First of all, thank you so very much for inviting the Canadian Council of Muslim Women this morning, Madam Chair, parliamentarians, Madam Clerk and staff.
My name is Nuzhat Jafri, and I am the executive director of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women, CCMW.
I'm speaking to you from the traditional territory of the Anishinabe and Haudenosaunee peoples. It is also the land of the Petun and Huron-Wendat peoples, and it's recognized officially as the land of the Mississaugas of the Credit River, as they were here at the point of contact. This land is now home to many diverse first nations, Inuit and Métis peoples.
The CCMW is an organization dedicated to the equality, equity and empowerment of Canadian Muslim women and girls. It was founded in Winnipeg, Manitoba, in 1982 by the late Dr. Lila Fahlman and a group of determined Muslim women who sought to channel their passion for faith-centred social justice work to create a more inclusive Canada for all. We have 17 chapters across Canada. Our mission is to affirm the identities of Canadian Muslim women and promote our lived experiences through community engagement, public policy, stakeholder engagement and amplified awareness of the social injustices that Muslim women and girls endure in Canada, while advocating for their diverse needs and equipping local CCMW chapters with the necessary resources to maximize national efforts and mobilize local communities to join the movement. We approach our work through an intersectional lens and recognize our diverse identities and expressions. We are but one voice among many.
On the evening of June 6, 2021, Talat Afzaal, her son Salman, her daughter-in-law Madiha, her granddaughter Yumna, and her grandson Fayez were out for a late spring walk in their London, Ontario, neighbourhood when the lives of four members of that beautiful family came to a crashing halt. Nine-year-old Fayez survived, but he remains in hospital after sustaining serious injuries. This mass murder and heinous attack was the work of a white supremacist who was filled with hate against Muslims.
Three of the four individuals who were murdered were women. In light of this tragedy and increasing Islamophobic attacks on Muslim women, it is appropriate that the committee undertake a study on violence against Muslim women and other targeted women, including examining online hate and cyber-bullying from an intersectional perspective.
With a spate of hate-motivated attacks on Black Muslim women in hijab in Calgary and Edmonton, and ongoing harassment and abuse of visible Muslim women, murder as the ultimate result of this hatred and violence is not a surprise.
While we don't know what Talat, Madiha and Yumna were wearing, they were definitely in the perpetrator's sight. I know of a family that lives steps from where this attack occurred. Women who wear head scarves in that family are afraid of leaving their home. That fear is palpable among Canadian Muslims, particularly Muslim women and girls who can be identified easily by their clothing.
Gendered Islamophobia is real. As part of our digital anti-racism education—or DARE—project, we recently invited Canadian Muslim women, girls, trans individuals and non-binary individuals to share their experiences of Islamophobia with us. I have a number of examples here, but I'm going to cite just a few because they've already been shared by my other sisters. Here's what they've said:
“I was sexually, physically and verbally assaulted on the SkyTrain for wearing the hijab.”
In high school, two hijab-wearing Muslim girls found their shared locker broken into. Upon attempting to open the lock with their key, it got stuck as gum was stuffed inside. While the girls struggled to open the lock, a group of other high school kids were watching and laughing at them.
“While working at a comic book store, I experienced verbal harassment by customers calling me a 'towel head' and a 'terrorist'.”
“I was verbally abused repeatedly and was spat on.”
“In elementary school, while in kindergarten, I was asked by another student if my parents were suicide bombers.”
These experiences are commonplace for many Muslim women and girls, and they are exacerbated for Muslim women with disabilities, trans persons, non-binary persons, and Black or indigenous Muslim women and girls because of the multiple and intersecting disadvantages they experience in Canadian society.
It is also important to recognize that 87% of Muslims are racialized and racism is very much part of their Canadian experience.
In Quebec, the situation is even worse because of an unjust law where systemic Islamophobia is practised in plain sight and Québécois Muslim women are denied employment in the public sector because they wear a head scarf. That law gives permission to discriminate against Muslim women in the province, with little chance of recourse.
In addition to overt Islamophobia, at the core of this abuse and violence are sexism and misogyny. We need to understand sexism as a form of social oppression that interconnects with race, religion, class and other systems of marginalization. Gender-based violence cannot be properly understood without addressing inequality based on race, religion, class, ability, and so on.
Marginalized women experience more sexism compared to other women. For example, Black Muslim women experience almost six times as much sex-based discrimination compared to non-Black Muslim women. One in three Black Muslim women experiences sex-based discrimination, while less than one in 10 non-Black Muslim women does. It is important to highlight the specific disadvantages experienced by Canadian Black Muslim women because racism, sexism and Islamophobia manifest themselves in ways that are distinct from other Canadian Muslim women.
Marginalized women experience more sexism in many places compared to other women. For example, compared to others, proportionately more Black Muslim women report experiencing discrimination in banks, stores and restaurants, when dealing with the police and when crossing the Canadian border.
While Islamophobic attacks have become a daily occurrence in Canada, gendered Islamophobia needs to be addressed distinctly because of its intersectional nature. Policy and legislative responses must take into consideration the specific circumstances of Canadian women and the effects of gendered Islamophobia on their daily lives, their performance in school, their success in the labour market, their experience of social integration and in all sectors of Canadian society.
It is not okay for a Muslim girl to have her hijab ripped off in her school. It is not okay for a Muslim woman to be assaulted on the subway. It is not okay for a Muslim woman to be denied employment because she wears a head scarf. It is not okay for a Muslim woman to be murdered because of her faith.
Canada needs to pass meaningful legislation to address online hate. Better reporting of hate crimes, including data collection that considers the intersectionality of Canadian Muslim women, girls, trans and non-binary persons.
White supremacist terrorists must be stopped in their tracks. Their groups must be disbanded and rendered illegal, and an active program of de-radicalization of their members must be a priority for the Canadian government.
The objective of terrorists is to terrorize and frighten their targets and disempower and debilitate them. We at the Canadian Council of Muslim Women will not let the terrorists achieve their objectives. Our commitment to equality, equity and empowerment of Canadian Muslim women and girls is stronger than ever and we will continue to do whatever we can to ensure that our resolve is unshaken.
We encourage members of this committee to follow our digital anti-racism education, or DARE, project and participate in our anti-Islamophobia and countering cyber-hate workshops. You can learn more about the project and register for the workshops at our daretobeaware.ca website. We are grateful to the Department of Canadian Heritage for its financial support of this project. Incidentally, Amira Elghawaby is actually the facilitator for our anti-Islamophobia workshop.
Thank you for your time.