Fatema Mernissi, the Moroccan sociologist widely known as a pioneer in Middle Eastern Women’s studies, passed away this week. It is difficult for me to speak of her – a friend, ally, and colleague of over two decades – in the past tense.
In Iran, women are still fighting for the right to see a game of volleyball. In an interview with Brazilian online magazine EPOCA (TIME), Iranian ex-minister in exile explains how the struggle for more rights in the country earned achievements over the years. In the episode of the game of volleyball (and Ghoncheh Ghavami), Afkhami believes the incessant media coverage may in some way, open the eyes of the regime. “We hope that the weight of condemnation from the international community to do with the Islamic Republic to reconsider their disregard for human rights, especially the rights of women.”
Mahnaz Afkhami and other experts speak on the revolutions that swept across the Middle East in 2011, known as “The Arab Spring,” (which) promised greater freedoms for many in the region, including women. While there have been some advances in women’s rights, the promise in many cases has not been realized.
Afkhami speaks about the veil in Iran, its relation to Islam, and the diversity of usage in Muslim majority societies.
Bennoune lays out a critique of Muslim fundamentalism, not from a crude “war on terror” viewpoint, but from a human rights perspective…A dilemma for women is whether to challenge the fundamentalists on religious terms. Opinion is divided. Afkhami (says) “…If you’re a woman, the guy who is the general in the religious army is not even going to pay the slightest attention to what your view of the text is.”
Afkhami and panelists discuss the classic novel “Woman at Point Zero” by Egyptian author and feminist Nawal El Saadawi which is based on a true story about a woman whose struggles to survive poverty ending with her facing execution–at the same prison where the author herself was held for political activism. First published in Arabic in 1975.
The pattern after the “Arab Spring” resembled very much the trajectory of the Iranian revolution, where liberal and progressive forces brought support and success to the uprisings but the better networked, resourced, and organized fundamentalist forces succeeded in taking over the governments. Women in Iran and in the Arab world sought progress, equality, and rights. The story is not finished yet. Regressive forces simply cannot sustain themselves over time in this stage of human development.
Despite the perception that strict Islamic law and feminism are incompatible, women’s rights advocates argued (at the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Submcommittee on International Operations and Organizations, Human Rights, Democracy, and Global Women’s Issues’s hearing) that Muslim values could actually help women of the Arab Spring promote greater equality. Mahnaz Afkhami cautioned that while some Islamic countries have provided a more positive outlook, other examples, like Iran, give women reasons to worry.
“The grim truth is that women who are struggling to advance human rights and create secular, pluralistic, democratic societies, face grave challenges rooted in tradition and history. Traditional social and cultural norms have relegated Middle Eastern women and girls to a private space, and they often lack the social, economic, and political power they need to overcome antagonistic groups and regressive policy,” Afkhami stated as a witness testifying at the hearing before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on International Operation and Organizations, Human Rights, Democracy, and Global Women’s Issues and Subcommittee on Near Eastern and South Central Asia Affairs spotlighting Egypt, Tunisia and Libya.”
International Museum of Women / By Clare Winterton / Listen
Mahnaz Afkhami spoke with I.M.O.W. Executive Director Clare Winterton as part of the Extraordinary Voices, Extraordinary Change Speaker Series. Together they covered a variety of subjects, including the WLP partnership goal of changing the architecture of human relations, and Mahnaz’s hand in helping to create a new generation of powerful women in the Muslim World.