Action Alert: Nazia Quazi

By Deputy Editor Thea Lim

We are late on picking up the story of Nazia Quazi, a Canadian woman being held against her will in Saudi Arabia.

The Coast recently ran an interview with Quazi, explaining her situation:

A Canadian woman being held against her will in Saudi Arabia says the Canadian government is not taking her plight seriously.

Nazia Quazi was taken to Saudi Arabia by her father in November 2007. Because of that country’s archaic gender laws, women of any age are subject to male “guardianship.” In the 24-year-old Quazi’s case, her father has taken her passport, and refuses to sign an exit visa allowing her to leave the country…

Her family moved to Canada in 2001, although Quazi says her father has maintained a residence in Saudi Arabia, where he works for a bank, for 25 years. Quazi went to high school in Canada and became a citizen in 2005.

In 2007 she traveled on holiday to Dubai to visit her boyfriend. But when her parents learned of the trip, they flew to Dubai to intervene. Her father took her to India, and then to Saudi Arabia on a three-month visa. But, without her knowledge or consent, Quazi’s father changed the visa to a permanent visa.

Ever since, she says, she has been pleading with the Canadian embassy to intervene, but has gotten next to no response.

“When I try to contact them, I don’t get a positive response of any kind. They always say, ‘we’re still trying, we haven’t heard anything yet, but when we do we will let you know.’ There’s never a real straight-up answer to me, to my face. I’m just waiting for them to do something, waiting for something to happen.

…Citing privacy law, a spokesperson with the ministry of foreign affairs declined to comment specifically on Quazi’s case, but said the Canadian consulate in Saudi Arabia is aware of a Canadian citizen’s request for help and is “taking steps” to provide that help.

But a two-year-plus wait for resolution to Quazi’s case has raised accusations that the Harper government is not supportive of women generally.

Katha Pollitt at The Nation has written about Quazi quite a bit, providing this roundup of media coverage on her case earlier this month:

Little by little, the media is picking up on Nazia’s story. On March 8, International Women’s Day, CBC’s Connect with Mark Kelley featured a terrific interview with Shahla Khan Salter of Muslims for Progressive Values Ottawa. Watch it here and then leave a comment here.

As Shahla makes clear, Nazia’s story is not about Islam or “Muslim values” or multiculturalism or a clash of civilizations or any of those other buzz words floating around. There are plenty of Muslims who support women’s rights. Nazia’s story is about men’s control of women, an unbelievably oppressive government, and Canada’s shameful failure to help one of its own citizens.

I’m glad that Pollitt included that quote from Shahla Khan Salter, and it appears to me that this story is not about Islam at all, but rather about two different countries’ grotesque violation of women’s rights, one through direct oppression and the other through incompetence and indifference.

It is horrifying that Quazi has no rights in Saudi Arabia. It is depressing and frustrating that the Canadian government is not helping her.   Pollitt writes in a different article:

How far have women come if a democratic, secular country like Canada permits a father to imprison his adult daughter in the cage of Saudi laws?

While obviously I am very happy (very!) to live in countries where I have a much greater access to basic rights than I would in Saudi Arabia, I don’t believe that democracy or secularism  are necessarily guarantors of women’s rights.  Especially at this point in time, with the Stephen Harper’s conservative government in power in Canada – a government which has, since its inception,  “run roughshod” over women’s rights. (You should also check out Jessica’s older posts for more testimonial on the mess that is the Harper government.)  Quazi is a woman of colour and a first generation immigrant, and this is a Canadian government that has shown itself to care very little  about people like Quazi.

We need to advocate for Quazi.  Politt offers a number of ways that we can help:

What can you do? If you’re Canadian, get involved in this Human Rights Watch campaign. If you’re not, you can still write a polite note to the Foreign Secretary to express your concern and urge prompt action:

The Honourable Lawrence Cannon
Minister of Foreign Affairs
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0A6
Email: Cannon.L@parl.gc.ca

Also, you can write the Saudi ambassador to the US:

Adel A. Al-Jubeir
Ambassador
Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia
601 New Hampshire Avenue
NW
Washington, DC 20037
press@saudiembassy.net

And to the Saudi Ambassador to Canada:

Mr. Asaad Al-Zuhair
Ambassador
Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia
99 Bank Street Suite 901, ,br/> Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, K1P 6B9

Join the ‘Help Nazia Quazi Come Back to Canada’ Facebook page to show your support and keep up with the latest developments.

And if you are a young woman or trans person who self-identifies as Muslim, I would seriously recommend that you check out AQSAZine run by a collective of young Muslim women and trans folks working to resist violence.   The following is from their website, and you can also find them on Twitter and Facebook:

AQSAZINE is a grassroots zine open to 16-35 year old women and trans people who self-identify as Muslim. It is a creative avenue for us to express ourselves, share our experiences, and connect with others. In Arabic, “aqsa” implies the furthermost, as in reaching out to the furthest possible point. AQSAZINE aims to motivate the utmost resistance to violence in all its forms. 16-year-old Aqsa Parvez, who was murdered on December 10th, 2007, also inspires this zine. It is to honour her and other Muslims who experience and resist violence. We strive to work from a feminist, anti-oppressive, pro-choice, queer and trans positive framework.

Photo from The Coast

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