Volunteering experience with Justice Femme 18.04.2015
by Raya on May 11, 2015 - 10:33pm
On the 18th of April 2015 at 2PM, Justice Femme, a non-lucrative organization, put together a meeting that included four panellists and 80 women to talk about how one should defend herself after being threatened on the street for wearing a hijab.
First of all, when I arrived to the conference room, it was full of people: many women helped to place up the room before it started. I was assigned to film the conference, to edit the video and to put it on YouTube so that many other women who were not present at the meeting could benefit from it. I also took pictures and posted them on the Facebook page of the event, which mainly contributed to spread the word about the presence of such organization, in other words, to promote it. The more people hear about this movement, the more people will benefit from it.
At the beginning of the conference, three women were present at the panel: Andrée-Anissa Bisson, specialist in development of emotional intelligence, Nithra Antonio, preventionist agent in strategic action section and Lucie-Noura Vachon, specialist in social media interventions. The special guest was Hanane Mehdi, a victim who had her hijab pulled in Metro Rosemont followed by violent physical attacks towards her, as mentioned in one of my previous articles here: http://newsactivist.com/en/news-summary/flacks-newsactivist-winter-2015-... . These people were referred to as “coaches”: they coached the conference attendants and told them how to act in difficult situations where they are exposed to racism. Also, many recounted their experiences and their emotional ups and downs: the way people look at them and talk to them, the way they feel in a particular environment, how they are treated, etc.
The conference started with a speech by the spokesperson and president of the organization, Hanadi Saad. She describes the main goal of this organization in the society, which was to protect any women, to all types of threats against them. She explained how many of her cases were concerning the hijab and how most of the people who called out for help were Muslim women, since they are the ones that feel the most threatened in the society. The first topic of the evening was about social medias. Lucie Vachon recounted how hate on social media against Muslim women is flagrant where she gave up website names that have a bigger probability to contain hate speech, for example Twitter or Facebook. She explained the best ways to answer to people who harass them on the internet and how it is important to defend ourselves against bullying. She ended her panel by talking about her own experience, of being cyber-bullied because of her hijab and how she reacted. The second person to take the turn to talk was Hanane Mehdi, the woman that got her hijab pulled off at metro Rosemont. She recounted in details the way the event had happened and the marks left on her face after the physical assaults, which today still remain scars. She then discusses how she called Justice Femme so they would help her. They made sure that the news was spread around newspapers so that people would hear about it. A court case has been launched and it is still to be continued.
Next one was the police woman Nithra Antonio that explained the best ways women can defend themselves and who are the best people to call out for help. She also mentioned all of the consequences of aggressors that abuse others depending on their gender and their racial profiles and how Muslim women are not an exception to the rules.
The discussion went on as many women in the audience recounted their stories and asked questions to the panellists. The last one was Andrée-Anissa Bisson, which made the audience understand their emotions in a situation of fright and depression. She explained how it is important to understand our emotions and how to defeat fear in order to act against attacks, directly or in the long run. It finally ended with a speech by Hanadi Saad, informing everyone in the audience how it is important to contact the organization when they are in trouble and how writing to Justice Femme will help their situation.
I think it is crucial to understand the Islamophobic phenomenon that has been occurring for a while now. If we are still in need of organizations to protect human rights and hate crimes against other ethnic groups and gender equality, it is because we, as humans, still have a long way to go. Volunteering with this group gave me this spark of hope, to give “justice” to the victims that live upon hate crimes, in whichthey carry upon their shoulders for the rest of their lives. As banal as it looks like on the news, the victims of such assaults are not only affected physically, but mostly mentally. It affects everyone, from close or from afar. It makes an impact on people who are in the same situation as Mehdi who has been assaulted for her religious beliefs. It scares this person because she knows that she can be the target for further assaults. It also affects the ones which do not have a direct impact with being a hijabi. When people keep hearing on the news about Arabs and terrorism in the same context, it scares them because they also feel threatened by their surroundings, which makes them commit acts such as the Chapel Hill shooting: remember when two Muslims girls and their brother were shot at the parking lot by their neighbour? The man shot them and, according to his wife, it was “not religiously motivated” as they were fighting for a parking lot. (BBC, p 3) The family is however fully convinced that this incident was a hate crime. Critically speaking, if the man shot the three teenagers, it was to defend himself against threats, right? If Muslims are overall considered as terrorists as seen on the media, and that he is exposed in front of three “terrorists”, the right move for him was to shoot them so that he wouldn’t be in danger. However, if these teenagers were not dressed with a veil around their heads, would this event have occurred? The answer is most certainly not. And this is what injustice and racism is all about: it creates fear and distrust amongst the victims and even their own aggressors, and all of this is fault to media and press coverage.
This is why it is important to have organizations like Justice Femme, all around the world. Not only they protect women in all contexts possible, but they are open to help Muslim women, that are often targeted nowadays and that are in need for a voice. So this post is a call to action to all of you who are suffering or are feeling rejected because of gender inequality and racial profiling. If you feel threatened, act up and don’t leave it silent. Not only it benefits you, but it also benefits the ones around you. If you make your case heard, it can change perspectives and give you a voice, and this is exactly how Justice Femme will help you realize your wishes.
As a general lookout on how I lived this experience, here are a few pictures I took from the event with the video that I built in order to promote the organization.
For more information about this Canadian organization, visit their official website at http://justicefemme.org/
You can also take a look at their facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/JusticeFemme
"Chapel Hill shooting: What’s the definition of a hate crime?." BBC News. 2015. Web. 4 May 2015.