Ruba Ali Al-Hassani is a Ph.D. candidate at Osgoode Hall Law School, York University, with a Masters Degree in Criminology from the University of Toronto, and a Masters in Law from Osgoode Hall Law School. In addition to teaching Sociology at York University, Ruba has returned as a sessional instructor at her alma mater, Trent University, where she had majored in Psychology and Sociology. Ruba is a non-resident associate at al-Sabeel Consulting, an interpreter for the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project, a regional representative of the Iraqi Cooperative Orphan Aid Foundation, and a co-founding Board Member of the Canadian Association of Muslim Women in Law. Her research interests focus on Iraq, and include the Sociology of Law, as well as crime and social control.
This year, MALA is spotlighting individual stories from men and women who take a stand to eliminate violence against women, both nationally and globally. Our community looks forward to supporting UN Women’s Orange the World Campaign to support efforts to end violence against women and girls worldwide. UN Women and partners around the world are marking the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, launching from International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on November 25th until UN’s International Human Rights Day on December 10th.
I am an academic – a Sociologist, Criminologist, and Socio-Legal scholar. My work encompasses a variety of research interests, many of which are Iraq-centred. Naturally, I pay great attention to the sex slavery of women by Daesh. I pay great attention to how societal approaches to gender, sex, and what are defined as “norms” impact accessibility, treatment, and generations to come. As an Iraqi Studies scholar, I am interested in examining the effects of trauma on women in conflict zones, and on future generations as a result.
It has been scientifically demonstrated that generations can inherit trauma from their parents, both biologically and socially. Trauma can be nurtured inadvertently through socialization with parents who have witnessed trauma, and can be inherited as a result of brain restructuring resulting from trauma. I am also interested in the disproportionate number of widows in Iraq, and am interested in finding ways to not only aid, but empower them to take on greater roles in society. Approximately 30% of Iraq is composed of widows. With every explosion, and with every terrorist attack, this number grows. The same can be said of orphans, who hold a special place in my heart. I volunteer my time to an Orphan Aid Foundation in Iraq, and try to get sponsors for female orphans, because they are most vulnerable to abuse and manipulation.
While I volunteer some of my time to orphans, I have co-founded the Canadian Association of Muslim Women in Law (CAMWL). This Association’s mandate is to provide a forum for Muslim women in the field of law to network, support each other, and share their voices. CAMWL is outspoken on physical and verbal Islamophobic attacks on Muslim women. Islamophobia tends to be, much of the time, gendered violence, where women in the hijab or niqab are vulnerable to hate crime. CAMWL is also outspoken on verbal forms of violence, as well as micro aggressions against women in terms of expression and representation. It is also outspoken on government policies based on racial profiling that may discriminate against Muslim and other women of colour.
Aside from working with these two organizations, I also work as an interpreter for the International Refugee Assistance Project. In this capacity, I have worked with cis men and women, as well as gay and lesbian refugees. Working with the latter, I have heard stories of kidnapping, abuse, and even rape. I have had the privilege of listening to them, and acting as witness to their stories of struggle. As an interpreter, I have been able to act as an outlet for their voices to be heard, and I am thankful for that.
Fighting gender-based violence is an inevitable aspect of life for all women, and for all LGBTQI persons. It matters also to men who are subject to sexual assaults in military institutions and prisons. They are ones who cannot report their assaults out of fear of being stigmatized on levels that are foreign to women, but not so for members of the LGBTQI community. In order to discuss gender-based violence in all its forms, we must bring peoples of all genders to the table. Addressing this global crisis is important to men as it is to women.
However, I must admit that during many conversations with my male friends, I have come to realize that many of them do not realize “male privilege”. They do not realize that they live a life free of many fears with which women and LGBTQI persons live. In order to address the various forms of violence – both physical and verbal – that are committed, we must not only include men, but also help them realize what gender-based privilege is. When gender-based privilege exists, gender-based oppression is a natural result.
Gender-based violence takes on several forms. Physical violence receives the greatest attention, yet not enough. Rape culture is prevalent in societies that deem themselves “progressive” in terms of gender equality and women’s rights. Campus rapes are common throughout many North American universities, where administrations do more to silence rape survivors than collaborate with law enforcement towards holding rapists accountable. These are institutions that educate, and instill ideologies in, generations.
Gender-based, physical violence is committed by both loved ones and by strangers. Domestic abuse is played down as society continues to place the onus on women to protect their marriages, relationships, and partners. This is usually done under the guise of maintaining stability in their children’s lives, with little regard for the children’s safety or the woman’s. Little is done to empower women in situations where partners are abusive, and less is done to help children move past the trauma of experiencing or witnessing abuse.
For thousands of years, women’s bodies have been used as weapons of war. Unfortunately, with the incursion of Daesh, or the so-called “Islamic State”, we are reminded of this. Both Iraqi and Syrian women – mostly Ezidi, Turkomen, and Assyrian women, have been taken as sex slaves by the world’s most notorious, trans-national terrorist organization. Shia Turkmen women have been buried alive, yet there’s astounding media silence. Not only does the war on ISIS entail liberating lands and people, but it also entails finding those taken as sex slaves.
Which brings me to sex trafficking – an industry based on sadly much demand throughout the world. Women and children would not be trafficked if it were not for those who are willing and eager to purchase them as objects as a result of prejudices. As long as this trade continues, our global efforts to counter it through education are insufficient. More needs to be done, and this is quite an understatement.