Women in the East Speak Up
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Malala Yousafzai, the Nobel Peace Prize winner and Pakistani activist for female education stated, “When I was born, some of our relatives came to our house and told my mother, ‘Don’t worry, next time you will have a son.’” Yousafzai, angered by the gender inequality in her country, spoke out for women’s rights and their freedom to education, and was later targeted by the Taliban.
Women living in many Muslim- based countries are not seen as equal to males. Originally under the Qu’ran and hadiths, men and women are expected to live by a set of precepts: spiritual equality between one another, and women are meant to be feminine, while men must maintain a sense of masculinity. Early Islamic law highlighted the value of women, stating education is a sacred duty and women have the right to inherit land.
Yet, today, in Muslim countries, the belief that women are equal to men isn’t generally followed. Islamic culture has altered their ideals, now highlighting the fact that women belong to men. In most of the world’s major religions, sacred texts view women—in some regard—inferior to men. However, in the Western world, this has been an ideal that people have learned to generally disregard and not believe. In developed first world countries—while inequality can still be prevalent—women generally share the same liberties and rights of men.
The body of Islamic law is Sharia. Meaning “path,” it regulates how one must live life under Islam. Sharia law is a road map to family life directing how one’s family is to be governed, and the legality of events that occur within the family unit. Under Sharia there are marital rights, public rights, and modesty laws—all that bind a woman to a man, and essentially make it life or death to break free.
Ziba Mir-Hosseini—a graduate of Tehran University with a PhD in Social Anthropology from University of Cambridge, and now teaching at the University of London—works in legal anthropology, specializing in Islamic law, gender and development. In her paper, Towards Gender Equality: Muslim Family Laws and the Shari’ah, she states, “I argue that Muslim family laws are the products of socio cultural assumptions and juristic reasoning about the nature of relations between men and women. In other words, they are ‘man-made’ juristic constructs, shaped by the social, cultural and political conditions within which Islam’s sacred texts are understood and turned into law.”
Essentially, over time, the ideals of Islam were seen as malleable, changing simply because of how family life was conducted. The laws were misinterpreted, bringing many Muslim countries to where they are today.
So, what exactly is being said under Sharia law? In regards to marital rights, men are allowed up to four wives, while women can only have one husband. When a women receives a husband, he or his family has paid the bride’s family a “dower,” and she is to be faithful and comply with any rules her husband sets. A girl as young as 12 years old can be married off—a fact most-likely horrifying to most of the western world, but not uncommon in Muslim-majority countries.
To go further, according to some scholars, spousal abuse is allowed. Domestic violence in the west—like the United States—is strictly prohibited, and one can face a jail sentence if committed. Sharia, though, has made it clear that a woman is submissive to a man, so no laws are put into place to protect a woman’s right against physical abuse.
Throughout the Muslim world, people are not standing idly by and letting this continue to happen. Many young activists, like Yousafzai, work towards the goal of women’s equality. Tawakkol Karman—the Nobel Peace Prize winner of 2011—works to secure the safety of women, and the rights of those in her home country, Yemen.
Another activist is Shirin Ebadi. Ebadi was one of the first female judges in Iran, and promotes the rights of women, children and political prisoners in her country. Ebadi established a campaign fighting for the end of legal discrimination in Iranian law.
“Human rights is a universal standard. It is a component of every religion and every civilization,” stated Ebadi. While most of the world isn’t where it should be in regards to equality, violence, and basic human rights— amazing people are working tirelessly to turn those conditions around so everyone can feel accepted.