My Views On Feminism and Islam

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How am I able to reconcile my feminism with my religion? Some people might think that I’ve reshaped Islam to fit into a feminist framework. But I think it’s more accurate to say that the opposite is true. There are a lot of elements in my version of feminism that are compatible with Islam. They include:

  1. Being an advocate for women.
  2. Viewing a woman as just as important to God as a man is.
  3. Believing that men and women are equally accountable to God.
  4. Recognizing that there are some inherent differences between the sexes.
  5. Refusing to generalize about men and women based on gender roles.

The first one, being an advocate for women, is what I’m all about as a feminist. A feminist is worthless if she doesn’t support the choices and address  the concerns of all women. Feminism, especially Second-wave feminism, has been criticized for having too narrow a focus, specifically one that is white and middle-class (and, one could add, Western). This leads to all kinds of preconceived notions about what makes a woman liberated. Working women look down on stay-at-home moms. White women think that black women should put feminism before race. Westerners judge other cultures on how closely they conform to Western ideals.

I believe that feminists should consider the context in which each woman lives her life. That means, for instance, that we shouldn’t expect Muslim women to uncover just because as Westerners we can’t imagine choosing to cover. Nor should we begrudge a welfare or low-income mother her right to have the same support systems as middle- and upper-class mothers do (health care for their children, quality and affordable child care, access to education and job-training, food security). It even means that we should allow women to choose what kind of birth control they want to use or to support them if they don’t use any birth control at all. (This also means that we should respect each woman’s stance on abortion, as long as she doesn’t try to take away other women’s rights to their own opinion.)

The second one, viewing a woman as just as important to God as a man is, comes out of my experiences as a Christian. I was brainwashed into thinking that Eve caused evil to come into the world, that all women were punished for her transgression by having to endure the pain of childbirth, that women were either saints or seductresses (they couldn’t be a little of both), and that men were meant to be in leadership positions over women. (I was even told by my first husband, a minister, that I shouldn’t speak in our Sunday School class.)

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The Hidden World of Girls

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A NEW KITCHEN SISTERS RADIO SERIES ON NPR

THE KITCHEN SISTERS are launching a new NPR multimedia series exploring the hidden world of girls. Stories of coming of age, rituals and rites of passage, secret identities—of women who crossed a line, blazed a trail, changed the tide.  Listen:

JOIN US – TELL US YOUR STORY

telephoneCall the NPR Message Line – 202-408-9576. Tell us your stories and ideas. Share your photos, audio, video. We hope you’ll join us in this quest.

To go directly to the website, click here. Or check it out on Facebook here.

A Saudi Woman Speaks Out

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Non-Muslims see Muslim women as oppressed, especially in countries like Saudi Arabia, where grown women have male guardians, are not allowed to drive and are required to cover themselves totally whenever they leave the house. That’s why it’s particularly surprising to run across a Saudi woman like Buthayna Nasser. She wears the full abaya (although not the niqab, or face veil) in her job as a television newscaster.

It’s a misconception that Saudi women don’t work, let alone have careers. Apparently, they have voices, too, judging by this video:

What Makes Eve Ensler Ill: Cancer or the Congo?

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I just found out that Eve Ensler has uterine cancer. Her prognosis, she reports, is good, but uterine cancer is nothing to fool around with. If caught early, 5-year survival rates can be as high as 96%. Ensler does not share at which stage her cancer was detected. At any rate, she has been through hell physically for the past few months. But, she insists, it is nothing compared to the hell she goes through every time she hears of the latest atrocities being committed in the Congo.

In her article, which appeared in several newspapers simultaneously, she writes:

The stories of continued rapes, machete killings, grotesque mutilations, outright murdering of human rights activists – these images and events create nausea and weakness much worse than chemo or antibiotics or pain meds ever could. But even harder to deal with, in the weakened state that I have been in, is knowing that despite the ongoing horrific atrocities that have taken the lives of more than 6 million people and left more than 500,000 women and girls raped and tortured, the international power elite appear to be doing nothing.

She describes all the attempts she and her foundation, V-Day, have made to interest world leaders in the plight of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and how those appeals have fallen on deaf ears. When she appeals to Michelle Obama (through a high-end official), she is told that “femicide was not her ‘brand.’ Mrs. Obama was focusing on childhood obesity.” (Ensler’s reaction? “It surprised me that a woman with her capabilities lacked ambidextrous skills.”)

I realize that the U.S., or any one entity, for that matter, can’t solve all the world’s problems. But does that mean that we should ignore them? Women and children are the real victims of war. But the revenge-rapes and brutal massacres, not to mention being left without husbands and fathers, are largely written off as “collateral damage.” The death of soldiers is tragic enough, but women and children don’t even have any means of defending themselves.

If the Congo were in our own back yard, we might be moved to do something about the conditions there. But because it is half a world away, we  feel that we can put it out of our minds. But Eve Ensler, even though you might think she has more important things to worry about, can’t put it out of hers.

For more background on the situation in the DRC, read Ensler’s article from a year ago, “An apathetic, greedy west has abandoned war-torn Congo.”

What’s With Arizona??

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Arizona State Flag

Maybe it’s in the water. Maybe it’s the heat. Whatever it is, it’s bringing out the worst in the people of Arizona. I didn’t even realize that the governor, Jan Brewer, signed a bill into law last September denying benefits to domestic partners of state employees. The new law, which takes effect October 1, redefines “dependent” and excludes  coverage for domestic partners, including heterosexual partners, children of domestic partners, disabled adult dependents, and full time students over 22 who are claimed as dependents.

Interestingly enough, the University of Arizona has decided to reinstate benefits to domestic partners, using funds separate from state money, in order to remain competitive in attracting talent. According to the Arizona Daily Star, about 20 employees of the University left because of the repeal of domestic partner benefits and some job offers were rejected for the same reason.

I’ve always seen the offering of benefits to domestic partners and other dependents as a way to get more people insured in America. Without those benefits, many people will not have health insurance at all. Why shouldn’t a person be able to cover more than herself on her policy if she is willing to pay the family premium? In fact, I think insurance policies ought to cover adult children indefinitely. There’s a terrible gap in insurance coverage between 22-year-olds and those who have finally established their careers to the point where they get employee benefits.

Nor do I think people should be forced to marry just so they can share a family insurance plan. It’s not the place of the state to pry into what kind of relationship domestic partners have.

Continue reading What’s With Arizona??

Friday Videos: Fully Realized Women

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Kavita Ramdas talks about three powerful women who walk the line between modernity and tradition in their attempts to make a difference. Ramdas is the President and CEO of the largest non-profit organization in the world exclusively funding women’s human rights, the Global Fund for Women.