DC event: Women's Resilience and Resolve in Northwest Pakistan- Championing Change in the Face of Extremism

RSVP here

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

3:004:30 p.m.

1025 F Street, N.W., Suite 800,

Washington, D.C. 20004
Livestream of the event will be available here.

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The Provincially Administered Tribal Areas (PATA) of Pakistan, which form part of the country’s northern border with Afghanistan, have long suffered from war, militancy, and economic deprivation, creating fertile ground for the “swift justice” and sharia regulations of militant Islamist groups.  While the Pakistani army has had some success in wiping out extremist elements in the region, the Taliban and other Islamist forces still pose a significant threat. In this context of political instability, women and girls have often been the primary victims of extremist movements that have gained ground through patriarchal and discriminatory means. The suppression of women’s rights, however, has only added to the courage and resolve of those who have stepped forward to demand gender equality, often at the risk of isolation, torture, or even death.  In her presentation, social activist Shad Begum will outline the challenges to women’s political and economic empowerment in PATA and highlight those change-makers who are surmounting them. Drawing on her experience in the region, she will provide recommendations for how best to equip emerging women leaders with the knowledge, skills, and networks needed to build a more equitable future in PATA and Pakistan.



D.C. Event: Islam and Reproductive Health Care in Morocco

Islam and Reproductive Health Care in Morocco

Who: Washington Association of Professional Anthropologists

Where: Charles Sumner School, corner of 17th St and M St NW, Washington, DC

When: February 4 | 7:00pm

News articles in the post-9/11 moment have referenced the fact that Muslim populations are growing outside of the Middle East and North Africa. According to the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, the Muslim population in the United States is expected to double by 2030. After the tragic events of September 11th, the migration and reproduction of Muslims raises concern about the potential for terrorist acts by fundamentalist groups who have settled in places like the United States, Canada, or Europe. It is reasonable to suggest that Muslim fertility has become a political matter in the United States and a topic of popular and scholarly importance. Islamic doctrine has frequently been interpreted (or seen as being interpreted) as prohibiting family planning, but there is no set interpretation of the Qur’an and sacred texts. The interpretation is open depending upon the person (or group) reading or teaching the doctrine and where this is taking place. Muslims’ reproduction and more importantly their bodies have become the subjects of political and popular scrutiny in part to prevent the international threat of violence by future generations.In this presentation will explore the ways in which Islam has been interpreted as encouraging the use of family planning and reproductive health care, and along the way, it will complicate our understandings of neoliberalism. In it, I will present data that I collected through extended ethnographic fieldwork in Morocco in order to analyze the relationship between reproductive health, development policy, and popular Islamic beliefs. Responsibility and self-governance are two traits often associated with neoliberal citizenship in scholarly and popular discourses and are clearly the goals of the National Initiative for Human Developmentundefineda program launched in Morocco in 2005 that makes social development and improving citizens’ lives top political priorities. The program is based upon the premise that if the government provides the proper tools and knowledge, it is the citizens’ responsibility to use them to reach their full potentials. Through an analysis of childbearing and childrearing practices of urban Moroccan women living in and near the capital of Rabat, I demonstrate that these women are active in their own governance and accountable for their reproductive behaviors, and in addition, they take advantage of the reproductive health services offered in Morocco, but they did not do this at the behest of the government’s policy, they did so because of their understandings of what Islam says about fertility and motherhood. I suggest that their engagement with religious discourses and teachings illustrates that modern contraception and reproductive health care are pious in nature because they allow women to put their Islamic beliefs of proper womanhood and motherhood into practices, especially being able to provide a quality life for themselves and their children.


Continue reading “D.C. Event: Islam and Reproductive Health Care in Morocco”

Debunking myths about women and Islam

In an opinion piece in Truthout, Lauren Rankin, a graduate student at Rutgers University, denies the assertions that rape and harassment of women in Egypt are because of Islam: “Let’s make something clear: the sexual harassment and rape of women in Egypt (as it is anywhere) is horrendous and unacceptable. Clearly, something is at play here, if that many women report being sexually harassed. I just don’t think that “something” is Islam. If it was, sexual harassment and rape would be limited to Muslim countries and communities. But as we well know, that is simply not true.” Rankin is a feminist activist, a freelance writer, and a graduate student in Women’s and Gender Studies at Rutgers.

The more we sweat in peace the less we bleed in war

by staff contributor Milad Pournik

The title of this post is a quote from Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, Indian political leader and diplomat, related to the theme of striving for a comprehensive peace impossible without gender equality. This theme was the main message at a discussion hosted by the United States Institute for Peace (USIP) on January 30th, which explored the role of women in the Yemeni transition. Amat Alsoswa, Yemen’s first Minister for Human Rights, presented an overview of the role of women to date, focusing her talk on the importance of following the women’s right agenda in 2013. Below is a summary of her talk.

Photo courtesy of Sudarsan Raghavan/Washington Post. Taiz, Yemen
Photo courtesy of Sudarsan Raghavan/Washington Post. Taiz, Yemen

The women and youth of Yemen played a crucial role in the relatively peaceful February 2011 revolution. Women in Yemen have traditionally been amongst the least publicly active populations across the world. Thus, it came as a shock to the society when women came out on the streets in sizeable numbers. Yet this only lasted for two months; many women reverted back to their homes after a speech made by ex-President Saleh in April 2011 saying that mixing between men and women during the revolution was haraam, [a sin]. Despite initial backlash to his words, the revolutionaries were certainly affected and started a process of gender segregation. Nevertheless, the important role of women has not subsided. For example, negotiators proposed that women should be represented at a ‘suitable’ level throughout the transition process but women resisted this and managed to get a 30% quota for representation throughout the transitional period.

Continue reading “The more we sweat in peace the less we bleed in war”

Wanted Women: Book review

The Economist provides a review of a new double biography of two women whose lives were transformed by militant Islam: “Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Aafia Siddiqui are forceful, intelligent women who were born around 40 years ago in the heart of the conservative Islamic world, into families of some prominence. Later, they moved to America. Like tens of millions of others who made similar journeys, they had to negotiate the interface between an immigrant sub-culture that harked back to the homeland and a liberal society where very different options existed. Presented with two sharply contrasting value systems, two diametrically opposed ideas about the meaning of virtue, success and fulfilment, they had to make their choices.”

The book is:
Wanted Women: Faith, Lies, and the War on Terror: The Lives of Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Aafia Siddiqui. By Deborah Scroggins. To be published in Britain in February by HarperCollins.

Women in the Arab Gulf states: Pioneers for equality?

The April 2011 issue of Human Resource Development International contains four articles devoted to women, empowerment and human resource development in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. Beverly Dawn Metcalfe, senior lecturer in the Center for Organizations and Development at the University of Manchester, wrote the guest editorial piece and one of the articles.

Source: Change.org
Video still: Saudi woman driving in defiance of a ban. Source: Change.org, via New York Times blog Motherlode.
In her editorial, she states that her aim is to “promote transformative scholarship that addresses the centrality of women, work, empowerment and development in Arab Gulf states.”

She points out that Human Resource Development (HRD) has overlooked gender concerns. She notes that the articles in the issue of HRDI on women in the Gulf region describe the challenges the women there face, highlight positive gains made and critique outsiders’ assumptions.

Intersecting themes shaping women’s identity are globalization, women’s movements, Islamic feminism, institutional development and governance.

In her article, “Women, Empowerment and Development in Arab Gulf States: A Critical Appraisal of Governance, Culture and National Human Resource Development (HRD) Frameworks,” Metcalfe makes a case for inserting gender into the discipline of HRD. She considers national HRD planning in the context first of several Gulf states and provides gender statistics on them in comparison to the U.K. and the U.S.: women holding seats in parliament, women in minister positions, labor force participation and more. Women in the Gulf states are severely disadvantaged in all these measures.

Moreover, surveys reveal that both men and women see the man as the family provider and protector of the wife. The author then compares Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. None of these countries has a dedicated women’s ministry. But beyond this shared feature, variations across the three countries appear in women’s organizations and possibilities for women’s leadership training. Metcalfe points out that a key area will be finding ways for women to balance family and work responsibilities.
Continue reading “Women in the Arab Gulf states: Pioneers for equality?”

The wish to show less

I apologize for coming back to the issue of dress, especially as related to Muslim women. But the challenge posed is too important to resist, especially after a week in which a prominent U.S. politician tweeted messages with pictures of himself wearing less.

My inspiration comes from a news article about an American Muslim woman weight lifter who prefers to lift weights while wearing a head scarf.

lifting weights
Why is it wrong to wear more? Well, in this case, the “more” is a head covering. It, however, signals adherence to a particular religious faith (Islam) which is under suspicion in the U.S. It also signals female modesty. Depending on which micro-culture you belong to in the U.S., female modesty is variously defined and expressed through clothing and behavior.

The contemporary Western “modern” code is for girls/young women to show more of their bodies. That’s supposed to be a sign of their freedom. I can relate to that, because I can still remember being a teenager in a small town in central New York, with a conservative Christian father, and not being allowed to wear skirts that were shorter than my knees to high school. What did I do? As soon as I got to school, I rolled up the waistband and felt so free.

As I recall, some of the high school guys appreciated my freedom, too.

Now, decades later, we have the SlutWalk campaign. I support them, wholeheartedly. Shouldn’t anybody, no matter what they are wearing or not wearing, be safe at home or in public?

Everyone, worldwide, needs to work to create zones where covered and uncovered women’s rights are protected and where women are valued as people and are safe, whether covered or uncovered.

My thanks to Kulsoom Abdullah, the Muslim woman weight-lifter of Atlanta, Ga., for challenging the categories of public performance, dress and human value for women everywhere.