"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Feminism/Cultural issues: When does their fight become our fight also?

"A lot of young men are impressed by our girls," Tameena admits with a smile.  "They'll say, 'We had totally another understanding of women.  We thought they couldn't do the same things that men can.  We feel embarrassed for the way we thought before.'"  (pg. 155)

(see this post for more information on this book)

In many ways Veiled Courage is a nearly three-hundred page advertisement for RAWA -- Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan.  Among other topics, author Cheryl Benard interviews women involved in the organization and shares how this group is able to recruit members.

Meena - the martyred founder of RAWA continues to inspire

Unlike some feminist groups who seem to have little use for men, RAWA has embraced the help of men. It recognizes that men's thinking needs changing in order for society to change in favor of women's equality. In fact RAWA influences the next generation of Afghani men by providing free education for boys as well as girls!   I really like their approach because the people seem genuinely inclusive of all. When men showed up for a literacy class offered for their wives, RAWA graciously found funding and teachers for a men's class. If the men wanted to learn to read, they were OK with this. 

RAWA's male supporters include young men who grew up in both jihadi and RAWA-run schools and orphanages.  I was heartened to read interviews with three young men who supported the organization and lent their assistance for the cause by sometimes pretending to be mahrams for women who needed to travel for the group or by smuggling videos and pictures of Taliban abuse to Pakistan where this information could be spread to the West. 

Actually I was pleasantly surprised because a number of Afghani men were supportive of this group and furthering women's rights.  The RAWA ladies often married supportive men who took care of children and the house so their wives could be involved in their political causes. The women referred to these husbands as their "beautiful companions."  Indeed it was encouraging to read of such men!

When does their fight become our fight also?

Sometimes on blogs I read comments along the lines of: why do you Westerners speak out about this traditional thing in our society that you happen to not like? Usually this is in the context of giving women more rights. Occasionally it is the women telling us to mind our own business.  Yet there are others in these same countries speaking out for their rights and desiring change.  The author posed a question on a website about how women from around the world got to know about RAWA and how they supported the organization. I didn't copy their replies in full, but took only a sampling of that which spoke the most to me. 

"It's interesting that countries don't think they are interfering in other cultures when they engage in trade, or push their products and hence their lifestyle. They only start worrying about culture when it comes to treatment of women. The world is becoming more and more interdependent, and basic human rights should be implemented in the whole world."

~ Vijayashree, India

"Interventionism?  If there happened to be a cannibalistic society on earth and they started eating their neighbors, would we say it's just their culture and it's okay?  The Taliban were devouring Afghan women. It would be cruel and unjust for anyone to stay silent about an oppressive culture."  

~  Parvin, Iranian-American

"I consider nonviolent fighting for human rights, including women's rights and democracy, to be beyond cultural differences. These are global rights for global citizens.  For a long time, a lot of Danes have been suffering from mysophobia when it came to interfering with other cultures.  We have been too lazy and too afraid of being disrespectful. ... The generation before me fought for women's rights here in Denmark. Now it's our turn and the scene is set outside Denmark, that's all." 

~ Marianne, Denmark

"When women cry out for help, because they have been robbed of all their human rights, then it is our human duty to try our best to be of help for them!"  

~ Nina, Germany

What do you think about getting involved in other countries?  Do you agree with Nina, Marianne, Vijayashree, and Parvin? When it is OK to speak out against things we perceive as injustices and when should we allow cultures to do what they have always done and not mess with "tradition"? Where do we draw the line?

What about religious groups (as opposed to cultural/national ones)?  What about when, say, Muslim Feminists want to speak out on behalf of Muslim women around the world who aren't getting the rights from men/society/culture that Islam gave them?  Is it OK for Jewish or Hindu ladies to work on behalf of this cause or should this task be left with Muslim women since it is their religion and thus their battle to fight within their own faith?

Was it surprising to learn that many Afghan men support women's rights?  What did you think of the quote from Teema at the very top concerning young men who are impressed with the fact women can learn? Do you think RAWA's approach to educating boys is a good idea?  Or should all their funding go to help girls and women?

If you live in a society/religion where you feel oppressed or many around you feel they are, what do you think we should do?  How best can we outsiders help? Should we leave things alone because you believe true change comes from within society only? Suggestions?

Any other thoughts?


Suroor said...

