Women’s empowerment has become the buzzword used by women’s organisations, government agencies, and civil societies to enhance gender equity as the process of being fair to women that leads to equality of wellbeing between men and women.
In the West the struggle for women empowerment has been couched in the struggle for Women Liberation.
The gist of the struggle of the feminist movement in the West is about attaining to what have not been given to women – such as their status, rights, privileges. The women in the West have got to initiate movement, thoughts and activities that signify their demand for obtaining those rights.
Quite in contrast to that, for the women in Islam, the purpose of their struggle is to restore back to the women what God has already given them – restoring what has been our God-given rights.
Why restoring Muslim women’s empowerment?
“……..O People, it is true that you have certain rights with regard to your women, but they also have rights over you. Remember that you have taken them as your wives only under Allah’s trust and with His permission. If they abide by your right then to them belongs the right to be fed and clothed in kindness. Do treat your women well and be kind to them for they are your partners and committed helpers. And it is your right that they do not make friends with any one of whom you do not approve of, as well as never to be unchaste…
“Remember, one day you will appear before Allah and answer your deeds. So beware, do not stray from the path of righteousness after I am gone…”
Yes, the Prophet made it a point to still stress on the duty and responsibility of society to safeguard the interests and wellbeing of women.
Why is that?
Because the Prophet knew that taking care of women’s interests would be a Muslim patriarchal society’s inherent weakness.
Just look, for instance, at the various unceremonious ways women’s rights have been (mis)treated by Muslim men even in the progressive 21st Century:
- Afghanistan : We ban women from getting educated
- Iran : We force women to wear the headscarf
- Pakistan : We allow honour killings and forced marriages
- Saudi Arabia : We ban women from driving
- Somalia : We stoned 19 year old rape victim
- Sudan : We arrest and flog women for wearing trousers
- Turkey : We ban women from wearing the headscarf
The media is replete with news of the various forms of suffering that contemporary Muslim women and girls had undergone: from death after being made a child bride.
In February 2009, a law was created in Yemen that set the minimum age for marriage at 17. Unfortunately, it was repealed after more conservative lawmakers called it un-Islamic.
Being shot for defending the right of girls to get education
Malala Yousafzai was shot on October 9, 2012 by the Talibans on her school bus in Swat Valley, Pakistan, for defending Muslim girls’ right to go to school.
Eight of the 10 Taliban hitmen were not convicted and their secret trial was a pathetic sham, and just TWO are serving a 25 year prison sentence.
Being discriminated against as violence or war refugees and migrants
Europe welcomes African males, ignores the plight of Muslim women.
For four women in life-threatening danger, the Europe of anti-racism and equal opportunities is not willing to do anything.
A migrant Muslim woman holds her 3-year-old son Abdul, who is suffering from malnutrition, as she attends the health awareness and service camp at a very remote Baralakhaiti village on the sandbars of River Brahmaputra, February 10, 2014. (TRT World and Agencies)
Being instantly divorced without due considerations
Triple talaq bill – The plight of Muslim women must come to an end.
Talaq-e-biddat, instant divorce, or talaq-e-mughallazah (irrevocable divorce) has been banned in 22 countries, several of which are Muslim-dominated. Yet, India lacks the courage to take the bull by the horns. Despite knowing that the oral form of divorce does a grave injustice to Muslim women, none of the parties showed the gumption to bring an end to this regressive, patriarchal tradition for fear of upsetting religious sentiment.
Being abandoned wives and becoming single mothers without receiving any child financial supports from the fathers
Non-payment of child support worsen financial hardship faced by single mothers. Single mothers’ income from employment mitigate the effect of non payment of child support by absent fathers. Child support issues need to be seriously considered by policymakers as it affects the wellbeing of children in single mothers’ households.
Being denied the right to divorce unjust husband
Abused Muslim women denied right to divorce in Australia.
Being killed for the sake of somebody else’s honour.
Pakistani activists perform a skit in a street in Hyderabad, Pakistan, Thursday, Sept. 4, 2008, to portray the recent “honor killings” in a tribal town in Pakistan’s Balochistan province with a banner which reads “Stop burying women in the name of honour killing.” Pakistan opened an investigation into the killings of five women who tried to choose their own husbands, after a provincial lawmaker defended their deaths as a “centuries-old tradition.” (AP Photo/Pervez Masih)
Brothers murder sister, cousin in Pakistan ‘honour killing’
Islamabad. Two men killed their 15-year-old sister and cousin on Friday in Shangla district of Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in a suspected case of honour killing, the police said.
A police official told Dawn online that the girl’s brothers suspected the two were involved in a relationship and killed them in the name of “honour”. The crime took place in the Laray area of Martung district in Shangla.
The above examples of the mistreatment of Muslim women in their societies begs the question of how unfaithful Muslim societies have been in obeying the instruction of the Prophet (pbuh) to treat women well and to be kind to them.
Given that Muslim societies generally have been slow to give women the empowerment that the Quran and the sunnah had granted them, it is not too farfetched to say that in the face of this systemic weakness it is women themselves who have to always be on the alert, to come forward, and do whatever they can to protect and defend themselves. In short, to mobilise themselves in order to restore the empowerment that is their God-given right.
This article is written by Dr Amriah Buang, Editor for Youthsetter, The Good Tidings and The Best Fikrah. Dr Amriah is also the President of Interactive Muslimah Association (IMAN), Malaysia.
Amriah Buang (2020), Gender Equality vs Gender Equity: Islamic Worldview, Paper presented to the IIUM-ISTAQ Roundtable Discussion on 3rd March, 2020, Ibn Khaldun Hall, ISTAQ, Kuala Lumpur
Bashir Maan and Alastair McIntosh (2000), “ The Whole House of Islam, and We Christians with Them: An Interview with the ‘Last Orientalist’ Rev. Prof William Montgomery Watt,” http://www.alastairmcintosh.com/articles/2000_watt.htm (accessed 31 December 2014).
Shafin Verani, 2013, Matters related to gender in the Quran https://www.slideshare.net/shafinverani1/gender-equality-and-equity