Universal rights for women
THIS is in response to Huzaifa Saadat’s letter, ‘Uneducated women or educated nation’ (July 7).
Her argument is broadly based on a religious and cultural interpretation of gender roles, stipulating that Islam makes men ‘protectors’ of women. This way women are more respected.
This argument centres around the belief that removing this shroud of male ‘protectionÂ’, women will fall in terms of respect and will be breaking cultural mores.
However, sociological, historical and empirical evidence disagrees with this argument.
Societies with greater participation from women, whether in work, politics or other issues of national importance are generally more successful economically and politically.
I read her letter with considerable alarm, primarily because she seemed to suggest that attaining higher education and freeing oneself from social and cultural paradigms is wrong, raising subtle hints regarding modesty and cultural mores, going as far as to suggest that gaining equality in the workplace has resulted in the ‘self-destructive’ habits of ‘anti-Islamic’ forces.
The cloak of women’s ‘respectability’ is a sufficient cover to hide the ugliness of sexism; similar devices were used to justify racism over the past centuries.
Indeed women in Islam have been known to challenge the boundaries imposed on them, from Hazrat Aisha (RA) to Razia Sultan.
I disagree with this argument. Society changes over time; it is a simple case of cause and effect. The universal Suffrage movement met with stiff resistance because it was considered ‘uncouth’ for women to indulge in politics.
Indeed, women have been barred from the workplace for centuries, and these rapid social changes have only been observed in the last century. The horrific toll of the two world wars in the 20th century accelerated the inclusion of women in the workplace, and age-old sexist norms collapsed one after the other.
Another aspect of her letter which I disagree with is in suggesting that only women affect our future generations. Indeed both working mothers and fathers should take care to raise their children to become responsible citizens. The notion that the man is the sole breadwinner and the woman is the housewife and the mother is an ancient social paradigm, not just prevalent in Muslim societies, but is also a paradigm found among most traditional western societies, from the Amish to Orthodox Jews.
Indeed in other societies, particularly in Papua New Guinea, certain parts of Africa and in Nepal, the roles are reversed where women are the warriors, traders and protectors of men.
I will agree that people (men and women) who are too career-focussed tend to neglect their roles as fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, brothers and sisters; but many successful professionals have also been successful in their personal lives.
Education and equal opportunities are universal rights, regardless of faith, ethnicity, gender or any other irrelevant factor.