Group President, Group Managing Director & Editor In Chief: Dr.Shelly Ahmed

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Can We Live Our Lives? Being Women In A Society…

By Sameena Taskeen / Jeddah

Muslim women are a diverse community, coming from many different cultural, ethnic and linguistic backgrounds, not to mention having various levels of religiosity. However they are united by their identification with a faith that many assert is contrary to women’s rights. The two rights of freedom of religion and gender equality are well established principles within the international human rights framework, and the perceived tension between them becomes magnified in a multicultural context like Saudi Arabia and any other progressive country.
It would not be an over-exaggeration to state that Muslim women often stand at the crossroads of these two rights. This is based on the common perception that Islam is an oppressive regime that denies women basic human rights. Is it this view that has led many Muslim women to be constantly asked “What is it like being a Muslim woman in Australia?” Is it hard, is it challenging? Why can’t you just be like everyone else, why can’t you just learn to be Saudi? Why would someone so educated, articulate and confident allow herself to be forced into wearing that “thing” on her head?

These are just some of the questions that regularly come our way as Muslim women in gulf coutries, regardless of our age, culture, ethnicity, educational qualification or professional expertise. This experience is not limited to those women who choose to wear hijab (head cover) or niqab (face cover). I guess it is to be expected when you are part of a faith that is currently under a huge spotlight.

So let’s be frank and honest – usually people want to know how can any woman identify with such a faith. It must be either because we have been somehow coerced into submission or we have been brainwashed into a sense of false consciousness where we are unable to know what is in our best interest – either way as Muslim women we need to be saved, either from our faith or ourselves. A quick glance at any debate about banning Muslim women from dressing according to their religious beliefs or engaging in other expressions of religiosity demonstrates that we are portrayed by the extremes. On the one hand we are a threat to society as our dress depicts us as followers of fundamentalist movements, yet on the other hand we are coerced into covering ourselves and thus we need laws to emancipate us from the shackles of our men. These depictions are undoubtedly fuelled by the media’s narrow portrayal of Muslim women.

Whilst many Muslim women, including myself, would vehemently argue that Islam is not an oppressive religion, we do appreciate that there are horrific practices against Muslim women where religion is used as a justification for violence against them. I would never want to trivialise their trauma, for we only need to be reminded of the recent story of Malala Yousefzai – the Pakistani school girl who nearly lost her life fighting for the right of girls to have access to an education – to appreciate that for many Muslim women their struggle remains in seeking basic human rights that we all take for granted. However, my argument is that there are many factors other than religion that have led to the violation of women’s rights and that many Muslim activists and feminists would argue that blaming Islam is a simplistic answer to a multifaceted issue. Ironically, alongside cases of abuse of women in certain countries, we see that some of these very countries house women who occupy positions of political power and leadership.  For example in Bangladesh the present Prime Minister and Opposition leader are both women.

So, what are the challenges faced by Muslim women?  In responding to this question, I rely upon the research I engaged in when writing a paper for the Human Rights Commission a couple of years ago on the issue of freedom of religion and gender. I found that most of the women I interviewed spoke at length of the benefit of living in Australia where they felt that they were respected and allowed to live their life according to their faith. Muslim women leaders from across the world spoke of how Islam promotes gender equality and supports the full participation of women in all aspects of community life.

However, they were all quick to point out that at times the interpretation of Islamic principles and practices has been to the detriment of women, and that one of the challenges for Muslim women in Australia is being able to speak out when this occurs. In fact, very often Muslim women do speak out and this requires Muslim women to be well aware of their rights according to Islamic teachings and to understand the difference between what may be a patriarchal and harmful cultural practice and what is religious practice – this is critical in a country like Australia which is a melting pot of the world’s cultures.

There is nothing more critical to Muslim women than being able to combat oppressive practices by demonstrating that they have no basis in religion. One such example is forced marriage; not only is this an abhorrent practice but also, according to Islamic law, a lack of consent renders the marriage void. Another example is domestic violence; again despite the misconception that Islam condones violence against women, Muslim women leaders have gained the support and assistance of the Muslim community including leading Imams to spread the message that Islam does not permit violence against women. To the credit of these women activists we have now had a specialised support centre and refuge for Muslim women escaping domestic violence operating for over 25 years in Australia. I am proud to say that I head the organisation that auspices this service. Unfortunately this good work rarely gets a mention in the media.

