Sunday, 1 April 2012

"I have been fooled..."

my friend told me.
If it had been today I might have thought it was some sort of not-very-funny April Fools' Day joke but this was yesterday and she looked and sounded much too distressed for that. As she spoke to me she watched her husband at the other end of the aisle. He was talking to someone else.
Amina is Muslim. Her husband is Muslim. They have lived in Australia for the past eighteen years. Both their children were born here. I met them not long after they first arrived and their English was not nearly as good as it is now. They are intelligent people. Both of them have jobs in the IT industry although Amina's job involves working from home.
I have always been aware that her husband is someone who likes to be in control. Amina has appeared to accept this. Sometimes she has told me "This is the way we do things" or something similar.  Over the years though I have become aware that she has become more aware of Australian culture and the Australian way of doing things.
Their children were born here, have grown up here, attended school here. They do not speak a word of their parents' first language. They do not want to. The two children consider themselves to be Australian.
There was, I suppose, a hint of trouble several years ago when Amina's husband insisted that their daughter attend the local girls only high school.  Most public secondary schools are now co-educational. This one has been retained to cater for the needs of girls from families where - for cultural or religious reasons - single sex education is deemed to be the right thing.  Amina agreed. It seemed the better option. There were two other state high schools within the area. They are both very large and there are problems at both.
Now Amina's husband is suggesting that their daughter be returned to their country of origin. She can, he says, go to her great-uncle and his family. There she will, he believes, learn "proper" ways. He is disturbed by the fact that she refuses to keep her hijab on at school and that she is, at sixteen, showing an interest in the opposite sex.  He is threatening to shave his daughter's head if she does not agree to keep her hijab on.
I was told all that very quickly and then Amina had to go. I told her, "Ring me when you can if you need to talk."
She called yesterday afternoon. Her husband had just left for the airport. He will be back from one of the mining communities on Tuesday. It turned out that the hijab affair is merely the tip of an iceberg. Over lunch yesterday Amina's husband told her that he has bought all of them air tickets for a holiday during the Easter school break. The destination is to be a surprise but they will need their passports. Amina tells me she has suspected this for some time. She believes the holiday will not be a holiday at all and that her husband plans to leave their daughter behind.  Amina and the children are planning on leaving but it will not be to return to her country of origin.
Amina's husband appeared to be fully immersed in Australian culture. There were just small hints that he was not happy with everything. There are other men who do not like women to work away from home, even women who are content to stay at home. There are other parents who would prefer a single sex education for their daughters and who worry when they start to show an interest in boys and do not like the way their daughters dress. There are other parents who like to be in control.
But, this time, it is different. Amina's husband apparently believes in a solution Amina and the children cannot accept.
Amina and the children are leaving. If all goes well they will fly out to another destination this evening. It will not be to Amina's country of origin. Amina's son spoke to me. He is nearly fourteen.
       "Cat, I want you to know. We support Mum. Girls can do anything boys can do and they should be allowed to do it."
I hope he goes on thinking like that.


Sarah Pearson said...

Oh, I do hope things work out okay for the family.

Anonymous said...

Oh Cat! I had the feeling something was wrong when she returned their books and did not get any more. She said they were going on holiday but she looked so unhappy about it. I didn't have time to talk to her and now I feel really bad about that. I should have made time! Ros

Donna Hosie said...

Cat, is this something you should be blogging about publically? You changed their names, right?

catdownunder said...

Oh absolutely Donna! I changed the circumstances slightly too - no way recognisable from this - please give me some credit for sense!

Nicole MacDonald said...

oh that's just awful :( My thoughts are with the family, may they have the strength they need to do what they have to. Brave, brave woman for doing the right thing.

Anonymous said...

Donna, I would suggest this is precisely the sort of thing that should be blogged about if the situation arises.
I know who Cat is talking about but there is nothing in what she has written which would give anyone a clue as to the people she is talking about.
Cat, you have done an excellent job of raising the issue without identifying those involved. Congratulations and thanks. Chris

Vanessa Gebbie said...

It is chilling. What have we done over the centuries to these religions which seemed to start as sensible, inclusive organisations - that allow men to apply such meaningless and damaging rules millennia later, sidelining women, keeping them down? My heart goes out to her. Thanks for reminding us it goes on, even in a great place like Australia.

~Martin~ said...

Chris, both you and Ros know who catdownumder is talking about. They can therefore clearly be identified.
What if the husband finds out about their plans? Does the woman know catdownumder is blogging about her situation? Blog about the bigger picture and the bigger problem, but this is dangerous gossip.


Anonymous said...

Recently in Ontario, Canada there was a murder trial involving the remaining adult members of the Shafia family - father, mother and eldest son were all found guilty of murdering 3 daughters and the 1st wife. This horrendous event would not have occurred had social services handled things differently and removed the children from the home. I applaud the bravery this wife is showing and wish her all the best.

the fly in the web said...

I'm glad that life in Australia has enabled this lady to make the decision to stand up for her daughter.
People talk down 'anecdotal' evidence, preferring to quote statistics, but your post shows what happens in real life to real people.

catdownunder said...

Hello Martin
Yes, I did ask "Amina's" permission before I did it - and she gave it, as did her son. In fact she suggested I might write something.
I also waited until they were safely away. Chris's family was involved in helping and Ros had other reason to guess accurately.
It is perhaps a bigger problem here than many people realise and Amina was actually anxious for me to say something. I was not breaking any confidences.