The driving force behind our work is our commitment to achieving a more just, open and equal society in which all people are able to achieve their potential.
Forced Marriage and Honour Based Violence have occurred at different stages of their history in all societies. They are unlawful in most societies, condemned by all religions and can bring misery to entire families. There is often reluctance to challenge practices which may be given a spurious legitimacy through custom and tradition. The law must be accompanied with education to change attitudes. Enforcement agencies, victim support services and communities should work together to eliminate forced marriage and honour based violence.
Khanum, Co-Director of Equality and
Diversity, carried out one of the first British studies of forced marriage in
2007, using Luton as a case study. The report was launched at the House of Commons in 2008, and was influential in the
subsequent Home Affairs Select Committee enquiry and legislation. In 2009, she undertook further research for Oxford City and worked with the National Centre for Social Research (NATCEN) on a national study.
Promoting international solidarity
Luton is an international town. Anything that happens anywhere in the world affects somebody in Luton. Overseas affairs and domestic affairs are inextricably intertwined. A place that is foreign to some Lutonians is home to others. This means that any person or agency working here must be plugged into the wider world. There is no distinction between local and international issues. Equality in Diversity is based in Luton because its diversity makes it such a vibrant and dynamic place to live and work. Our partnership with UNA-Luton is critical, but much of our portfolio of work focusses international relations.
About 120 different languages are spoken in Luton’s schools and some 40% of schoolchildren speak a language other than English at home. About a third of its citizens were born outside the UK. People classifying themselves as White-British in the 2011 Census are the largest ethnic group at about 44%, followed by South Asians at 29%. The largest South Asian group are of Pakistani origin, followed by people of Bangladeshi and Indian origin. Some 10% of the population are from other European Union countries, especially recent arrivals from Poland and Rumania over the past decade and from Ireland over many decades. About 4% of the population are from the Caribbean and a further 4% from Africa, with about 9% from the rest of the world.
Secular challenges in multi-faith societies
One of our greatest and most urgent challenges today is to find a way for different religions and faith traditions to live together. In the second half of the twentieth century, this was a question which seemed to have been resolved. A secular consensus was one of the few common values shared by the democracies of Western Europe and the Communist states of Eastern Europe and China. Almost all the new nations emerging from colonial rule adopted secular constitutions – even Pakistan and Israel, countries created by religious division. In the Middle East, secular dictatorships suppressed sectarian discord. The emergence of substantial non-Christian minorities has challenged many of the secular assumptions of Europe, while the rise of ISIS has led to sectarian meltdown in parts of the Middle East.
Equality in Diversity has made important contributions to the debate about secular values in the modern world, focusing especially on the position of Muslims in Britain and France.
From Magna Carta to the United Nations Charter
In 2015, we worked with the United Nations Association Luton to promote debate on the contemporary significance of Magna Carta, which was signed 800 years previously in June 1215 and the UN Charter, signed 70 years previously in 1945. While the immediate objective of Magna Carta may have been to reign in a despotic king and preserve the status of a small group of barons, it established universal principles which form the basis of modern democracy. Most notably, it established the legal principle that the king – ie, the government – was not above the law, and that all citizens were entitled to a justice under the law. This remains the foundation of the English constitution. It provided the basis for the trial and execution of King Charles I in 1649 and the establishment of Parliamentary democracy through the Bill of Rights of 1689. It was the legal foundation of the American Declaration of Independence in 1776, the United States constitution of 1789, the French revolutionary Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen in 1789, the Covenant of the League of Nations of 1920 – and the Charter of the United Nations of 1945.