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Women’s Role in the Muslim World

Questions about women in the muslim world so often swirl around the veil, and I think that is such a red herring.  We all make choices about how much of ourselves to reveal publicly, and there are many different approaches to veiling.  The ones that cover the hair seem like no big deal.  The fully opaque face coverings are offputting to those of us who aren’t accustomed to them, but in most places, there aren’t that many women wearing them.  And it seems as if it should be a woman’s choice.  It’s less acceptable if male relatives are making that choice for women, but from the outside, we can’t tell when that’s the case at all.  Besides, there’s not a lot we can do about it.  What we can do is try to make society as safe and inviting as possible.

The Story of Zahra addresses the much broader, and I believe more significant, issue of female oppression.  It occurs in so many societies today, and perhaps no society is rid of it entirely.  It’s just upsetting, though, to see the extreme degree of it in so many places.  Often it’s tied up with this notion of honor.  As Roger Allen put it in class yesterday, “In many societies, a family’s honor rests in its women.”  It’s as if young women’s virginity (and married women’s fidelity) is some kind of trophy, a possession to be guarded at all costs.  These attitudes have existed in many times and places–the antebellum American south comes to mind–but the obsessiveness and cruelty involved in some Middle Eastern and African cultures are really upsetting. 

And that’s where I run into cognitive dissonance.  I want to learn about other cultures and open my mind to different ways of seeing the world.  I want to be respectful of differences.  But this business of waging war on women, of throwing away the potential contributions of HALF of society, makes me crazy.  I don’t know how to reconcile these two elements of my own thinking.  I’m going to bring this question up in class today.

Margaret Mead: “All genius born to women is lost to the world.”

NPR story: Peace In Afghanistan: At What Cost To Its Women?  “[A woman governement employee] says she is interested in peace coming to Afghanistan, but isn’t sure that a deal with the Taliban would mean real peace for her.”

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  1. Bobbie
    July 22, 2010 at 2:45 pm

    I have never been able to reconcile this ww on w that appears to be the norm in many subsets of the muslim world.In past visits to Lamu (Kenya)the rare woman you saw on the streets was black veiled & walking with young daughters wearing bright colored hair bows and white dresses! I was told the women ruled “above the streets” in the interconnected houses were they ruled and could visit one another without stepping into the man’s world. Some are able to say that as an American I ought not to make judgement about the customes and mores of other cultures…to do so is to be the ugly American. Not I. To me it is a human rights issue on a grand scale. http://chronicle.com/blogPost/The-Politics-of-Veiling/25675

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