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Beyond the Veil – Women and Change in the Middle East

Thu, May 11, 2006

Audio, Press

Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars “Dialogue Radio” / By George Liston Seay

Audio B&WListen to the Interview (MOV file)

Mahnaz Afkhami, president of the Women’s Learning Partnership and Diane Singerman, associate professor in the Department of Government at American University’s School of Public Affairs

When Egyptian women gained the right to no-fault divorce in 2001, they achieved a remarkable victory. In building the parliamentary coalition they needed, their first recourse was to respected Muslim clerics who agreed with their interpretation of traditional Islamic Law. The result of the effort was typical of the ways in which women are bringing about change throughout the middle-east. Mahnaz Afkhami and Diane Singerman analyze methods employed and challenges faced by women in a variety of Middle Eastern countries.

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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 – Culture

"The infringement of women's rights is usually exercised in the name of tradition, religion, social cohesion, morality, or some complex of transcendent values. Anyway, it is justified in the name of culture." - Gender Apartheid, Cultural Relativism, and Women's Human Rights

"The central problem of cultural relativism is that it must deny rights to women (or men) who have become aware that they posess rights because they possess an identity that is theirs independently of the community to which they belong." - Cultural Relativism And Women's 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

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?

Quotables – Religion

"Women ought not to be forced to choose between freedom and God." - Rights of Passage

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?

"Religious zeal makes democracy problematic because it turns every attempt at understand and compromise - the hallmarks of democracy - into an evidentiary test of religious righteousness." - Rights of Passage