In this way, Muslim women are taking control, using their faith to articulate their rights and thereby exercising agency in how they experience their faith as Muslim women. Change and improvement in certain community practices and attitudes is occurring as Muslim women are becoming more confident in their own religious identity and not allowing their faith to be misused as a source of justification for the denial of their rights. Muslim women don’t have to choose between their religious identity and their Saudi identity, they are in a position to embrace both.

However, articulating their rights requires the voice of Muslim women to be heard, both within the Muslim community itself and also within the wider Australian community. This isn’t always easy, especially when there appears to be no qualification necessary to express an expert opinion on Muslim women. Who can forget the scene of Fred Nile, member of the NSW parliament, walking down the streets of Lakemba in 2010 claiming that the objective of his Bill before parliament effectively banning the dress of Muslim women was to protect Muslim women from a sexually repressive practice? This is not to suggest Mr Nile is not entitled to hold such an opinion or more broadly that criticisms can’t be made about Muslim women or Islamic practices, but I strongly recommend that when such issues are debated that we make it a priority to actually hear what Muslim women themselves have to say; after all they are the ones with the expertise.

Giving Muslim women the space to speak about their experiences does not mean that people must stop offering a critical analysis of issues affecting us, but it might just open a window into understanding the diverse experiences of women who are as committed to being Australian as they are to being Muslim and, despite the challenges, are quite skilful at reconciling both aspects of their identity. In fact many of us strongly believe that we are committed citizens not in spite of our faith but because of our faith.

Women In Today's Society
Women and men have always had conflicting differences since the beginning of time.  Natural given characteristics to both sexes whether they be physical or mental have always been quite different amongst the two sexes.  In modern time women and men are gaining the same amount of power, while in the past men were the only holders of power.  Women still face different obstacles that men do not, though things are looking up for the female’s future.

In the absence of gender socialization, some believe that gender differences would not even exist.  If a young girl was treated exactly the same as her young brother from infancy to young adulthood there’s a chance that the drastic gender differences would be non-existent.  However, whether or not young girls played with dolls as a young age or boys played war, girls will still have a maternal instinct and the boys will have a more aggressive mentality.  Men are built physically stronger than women and therefore tend to be drawn toward more physical activities and more labor oriented jobs, while women usually find other interests.  Besides the physical differences between women and men there are plenty of mental differences among the two sexes.  Women are generally more emotionally driven while men are usually goal oriented, so even in the absence of gender socialization, women and men even if treated equally from the start are still going to have vast differences.

Throughout the last 100-300 years the changes that women have seen and been affected by have been phenomenal.  Women have gained a lot of ground in politics, the work force, and  even more power within their own households.  There was a time in history when women were unable to voice their opinion in politics being unable to cast a vote or run for office, and now in modern time there are more than one woman running in the presidential campaign.  The work force is filled with powerful women who lead as executives for large companies like Indra Nooyi CEO of Pepsi, or Speaker of the House Nancy Peolosi, these women are in powerful positions that were never filled by women long time ago.  Besides the bigger more noticeable changes that have widely affected the world, there has been a subtle change of the role women play in the household.  Overtime women have gone from being the “housewife”, or the primary homemakers and caretakers of the children while men earn the money.  Now women and men can both be the bread winners, the stereotypical role place on women is slowly dissolving and both spouse/parents are sharing the responsibilities that come with the house and family.

A troublesome situation that still remains for women in modern time is the negative sexual attention that women often receive.  There seems to be a double standard when a woman is called a “slut” for sleeping around when a man is called a “pimp”.  The number of times a woman deals with negative sexual attention daily is incomparable to what a man receives.  One in six women and one in thirty-three men will be a victim of sexual assault throughout their lifetime.  The vast difference in this statistical information is not shocking at all to most, on the contrary it is quire predictable.  It is a known fact that women’s sexual appeal brings upon negative, unwanted attention.  Sayings lie “he just wants a piece of ass” or “He wants to get in her pants”, are always comments from a man and never a female.  In our modern society women have been reduced to mere breasts, lips, legs, and a vagina.  While they are gaining ground in education, politics, and work force, women are still victimized as “piece of meat”.

