Listen: Baroness Cox of Queensbury in conversation with Stephen O’Doherty.
Caroline Cox qualified as a nurse, graduated as a social scientist and in 1982 was made a life peer. Baroness Caroline Cox of Queensbury is a Christian, and sits in the House of Lords. She is also a passionate advocate for human rights and the rights of women especially.
She is the founder of the Humanitarian AId Relief Trust (HART) and is actively engaged with their work around the world in Africa, Eastern Europe and in Timor Leste.
Timor Leste malnutrition
On a recent visit to Australia, Baroness Caroline Cox spoke about her work with Open House. On her way, the energetic Baroness also visited a HART Australasia project in Timor Leste which is working with a local partner to address the severe childhood malnutrition problems in the country.
Currently levels of stunting and wasting in Timor’s children under 5 years old is ranked third highest in the world after Yemen and Afghanistan. HART Australasia’s aim, with local partner HIAM, is to reduce childhood malnutrition. It is very important to Baroness Cox that HART’s works in partnership with local people and says being a small charity makes it easier to build strong relationships, good communication and genuine collaboration.
HART partners with locals
“It is particularly crucial in situations of conflict, or where people are persecuted and marginalised. Local actors are usually the foundation and front-line of a humanitarian response, and are able to adapt quickly to chaotic and rapidly changing circumstances. We see the success of this model time and time again in the achievements of our partners, as they transform lives and communities in some of the most isolated and unstable parts of the world.” she says.
The HART UK logo is a beautiful, intricate design from a 13th century manuscript. There is a lovely meaning behind the use of the design which Baroness Cox explains here.
Travels to conflict zones
Baroness Cox’s humanitarian aid work has taken her on many missions to conflict zones, allowing her to obtain first-hand evidence of the human rights violations and humanitarian needs. Areas travelled include the Armenian enclave of Nagorno Karabakh; Sudan; Nigeria; Uganda; the Karen; Karenni; Shan and Chin peoples in the jungles of Burma; and communities suffering from conflict in Indonesia.
Christian persecution Nigeria
In Northern Nigeria she narrowly missed being ambushed by AK 47 wielding Islamic Fulani militants who have attacked, killed and displaced thousands of Christian farmers. She says of the ambush “I think they would have been delighted to kill us if we had been there. It would have had a deterrent to other people visiting and it would have stopped us visiting.”
The persecution of Christians in Northern Nigeria was the subject of a recent Open House discussion. Lady Cox says the death, destruction and displacement in Nigeria is awful.
“I felt enormous sadness speaking to the victims of the violence themselves. There is the really serious issue of land-grabbing, when people are driven off their land by the violence, the Fulani move in and they can’t go back. It is a very serious situation, of what seems to be systematic displacement. Jong [one of the villages she visited] is devastated. It is ruined. People and children – the ones who can’t flee – are killed. The buildings are literally smashed to pieces so there is nothing to go back to.”
Visit to North Korea
She has also visited North Korea helping to promote Parliamentary initiatives and medical programmes. Additionally, Caroline has been instrumental in helping to change the former Soviet Union policies for orphaned and abandoned children from institutional to foster family care.
Advocacy for all faiths
Caroline is committed to trying to help victims of oppression and persecution whatever their faith or beliefs. This results in undertaking aid and advocacy visits to many people on frontlines of faith and freedom, including Christians (Northern Nigeria) , Buddhists (in Shan State, Burma) and Muslims (Blue Nile State, Sudan). She always returns humbled and inspired by their courage and dignity.
In the United Kingdom, Caroline is known for her commitment to human rights, including women’s rights, so many people have asked her to be involved with issues regarding violations of fundamental human rights locally.
She has consequently become aware of some problems affecting certain communities. Although women from any faith tradition – or none – may suffer abuse and other problems associated with dysfunctional families, the plight of those in Islamic communities can be exacerbated by the application of established Sharia law principles which inherently discriminate against women and girls.
Sharia law gender discrimination
She says such discrimination can take many forms, including:
- Inequality in access to divorce (for men often so easy it is effectively free and unconditional) Polygamy (practiced by men who have multiple ‘wives’ and numerous children)
- Discriminatory child custody policies and inheritance laws
- The implicit sanctioning of domestic violence.
According to Lady Cox, the resulting suffering is often worsened by the nature of the closed communities in which these vulnerable women may live, where there can be great pressure not to seek ‘outside’ professional help which might be deemed to bring ‘shame’ on the family.
Suffragettes would turn in their graves
Baroness Cox in 2017 introduced a Private Member’s Bill, the Marriage Act 1949 (Amendment) Bill into the House of Lords. Baroness Cox says “We cannot continue with the present situation in which so many women are suffering in ways that would make the heroines of the suffragette movement turn in their graves.”
One law for all is fundamental
The Bill seeks to address two interrelated issues, the suffering of women oppressed by religiously-sanctioned gender discrimination; and a rapidly developing alternative quasi-legal system which undermines the fundamental principle of ‘One Law For All’.
Lady Cox says her interest is not Islamophobic but motivated by concerns about gender based discrimination. In her campaigns to promote religious freedom, Caroline always emphasises the fact that the vast majority of the world’s 1.2 billion Muslims are peaceable and hospitable people.
To listen to our Open House podcast of this story click the red play button at the top of the page, or you can subscribe to Open House podcasts in iTunes and they will appear in your feed.