Advocating Change for Women in Muslim Countries

Mon, Nov 27, 2006


Washington Report on Middle East Affairs / By Jamal Najjab / pages 64-65

Lina Abou-Habib from Lebanon discusses women’s nationality rights - (Staff Photo J. Najjab).

Lina Abou-Habib from Lebanon discusses women’s nationality rights - (Staff Photo J. Najjab).

TO LAUNCH ITS CAMPAIGN for “Women as Equal Citizens: Advocating for Change in Muslim-Majority Societies,” The Women’s Learning Partnership, in cooperation with the Dialogue Project of the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in Washington, DC, sponsored a four-day seminar at SAIS. The event concluded with a Sept. 6 presentation open to the general public by five project participants.

The campaign emphasizes grassroots efforts and respect of the regional culture in order to bring about reform policies as well as legislation concerning gender equality. Although the majority of constitutions in the Arab world guarantee women equal rights under the law, in many of these countries women are denied the right of nationality, a key part of citizenship. For example, women who marry men of other nationalities are unable to pass their own nationality on to their husbands or children.

“It has never occurred to me that I was not a real citizen!” states Zahra, a Lebanese woman married to an Egyptian, both of whom live in Lebanon, on the Women’s Learning Partnership Web site. “My daughter is Egyptian, same as her father. She is considered to be an alien,” Zahra explains. “Aside from the excruciating process of securing her annual residency permit, we have to put up with prejudice. I do not understand! When they said that nationality can be passed on through blood, they mean only men’s blood! In this day and age in Lebanon, only men are considered to be full citizens.”

According to the organizers of the campaign, “These laws undermine women’s status as equal citizens in their home countries, preventing them from participating fully in public life.” The campaign is being waged in six countries: Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Morocco.

Speakers at the final presentation included Lina Abou-Habib from Lebanon, Asma Khader from Jordan, Amina Lemrini from Morocco, and Mahnaz Afkhami, who now lives in the U.S., but whose focus is her native Iran.

In her introductory remarks, Azar Nafisi, author of the best-selling book Reading Lolita in Tehran, told her audience that the mindset of the area needs to change, and that the women in the region are the focus of that change.

To learn more about the campaign, visit the Web site http//www.learningpartnership.org.

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About Mahnaz Afkhami

A lifetime advocate for the rights of women, Mahnaz Afkhami works with activists across the world, especially in Muslim majority societies, to help women become leaders. She is Founder and President of Women’s Learning Partnership for Rights, Development, and Peace (WLP), Executive Director of Foundation for Iranian Studies...more

Quotables – Human Rights

"We must pose the question: why is it that the denial of the most rudimentary rights to civil treatment for women is always based on some fundamental point of culture? Is this culture real, or is it a fetish that is used to maintain some economic, social, or simply psychological privilege?" - A Vision of Gender in Culture

"Women's status in society has become the standard by which humanity's progress toward civility and peace can be measured." - Architects for Peace

"The crass infringement of women's rights we see in the Muslim world has more to do with power, patriarchy, and misuse of religion as political weapon than with religion properly understood as individual faith." - Gender Apartheid, Cultural Relativism, and Women's Human Rights

"Rights and empowerment are interconnected: unless a substantial number of women in a community come to believe that they have rights and demand to exercise them, right remains an abstraction." - Faith and Freedom

Quotables – Muslim Women

"The most taxing contradiction [Muslim women] face casts the demands of living in the contemporary world against the requirements of tradition as determined and advanced by the modern Islamist world view. At the center of this conflict is the dilemna of Muslim women’s human rights – whether Muslim women have rights because they are human beings, or whether they have rights because they are Muslim" - Faith and Freedom: Introduction

"To the extent that Islam, defined and interpreted by traditionalist "Muslim" men, is allowed to determine the context and contour of the debate on women's rights, women will be on the losing side of the debate because the conclusion is already contained in the premise and reflected in the process. This is the heart of the moral tragedy of Muslim societies in our time." - Gender Apartheid, Cultural Relativism, and Women's Human Rights

“Islam is not the problem. Rather it is the misuse of Islam by interpreting it to fit the needs of the partriarchal order - the powers that be - and the privileges that one gender has held over the other.” - How are women working to eliminate violence against women in Muslim-majority societies?