Sharmila Seyyid won't give up defending women's rights

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Sharmila Seyyid won’t give up defending women’s rights

By Mari Marcel Thekaekara

15.04.17-sri-lanka-590.jpg

A woman in the rain in Sri Lanka. Sharmila Seyyid, a Sri Lankan poet talks about women's rights. She hopes for a better future. (planetlight under a Creative Commons Licence)

The story in my newspaper was shocking, but also hopeful. A brave Sri Lankan writer has asked: is it right for men to force her and other women to cover their bodies. And people have threatened and attacked her for this. Sharmila Seyyid, is a Muslim woman poet. And after a BBC interview in November 2012, she had death threats.

What was her crime? She defended women’s rights and talked about the freedom. She thinks freedom is the right of every woman.

But millions of powerful men think she doesn’t have the right to have an opinion or talk about her opinion. Sharmila published her first book of poems, Siragu Mulaitha Penn (The women who grew wings) in Sri Lanka. The poem that made many religious people angry was about sex workers. Sharmila said in public that if we make sex work legal, this would help protect sex workers. There were many problems. People said she was against God and Islam. She and her sister had death threats. People attacked their English academy and tried to burn it down. She said she was sorry for hurting people’s feelings, but did not take back her words.

We can see Sharmila’s great courage from her work. She writes:

‘We need answers to the questions about covering a woman’s face. And about covering a woman’s face and body by force. Islamic society continues to force women to stay in the past, and not move into the freedom of the present. They are going back to the past and strict rules. The ideas of Islamic fundamentalists about women’s rights are often against reason. The fundamentalists think they can control society. They have set up illegal panchayats, so it is impossible to give the rights of women that the holy book, the Qur’an, has taught us.... It is an Arab custom to wear a head-cover and veil. Business people brought the custom to other countries. The men who control us have forced women to believe that head-covers and veils are part of Islamic culture and tradition. So Islamic women have started wearing them as symbols of their identity. And also because they are afraid that if they refuse to cover their heads and faces, people will say they are against Islam, bad women, or prostitutes!’

The hate campaign against Sharmila is growing. In March, someone posted on the internet a conversation about sex between two Tamil police officers with Sharmila’s picture. There are many attacks online. They told Sharmila to remove all her photographs from Facebook in 24 hours. She did not. So the hate group showed a picture of her ‘rape’ and ‘killing’. They said ‘fundamentalist Muslims’ ‘killed’ Sharmila Seyyid online. A news report of this, that looked real, with the Photoshopped picture of Sharmila’s body, went viral. This was so terrible that her family and friends rushed to her home in shock.

This is all terrible, but I think Sharmila’s courage and strength will inspire women everywhere to fight oppression. She has death threats, but does not stop. We admire her. I believe that women like her – ordinary, strong women – will change the world for the better. And more women will come together to fight for their freedom, and the freedom of their daughters and granddaughters. What a woman.

NOW READ THE ORIGINAL: http://newint.org/blog/majority/2015/04/17/sharmila-seyyid/ (This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed).