Women Against Fundamentalism
Stories of Dissent and Solidarity
This book combines a detailed theoretical and historical introduction to Women Against Fundamentalism (WAF) with a collection of illuminating life stories by some its members and founders.
Photocopyright: Rob Kenyon - www.biginabox.com
Women Against Fundamentalism (WAF) was formed in 1989, partly in response to the controversy surrounding Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, but also with the aim of challenging fundamentalism in all religions. It sees fundamentalism as a political movement that uses religion to consolidate authoritarian and repressive forms of power. WAF’s members are drawn from a wide range of backgrounds, and from across the world.
The book maps the development of the organisation over the past 25 years, through the life stories and political reflections of some of its members, focusing on the ways in which lived contradictions have been reflected in their politics. Their stories describe the pathways that led them to WAF, and the role it has played in their lives and in the forms of politicial activism in which they have engaged. Discussing feminist activism from different ethnic and religious back-grounds, contributors highlight the complex relationships of belonging that are at the heart of contemporary social life.
Introduction Sukhwant Dhaliwal and Nira Yuval-Davis
1. Flying by the nets of racism, patriarchy and religion - Pragna Patel
2. Confessions of an anti-clerical feminist - Clara Connolly
3. Knowing my place – the secular tradition and universal values - Gita Sahgal
4. Linking the local with the global: the legacy of migrant grandparents - Ruth Pearson
5. Gods and daughters Shakila Taranum Maan
6. Intersectional contestations - Nira Yuval-Davis
7. My life as an activist - Hannana Siddiqui
8. Learning to question - Julia Bard
9. Activist listening - Georgie Wemyss
10. From Germany to Iraq via WAF: a political journey - Nadje Al-Ali
11. Made in ‘Little India’ - Sukhwant Dhaliwal
12. Making myself through diff erence - Cassandra Balchin
13. Telling lives - Rashmi Varma
14. Change, chance and contradictions - Sue O’Sullivan
15. One of My CVs - Eva Turner
16. No clear pathway, just a lifelong zigzag - Jane Lane
17. Sexual and gender-based violence against women - Ritu Mahendru
18. Anti-fundamentalist feminism and green politics - Natalie Bennett
19. The Spirit of Resistance: Helen Lowe 1944-2011 - Judy Greenway
‘This timely book should inspire younger generations of activists to pick up the torch, to lead simultaneously anti-racist and anti-fundamentalist feminist politics. With the xenophobic far right rising and communalism turning beliefs and cultures into identity politics’ weapons, women’s rights, citizenship and secular traditions are at stake. The spirit of WAF, its rare political clarity, its true internationalism, are more than ever needed.’
Marieme Helie Lucas, founder of Women Living Under Muslim Laws
‘The powerful analyses and reflections of diverse women in the UK fighting authoritarian religious movements are documented here in all their brilliance and honesty. This is a resource in the best sense: of the refusal to submit, the courage to challenge, the strength to reflect critically. In a turbulent and complex period global – religious atrocities, military invasions, and a brutal war against the dignity and personhood of women – this book shows us that we can and must face many ways at once if progressive global politics is to have a future.’
Professor Chetan Bhatt, London School of Economics and Political Science
‘There is much to learn from, and much to celebrate, in these pages: a feminist, anti-racist politics which supports religious freedom and expression but which challenges fundamentalism in all its forms, combined with compelling testaments to the intermingling of the personal and the political in private and public life. As individual accounts and as the documentation of an important social movement, these inspiring political narratives provide insight into one of the most complex and persistent challenges of our time.’
Molly Andrews, Professor of Political Psychology and Co-Director, Centre for Narrative Research, University of East London
‘This anthology serves to reject the oft-peddled narrative of the passivity of women living in or near repressive fundamentalist communities. Its structure is self-consciously close to the dynamics and politics of WAF itself: intentionally divergent, but emphasising the united analysis of a heterogeneous group.’
Charlotte Sykes, ‘Book Reviews: Struggle not submission’, Red Pepper April/May 2015.
‘The opening chapter by the book’s editors outlines a three-fold rationale for the volume. Firstly, it aims to explore how the secular and feminist ideology of WAF has confronted the growing identity politics among many minorities. Secondly, the book is motivated by a desire to understand how WAF activists have been drawn into this particular struggle. Thirdly, there was a pressing need given that two of the central members of WAF (Helen Lowe and Cassandra Balchin) have recently died, to document the history of the members of the organisation before it’s too late.’
Mary Davis, Theory and Struggle 116 (Marx Memorial Library Journal)
‘a blueprint that today’s activists would do well to follow’.
‘Similarly, coming back to the book, what is so interesting about Women Against Fundamentalism is that all testimonies relate to wanting a space outside of the religious sphere. Such a space I believe is crucial to sticking two fingers up at political Islam, and other fundamentalisms. But this is not an anti-religious book.’