Political asylum is, quite rightly, a big deal involving international law. The mere mention of the term gets people’s serious attention. We recognise the threat to life and limb for those facing political persecution. Even if systems for providing safety to the politically persecuted are often circumvented, ignored or tardily and imperfectly implemented, those systems exist and are recognised to exist. The political asylum seeker has a claim on our humanity and on our ethics.
It’s a different matter with social asylum. Social asylum doesn’t command quite the same respect, regard, awe or clout. That’s the category covering women who will die from social persecution unless they can get to a safe country. The daily threat to life and limb faced by women living under Shari’a (plus a few other social systems besides) make them no less imperilled than those facing political persecution. Yet women in Kabul or Riyadh or Tehran or so many other capitals cannot walk into a safe country’s embassy or consulate to seek asylum from social persecution. Why is that? I am entirely with Ghada Jamshir (video) in wanting this glaring injustice addressed. Safe countries for women should be an integral part of the UN aspirations, and safe passage for women out of Shari’a jurisdictions an integral part of the Geneva Conventions. If a country or region is unsafe for women, such as all countries practising Shari’a (plus a few more besides), then women and girls from such countries should be presumed welcome in countries where they’ll be safe. If there is systematic war on women or systematic rape of women or systematic enslavement of women or systematic oppression of women, in other words, where their lives and persons are in daily peril, then anything from assisted passage to airlifting should be undertaken for any woman or girl who wants to leave.
Yes, I’m calling for something idealistic to be done on a global scale. But that doesn’t mean we cannot already channel support to the struggling grassroots infrastructure of safe-houses that, with their pathetic resources, are doing all they can to provide whatever relief they can, often ending with the victims forced to return to life-threatening households by the sheer dearth of options.
When will we recognise that we’re talking about more than half the populations of such countries here? This will save lives, and it might just start making the Shari’a no longer seem like quite such a great idea.