I don't believe that women asking for rights are westernised. I also don't believe that women rights should be classified with non-Muslims not allowed to ask for rights for Muslim women. That is totally unfair and I always appreciate your advice and feedback because I value your opinion and I am certain you will be able to help Muslim women with your thoughts and approach.Women are human first and anything else later.

Educating men is important otherwise what will we do with all educated women tied to uneducated buffoons?!

Wafa' said...

i think that for any improvement to happen in any society we need the help of both men and women. But when SOME men are not willing, women can and should be able to carry the mission alone.

i don;t believe in nationalism very much, but still i think we should be very careful when interfering in other countries issues and people's rights. Some things need a clear interferences while other rights need someone to be very sensitive approaching it, cuz not everything done in an (A) country is accepted in a (B) country, we should check with traditions and values of the other countries, unless we are talking of a basic violation of human rights, then yes we need to interfere.
Still people need not to stop asking and grasping to their basic human rights, and we may try first from the inside then go outside.

Lat said...

I believe RAWA is doing a splendidly good job.

As far as I've read only fanatical groups don't support women education otherwise Muslim and non-Muslim men appreciate educated women,even Afghani men.Some in Afghan-pashtun areas do send their girls to school.Its not a tradition so to speak not to educate girls.Its only tied in some fanatical political minds.

RAWA also educating men and boys,also proves the notion that women are more embracing,king and loving to humanity than men.That's how God has made women more greater than men :)

Do you also know that it was the effort of the strong feminist groups in US(with of course,Afghan women's effort too, that opposed the Unocal co.'s trade negotiations with the Taliban? And thus turn against the Taliban eventually? If not for them the US govt would still have ignored the cruel plight of women there.

A country should intervene in another when universal rights are tempered afterall our world is more connected than before.What one country goes thru' can affect another in small or big ways.

Susanne said...

Suroor, I like your last line .. how you put it! :-D Thanks for what you shared. I always value your point of view!

Susanne said...

Wafa', I enjoyed your point of view. I think you are correct in saying we should be culturally sensitive in our approach to changing things. I really like learning from you because often times I wonder if my speaking out is doing more harm than good. Like do these women prefer their protected status and I don't know what I'm talking about because I have never lived their lives?

I read things such as this:


and wonder.

Susanne said...

Lat, the author mentions how women were the ones who pushed the gov't to act. Glad you brought up that point!

It's sad to know that the people initially wanted the Taliban rulers because they thought religious people would treat them with respect and rights. Instead they were horrid! I was struck with why these so-called religious people were so against women and education! The only education they favored was Quran. Actually they memorized Quran in Arabic which was not their native language. many probably didn't even know what they were learning!

This proves to me that Quran MUST be translated in order for its universal message to do any good. If some Muslims insist it must be Quran only in Arabic and the rest are suspect, it's crazy. For the Quran to do any good to an American who only knows English, the message must be translatable to OUR language rather than scribbles we cannot even decipher!

Taliban is proof enough for me!

Thank you for your comment. I appreciate all that you ladies had to say. :)

sanil said...

I find the posts you've been doing on this topic very interesting, but I don't really have an answer. I think in some ways I've been brainwashed as a hippie liberal and something in me totally revolts against the idea of "interfering" with cultures we don't understand. On the other hand, I've started seeing in the past few years how blind the view I was taught really is and I think it's important to fight for people's basic rights, and that that does go beyond cultural differences. I know that if I was in that situation and couldn't stop it, I would want someone to help me, and I wouldn't care where they were from or how well they understood my religion. I think I'll go with the saying that my freedom to swing my fist ends where another's nose begins. If they're not hurting anyone, it's none of our business, but once people are being hurt, we have a responsibility to help the victims and stop the oppressors.

Susanne said...

Sanil, yes, I often don't know where and when we should intervene and when to leave well enough alone. I am really glad you offered your point of view. As always, I greatly enjoyed it. You add much to the discussion. :)

Becky said...

I think education is one of the most powerful and liberating things we can do, whether we're educating men or women.
If people aren't educated, they're much more likely to fall prey to extremist or fanatical views. I'm not suggesting telling them what to believe, merely giving them the tools to study for themselves.

Susanne said...

Becky, welcome! And thank you for what you wrote. Very nicely said and makes tons of sense. I appreciate your feedback on this topic. :)