Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Lila Abu-Lughod

Do Muslim Women Need Saving?

Did the Western crusade to rescue Muslim women has reduced them to a simplistic stereotype?

A moral crusade to rescue oppressed Muslim women from their cultures and their religion has swept the public sphere, dissolving distinctions between conservatives and liberals, sexists and feminists.

The crusade has justified all manner of intervention from the legal to the military, the humanitarian to the sartorial.

It has also reduced Muslim women to a stereotyped singularity, plastering a handy cultural icon over much more complicated historical and political dynamics.

 published this Nov. 1, 2013 on Time:

As an anthropologist who has spent decades doing research on and with women in different communities in the Middle East, I have found myself increasingly troubled by our obsession with Muslim women.

Ever since 2001, when defending the rights of Muslim women was offered as a rationale for military intervention in Afghanistan, I have been trying to reconcile what I know from experience about individual women’s lives, and what I know as a student of the history of women and of feminism in different parts of the Muslim world, with the stock images of Muslim women that bombard us here in the West.

Over the past decade, from the girls and women like Nujood Ali, whose best-selling memoir I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced was co-written, like so many of the others, by a Western journalist, to Malala Yousafzai, they have been portrayed as victims of the veil, forced marriage, honor crimes or violent abuse. They are presented as having a deficit of rights because of Islam.

But they don’t always behave the way we expect them to, nor should they.

Take the veil, for example.

We were surprised when many women in Afghanistan didn’t take them off after being “liberated,” seeing as they had become such symbols of oppression in the West.

We were confusing veiling with a lack of agency. What most of us didn’t know is that 30 years ago the anthropologist Hanna Papanek described the burqa as “portable seclusion” and noted that many women saw it as a liberating invention because it enabled them to move out of segregated living spaces, while still observing the requirements of separating and protecting women from unrelated men.

People all over the globe, including Americans, wear the appropriate form of dress for their socially shared standards, religious beliefs and moral ideals. If we think that U.S. women live in a world of choice regarding clothing, we need to look no further than our own codes of dress and the often constricting tyrannies of fashion.

As for Malala, she was subjected to horrible violence by the Taliban, but education for girls and Islam are not at odds, as was suggested when atheist Sam Harris praised Malala for standing up to the “misogyny of traditional Islam.”

Across the Muslim world girls have even been going to state schools for generations.

In Pakistan, poverty and political instability undermine girls’ schooling, but also that of boys. Yet in urban areas, girls finish high school at rates close to those of young men, and they are only fractionally less likely to pursue higher education.

In many Arab countries, and in Iran, more women are in university than men.

In Egypt, women make up a bigger percentage of engineering and medical faculties than women do in the US.

A language of rights cannot really capture the complications of lives actually lived.

If we were to consider the quandaries of a young woman in rural Egypt as she tries to make choices about who to marry or how she will make a good life for her children in trying circumstances, perhaps we would realize that we all work within constraints.

It does not do justice to anyone to view her life only in terms of rights or that loaded term, freedom. These are not the terms in which we understand our own lives, born into families we did not choose, finding our way into what might fulfill us in life, constrained by failing economies, subject to the consumer capitalism, and making moral mistakes we must live with.

There is no doubt that Western notions of human rights can be credited for the hope for a better world for all women. But I suspect that the deep moral conviction people feel about the rightness of saving the women of that timeless homogeneous mythical place called Islamland is fed by something else that cannot be separated from our current geopolitical relations.

Blinded to the diversity of Muslim women’s lives, we tend to see our own situation too comfortably.

Representing Muslim women as abused makes us forget the violence and oppression in our own midst. Our stereotyping of Muslim women also distracts us from the thornier problem that our own policies and actions in the world help create the (sometimes harsh) conditions in which distant others live.

Ultimately, saving Muslim women allows us to ignore the complex entanglements in which we are all implicated and creates a polarization that places feminism only on the side of the West.

MORE: Saudi Cleric Says Driving Hurts Women’s Ovaries

(MORE: Forbidden to Drive: A Saudi Woman on Life Inside the Kingdom)

(MORE: Brides Before Bombs: Nigerian City Fights Terrorism With Mass Weddings)

 is a professor at Columbia University and the author of the new book, Do Muslim Women Need Saving?

