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JULY 2000

MONTHLY    *    Vol 14-07 No:163    *   JULY 2000 / RABI-UL-THANI 1421H
  email: editor@islamicvoice.com

MUSLIM WOMEN IN ISLAM


Not by Rejecting Womanhood

Feminist Agenda

Not by Rejecting Womanhood


Feminist agenda bristles with contradictions and rejects cultural sensitivities in South Asia, argues Arjimand Hussain Talib

FOR many of us involved with feminist studies and research, getting an insight into the level of consciousness among Muslim women in India about their spiritual and socio-economic status through their views, especially articulated on a stage, is quite rare. The point that has to be fairly acknowledged is that in the Muslim societies that are yet to see typical feminist movements, there is a widespread perception that although there is a need to make an end to violence against and unjust treatment of women, the laws of nature delineating various gender functions must not be challenged. And that is what was the crux of the views that the students of the Government College for Women, Srinagar, articulated overwhelmingly in a symposium on “Women’s Empowerment” organised last month on the eve of the college’s golden jubilee. To quote a few views here would not be out of context.

“I believe men and women should have identical positions, not identical functions. Let us not defy nature in analyzing gender justice. To clarify, I would draw an analogy between a family and a plant. If all parts of a plant start doing photosynthesis, including its root, would the plant survive for too long?

Feminists oppose subordination of women but do nothing to end beauty contests that satisfy only the male voyeurism.
We girls should not just stress whether we roam as our brothers do, rather we should ask whether our individuality carries equal weight as that of our brothers.

Just a casual look into our surroundings would reveal how this market-driven world under the guise of modelling, VJ presentation, beauty contests, freedom of expression is actually heaping insult on womanhood.” Ajudged second best speaker.

“No doubt man is dominating the world but he is not to be blamed for the present condition of women. Woman, I believe, is herself responsible for it. Psychologically speaking, isn’t it a truth that it is a mother who actually imbibes a sense of inferiority in her girl-child and very visibly discriminates her against her son ? The answer is undeniably—yes. And you know when this girl-child becomes a mother she does the same. This vicious circle continues. The student who got the first prize.

“My dear students, we women are no doubt intellectually very much identical to men, but we cannot demand equality. Demanding equality would mean challenging the Almighty God. After all, man is our protector. He is the one who guards us against many evils.” (Cheers from the audience). What is significant is that notwithstanding a reasonable awareness of the feminist movements, their modus operandi of the “mitigation of women’s problems” actually rejects the notion of equality as undermining the essence of womanhood and family.

Although many women in South Asia today are seen to have evolved a stereotypical image of an idealistic “feminist” but it has been quite often found that there is a vast ignorance about the dimensions that the feminist movement has achieved. This is also true about Kashmir in some instances. The movement that should have focused on improving the condition of women in this part of the world, unfortunately having been flooded by western funds, has become a kind of puppetry, whose actions are dictated from the West in total neglect of the ground realities in South Asia. This, far from creating a genuine space for itself in the socio-cultural structures of the South Asian society, has sown the seeds of a new kind of conflict, that is seeing the political Right-wings of these countries caught in a battle of attrition with the feminist struggle.

Going by the level of ignorance about the implicit agenda of the feminist movement, a need is definitely there to quote some modern feminist writings.

Empowering women should not mean urging men to 'mother' the children.

Today, feminists have gone beyond demanding mere legal reforms to end discrimination. A few quotes from a feminist publication: “Feminism now includes the struggle against subordination to the male within the home; against their exploitation by the family, against their low status at work, in society and in the culture and religion of the country; and against their double burden in production and reproduction. Feminists are fighting for a society where a woman has the freedom to choose, where she is not forced to be a housewife, where she is not pushed into typically “feminine” roles and low-paid feminine jobs and where she is treated with respect.

We reject male-female polarity and male-female stereotypes. Every girl should have the freedom and opportunity to do what she wants to do and to be what she is capable of becoming. Just because she is born a girl, dolls, pots and pans should not be her only toys; dresses which don’t allow her to move limbs freely should not be her only clothes; nor should she be confined to the four walls of a home, pushed into home-science courses, or forced to be subdued in order to adjust to her husband’s family, etc.

After all, a man’s house is his castle, let him clean it. Statistics collected not by feminists but by our governments and UN bodies show us that the family is perhaps the most unsafe place for girls and women.

Feminists are not against women having children, but we do not consider motherhood to be every woman’s destiny, nor do we equate womanhood with motherhood. We feel that although only a woman can bear a child, anyone (including a man) can bring it up, or mother it.

Most women, however, see motherhood as their destiny, but this is due both to the lack of alternatives and to a glorification of motherhood.

Women are admired for their ability and desire to sacrifice, to suffer and live for others. This has been a psychological trap for women. In fact if sacrificing our lives for others is superior to all other activities, then we women should unselfishly give men the opportunity to experience motherhood, sharing and caring! So, the ability and capacity to mother is not necessarily natural, that is, it is not biologically determined!”

(Some Questions on Feminism and their Relevance in South Asia, Kamla Bhasin & Nighat Khan, Kali for Women, 1999).

The views quoted above would easily establish that, although most of the literature produced on feminism in South Asia is attributed to local writers, the writings are totally out of South Asian context.

And one should not miss to observe the wide contradictions in the “feminist agenda”.

Of late, feminists have launched campaigns against the baby food industry, for instance. They say men too can mother a child. So, in the absence of baby-food would a father now have to ‘biologically alter’ himself to produce milk?

They say they are against pornography and depiction of women as sex objects. Indeed, a noble stand. Would the feminists be initiate any concrete action to stop this beauty pageants? They have even advocated for clothes in which they can move their limbs freely. Could even a single feminist be able to persuade a beauty contestant to put proper clothes? Not to speak of others, Kali for Women itself has been against contraceptives. They say motherhood is not the destiny of womanhood, so what about the children produced in their absence?

Most of the serious thinkers on the subject approve of the need to have women’s movements seeking end of women’s hardships of the women who are victims of male chauvinism, an enlarged participation in State’s policy making processes for their empowerment, and also to end unjust suppression and silence. However, separating religion and genuine spiritual sensitivities from the entire process, most people agree, would make even such heavily-funded movements susceptible to failure.

The outright rejection of religion and local customs and traditions-that have a strong influence on the lives of women- has made the initiatives of women’s empowerment largely ineffective and long-drawn processes. And that is the reason that despite a heavy flow of funds groups dealing with women’s issues have not been able to make any big difference.

The wide and visible contradictions in the “feminist agenda” and its failure in bringing about a change in the lives of the suppressed and financially week women in South Asia, I believe, need a State intervention and of course an evaluation process of their working. This may raise voices dubbing the exercise as undermining the freedom of NGOs. However, the deviations that most of the feminist NGOs have had, creating new kinds of conflict, must be looked into. After all, the NGOs addressing women’s issues genuinely and sincerely without taking their fund-managers’ diktats are also losing their credibility in the process. The process of women’s empowerment must not be confused with actions creating socio-cultural and religious divides and conflicts. And that is the crux of my argument.

(The writer heads the United Mission Foundation, Srinagar.)

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