Women have come a long way over time and have carved a new path for the women to come.  While the word “feminist” generally brings upon negative attention, it is the feminist of the world, those who are for women’s rights, whom are creating a opportunity filled future for all females to come.  Men and women will continue to endure different treatment regardless of what day and age, or even socialization they’ve been brought up in.  Before the equality of men and women was non-existent, and now it is a work in progress, the future for women is looking up.

A Revelation of a Woman...
My mum never told me the facts of women life ……

I was in a thought that both men n women r equal in our Society but the fact is
Different from my thoughts since School to college to office I have seen many
Realities and Facts about women life her existence and her discriminations in the society…..
As an advocate I have learned the articles of art 14, art 15, art 15 A (e), art 15(3), art 39(a), art 42of constitution of India ensure equality of women in politics economics n social spheres…How ever I never thought of being mother daughter wife sister in our society women would b disgraced and demoralized by non other but men n women herself.

Here is a story of women …..”SHE”

When she was a child in school she was given least preference in co-education she thought “It’s me who is weak in studies “but the facts were unknown to her.

When she went to college she was been victimize by boys in a formal name as eve teasing? She thought “it is me who was overreacting for a bad taste joke…”

When she went to office she has been victimizing to molestation   she thought may be” I was the one who is responsible for this behavior” and carried on my work…

When she got married she have been forced to behave like a machine for household chores and act like a ATM machine who can bring money from her father ….she thought “it was me who is unable to fulfill all needs of my family….”

When she became mother she has victimize of not given birth to male child….and force to abort my female fetus …..she thought” It was me…..who is unable to protect her female baby……”

BUT she was in a misconception……….about 85% women think and face the calamities which I said earlier in the story…..did any of us ever thought about the facts?

If the principle of gender equality is enshrined in the Indian Constitution, then why are Indian women treated as second citizens in our own country? The Constitution officially grants equality to women and also empowers the State to adopt measures of positive discrimination in favors of women. However, the varied forms of discrimination that women in India are subject to are far from positive attire.

The following are some of the provisions made in favors of women, in our constitution:

Article 14 in the Indian Constitution ensures equality in political, economic and social spheres.

Article 16 provides for equality of opportunities in matters of public appointment for all citizens. However, the ratio of women in Politics is far less as compared to men. How many women hold positions of power in government run institutions?

Article 15 prohibits discrimination against any citizen on the grounds of religion, race, caste, sex etc. There are certain places of worship in South India where women are not allowed entry..

Article 15 (3) of the Indian Constitution allows the State to make any special provision for women and children. Wife but the fact is women and children are always under the control of the 'Male' head of the family. A child is identified by his father's name in this country. Whereas in western countries, the mother's name forms, the middle name, of a child.

Article 39(a) mentions that the State will direct its policies towards securing all citizens, men and women, the right to means of livelihood while Article 39 (c) ensures equal pay for equal work.. The daily wages of women laborers in India are lesser than that of male menial workers. She can be displaced and uprooted anytime!

Article 42 directs the State to ensure just and humane working conditions. It is believed that women who keep their bosses happy get promotions very easily in the Corporate world! What about the others? Male colleagues never fail to make passes at women.  The plight of women laborers at construction sites, tea and rubber plantations etc, cannot even be described.

The constitution imposes a fundamental duty on every citizen through Article 15 (A) (e) to renounce practices derogatory to the dignity of women. What is the government doing about eve-teasing? Or rather what we women doing about it except tolerance.

Section 509 of the IPC. Punishes individuals who have insulted the modesty of a woman. Offensive language, sounds, gestures and intrusion of a woman's privacy are punishable under this law.

 Section 354 of the IPC. Under this law, an individual who has assaulted a woman, used criminal force on her or outraged her modesty in any other way can be punished with imprisonment of up to 2 years.

Thus, there are a number of laws to protect women, but what is the use of having these laws when no one follows them? Not even by us as women. In fact, the people whose business it is, to enforce these laws are the ones who publicly flout them. Besides, not many women are conversant with law and few are aware of the rights and privileges accorded to them by the constitution.

