Cassandra Balchin’s untimely demise is a huge loss to the causes of women’s and human rights, particularly in areas of equality within Muslim law and against religious fundamentalism more broadly. After completing her graduation from the London School of Economics, Cass (as she was known to friends and collaborators), moved to Lahore, Pakistan in 1983 to work as a journalist. In 1991 she went on to work as a staff member at Shirkat Gah Women’s Resource Centre in Lahore, focusing on their publishing programme. In 2000, Cass returned to the UK to set up the international coordinating office in London of Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML). She also finished a Master’s degree under the guidance of the feminist sociologist and activist Nira Yuval-Davis.
In recent years, she served as Chair of the Muslim Women’s Network, a UK-based organization that connects a diverse set of Muslim women and seeks to represent their voices in public policy. She was also a founder-member of Musawah, a global movement launched in 2009, to work towards justice and equality within Muslim families worldwide. Cass became an important voice in the global diasporic Muslim community in the UK that fought for gender equality within parallel legal systems. She also remained a key member of Women Against Fundamentalism, a group that was formed in the wake of the Rushdie affair in 1989, to combat fundamentalism in all religions.
Cass was a prolific writer and articulate speaker. She was a regular contributor to OpenDemocracy and produced important work in a number of articles and reports on a range of issues dealing with law, culture, gender, development and human rights. Her work is especially path-breaking and significant in the area of plural legal systems. She also travelled extensively all around the world as a well-regarded expert on gender and human rights, giving lectures, training activists and participating in workshops and conferences.
Cass was a beloved mother to her sons Dani and Raoul, and a dear friend to so many people. She was a woman of many talents and passions, from gardening to cricket, poetry and music. It will be difficult to fill the absence, on both political and personal levels, created by her premature death.
The author Dr Rashmi Varma is a London based academic who knew Cass well. Dr. Varma’s areas of research include: the postcolonial city, postcolonial Indian and African theory, literature and culture, feminism in a global context, representations of indigeneity in postcolonial India, and the theory of world literature. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org