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Culture, Democracy, and Women’s Human Rights in Muslim Majority Societies

Wed, Jun 17, 2009

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At The American Academy in Berlin

The most taxing contradiction women leaders in Muslim countries face today is the one between the demands of modernity and the requirements of tradition as determined in advance 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 women.

Mahnaz Afkhami, the former Secretary General of the Women’s Organization of Iran, left the country after the revolution in 1979. She has since built an international network that vies for women’s rights in Majority Muslim societies.

Distinguished Visitor Mahnaz Afkhami, Founder and President of the Women’s Learning Partnership for Rights, Development, and Peace (WLP), delivered a lecture on “Culture, Democracy, and Women’s Human Rights in Muslim Majority Societies” on June 11. Ms. Afkhami was born in Kerman, Iran, and founded the Association of Iranian University Women. She also served as Secretary General of the Women’s Organization of Iran prior to the Islamic Revolution, in January 1979. Since immigrating to the United States, Ms. Afkhami has built an extraordinary network of women’s advocacy programs in 22 Muslim-majority countries. View a video excerpt of Ms. Afkhami’s talk here.

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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 – 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