Read more: Lila Abu-Lughod: Do Muslim Women Need Saving? | TIME.com http://ideas.time.com/2013/11/01/do-muslim-women-need-saving/#ixzz2mcZ3vEB2

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Women need solidarity: Save your “to be saved” in your heart

“You were born with wings, why are you crawling through life?” Jalaluddin Rumi

Women in Yemen and in States that are repressing the rights of women demand your solidarity: They don’t care to be saved. They are the ones saving whatever remains in dignity in these obscurantist states. Arab women do not need “saving”, just your consistent solidarity.

I stumbled on a link womanfromyemen.blogspost.com, and this is one of the posts:

“In Cairo last week, an Egyptian organization held a conference entitled “Women Empowerment“. The conference was tackling a variety of topics including corruption, trafficking, gender based violence, gender wage gaps, and sexual violence.
The case studies and speakers focused mostly on Western countries and the problems women face there, highlighting Christianity as the impediment to gender equality.
The surprising aspect of this conference is that none of the similar violations in the Middle East or Muslim countries were discussed. This shocked one of the attendees who said that these issues are not strictly “Western” and they are found all over the globe.
Indeed violation of women rights are a global problem.
I ask you to look at the previous paragraph and substitute the word “Egyptian” with “International“, the word “Western” with “Arab or Muslim” and “Christianity” with “Islam“.
Would you still be shocked by such a conference? Majority of people would not, because that kind of tone has become the norm today. [The first conference I mention above in Cairo did not really take place, I was just flipping the situation around to make a point].
Since the start of the Yemeni uprising, many activists have been invited to a number of conferences to discuss the revolution, women’s rights or the Arab spring. Many have taken this as an opportunity to focus on issues often neglected in main stream media, and to correct some of the misunderstandings.
But lately, a few international conferences on women’s rights made these female activists feel really uncomfortable during the discussions, as the focus was on “saving” women in Arab or Muslim majority countries, as if they are the only women suffering from gender inequality.

activists are not denying that there are a number of obstacles facing women in many of the Arab countries, and I have myself written extensively on this, but that does not mean that women in democratic nations do not have to struggle as well, and it also does not mean that there are no positives in our culture.

The way women’s situation is sometimes discussed today is reminiscent of colonial rhetoric about “saving” women from oppression and the need to “educate” these women (with the superiority it implies).

While in the past it was based on religious superiority, today it’s from a secular perspective but with similar undertones.

In many international conferences, photographs of Muslim women are often the icon for oppression and the focus is on religious interpretations and cultural traditions only, failing at taking a look into the history of oppressive regimes that have long neglected gender equality.

Too often, conferences only highlight cultural and religious reasons for women’s oppression and forget to also indulge in discussion on history and political developments. As Professor Lila Abu-Lughod wrote:

the question is why knowing about the “culture” of the region, and particularly its religious beliefs and treatment of women, was more urgent than exploring the history of the development of repressive regimes in the region.”

This unfortunately turns the discussion into a polarized East v. West, rather than a worldwide struggle for women. I am not someone who believes in the dichotomy between “East” and “West” because I believe in the human spirit, in the fact that we all share common beliefs, goals and aspirations clothed in different cultural traditions, but the essence remains the same.

I do not like when things are reduced to such measures, and I find it to be counterproductive as many people respond with reactionary views simply to hide their wounded pride.

When conducting such events, organizers should pay attention to the tone of the discussion and it is imperative for women leaders around the world to emphasize Solidarity – as many international groups already do –  through partnerships and exchange of ideas, of stories of struggles and lessons learned from all over the globe.

Note 1: No women representation? https://adonis49.wordpress.com/2011/08/23/no-women-representation-the-arab-league-represents-half-the-arabs-who-is-hoda-sultan-sha3rawi/

Note 2: https://adonis49.wordpress.com/2011/12/02/women-can-shatter-your-autistic-sexual-perception-of-love/

photo taken from (http://www.ruthinstitute.org/uploaded_images/women-of-the-world-unite!-742297.jpg)Note:Check womanfromyemen.blogspost.com

adonis49

adonis49

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