecker."
She is performing the daily ritual of checking her car - seeing if the tyres have been slashed.
"I check wing-mirrors first because they're quick and easy for them to do," she said.
Renu has been working with Asian women in the UK for more than a decade and deals with domestic violence, so-called "honour" crime and forced marriage.
She has had threatening phone calls for years but things came to a head when she went away from home for a short trip.
She said: "In the worst incident, after the usual abuse, they went on to say they knew where I was, and that's the time I thought: 'Oh my god'"
The story rings true for Shaista Gohir, a high-profile female Muslim activist.
She said she keeps a record of her abuse.
"I've got a few examples here: 'You cannot be a Sunni Muslim, I feel sorry for your husband and children with a wife and mother like you. You are corrupting other women. Your throat should be slashed'.
"The worst thing that you can say to any Muslim is that you're a Kuffar, I really believe in my faith and for someone to say that you're not a Muslim, it's the worst thing you can say, and I get that in each and every message."
'Power over women'
According to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) Ms Gohir and Renu tell a typical story.
The CPS says there are dozens of recorded cases of this type of abuse in England and Wales but that hundreds more are going unreported.
Nazir Afzal, chief prosecutor for the North West region, said while abuse is a problem for many women's groups - it can be much starker for South Asian women because they're seen as rejecting the power that men typically hold.
He said: "Members of those communities somehow feel that women should not be standing up for their own rights."
"So it's something as very basic as men trying to exert power over women which I don't think is as prevalent in the white British community but is clearly something that I witness in the South Asian community."
His experience is that the problem has quite unique consequences as the threat can spread all the way to the South Asian countries in which the women have heritage.
"In one particular case I know, and I'm sure this is very common, a woman working with victims in this country, while feeling safe herself, is concerned about the safety of her extended family in South Asia who have been threatened because of her work in the UK."
This was the case for Renu who eventually went to the police with her concerns but had the case dropped because of a lack of evidence.
Despite her experience, Renu said people had to tell their stories.
The CPS and police also urge women to come forward with complaints.
Commander Mak Chishty heads up policymaking on honour-based violence and forced marriage for the Association of Chief Police Officers.
He said: "I don't want anyone taking this lightly. So if someone is getting threatened I don't want anyone shaking it off as part of the job. It's serious stuff."
You can hear the full documentary The Hidden Backlash on BBC Asian Network on Monday 26th March at 1800.