The National Commission for Women was set up by an Act of Parliament in 1990 to safeguard the rights and legal entitlements of women. "The 73rd and 74th Amendments (1993) to the Constitution of India have provided for reservation of seats in the local bodies of Panchayats and Municipalities for women, laying a strong foundation for their participation in decision making at the local levels. But how many of us utilized those opportunity? Why? The mere existence of laws cannot automatically bring about a revolutionary change in the society. Why?  We women have no control over our own lives and do not even have the right to decide for our own house. Why can we join local governing bodies by crossing all hurdles and by taking the charge of our lives in our own hand?

In India gender disparity is found everywhere. The declining ratio of the female population, in the last few decades is a proof of this. The stereotypical image of a woman haunts her everywhere. Domestic violence is commonplace. The underlying causes of gender inequality are related to the socio-economic framework of India. As a result, the women belonging to the weaker sections of the society i.e. the Scheduled castes/Scheduled Tribes/ Other backward Classes and minorities, do not have easy access to education, health and other productive resources. Therefore, they remain largely marginalized, poor and socially isolated this is all happening because we the women is tolerant and let it be happening to us…

YES the status of the urban woman has shown some improvement but the changes in their lifestyle were not coupled by changes in the general mindset of the people in our patriarchal society.  What is the percentage of urban women in India, anyway? What about the rest?

Laws such as the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, Sati Prevention Act, Dowry Prohibition Act and Indecent Representation of Women (Prevention) Act protect women from the more "traditional" crimes such as rape, abduction, dowry, torture, molestation, sexual harassment and selling of girls into slavery. However trafficking of women is still very common in this poverty-stricken country. Women from economically backward families are kidnapped and forced into prostitution. Giving and taking dowry is officially, a crime but the practice goes on. In fact, it is taken for granted that if you want to get your daughter married you should arrange for her dowry first, even when your daughter is educated and financially independent. And who is letting happen? It’s us women. Its our tolerance .if  we wont let this happen to ourselves and stand as a strong support to each other yes we can stop it . Though it is tough but it can be done in a period of time. There is a need of changing mind set of our own self.

Female feticide and infanticide are common practices in this country. If at all the girl is allowed to live, she is subject to all forms of torture in her own house. She is not allowed to go to school, instead she is forced to take up menial jobs and married off almost as soon as she enters teenage. People in rural areas fear that their daughters might be raped so it is better to get them married. And being a mother a women kept silence towards her own daughter we should change our mindset that women r weak n they are born to been victimized by men. There are many women in India, who are caught in violent marriages.

Owing to the social stigma attached to divorce, not many women have the courage to break free. Housewives account for 52% of the total female suicide cases in India. Section 306 of the IPC can punish the suicide victim's husband with up to 10 years imprisonment if found guilty. How many such men have been punished till now? And why should we women suicide ourselves? Or being killed by men?

Remember, there is no quick fix solution that will solve our problems except changing our own mindset towards our own selves.

We should change our mindset towards our ownselves by treating ourselves as a courageous human rather a delicate show doll who exists just to be played by men. Being a mother sister we should teach our male family members to respect not only them but also each and every woman and treat her as equal as any other men of this world. We should not encourage dowry eve teasing molestation …if some thing happen to any girl we should stand by her rather pointing her. We should not encourage women violence and that can be done with a small beginning from our own families.

Investing in girls is both smart economics and the right thing to do. Educating girls is one of the strongest ways not only to improve gender equality, but to promote economic growth and the healthy development of families, communities and nations. Despite tremendous progress in getting girls into school, the global community must commit to making sure education counts and that it reaches the most marginalized girls who need it the most

.Being a mother a woman should stand by her daughter and other family female members. And that can be done by proper education. The education through schools television media and various NGOs who supports women and off course by the means of print media for those who are literate but not educated.

Media is playing a great role in that by promoting women education in various forms of tv programs  apart from that  media can telecast various forms of self-defense arts and self awareness programs. and govt should be strict enough towards women security and judicial system ems to be a bit faster towards female cases in form of fast trial courts like recently Kerala govt decided to do it.

Remember god is always with them who stand for themselves. the one who can change our lives is non other but the women inside us.