Women in Islam — One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

To be sure, there have been some progress in the treatment of women in some Muslim countries, but as always, it’s the proverbial “one step forward, two steps back” dance.

In Jordan, for example, the Royal Family has taken a courageous step condemning “honor killings” (in all fairness, a problem that goes beyond Muslim countries), but the government, fearing reprisals from conservatives, has done nothing to approve a proposal that would eliminate laws that are lenient to men who kill for “honor.” One conservative group, the Jordan’s Islamic Action Front, a powerful political party, has issued a fatwa, or religious ruling, saying the proposal would “destroy our Islamic, social and family values by stripping men of their humanity when they surprise their wives or female relatives committing adultery.” If that doesn’t get your hair to stand on end, I don’t know what will.

Another example of progress fraught with obscurantism comes from Kuwait. In 1999 In 1999 the Emir of Kuwait, Sheik Jaber al-Ahmed al-Sabah, bravely issued a decree giving women the right to go to the polls for the first time and to be candidates for the Kuwaiti parliament. Conservatives in parliament, however, blocked its implementation. They did more — they voted to segregate the sexes at Kuwait University.

The law was finally approved in May of 2007, after 8 years, with 35 votes for and 23 against. Tribal and Islamist members of Parliament had consistently blocked it, insisting that Islam prohibits women from occupying positions of leadership.

When it comes to civil liberties to women, no country with a majority Muslim population beats Turkey. Turkey went so far as to strip man of his role as the only authority over the home, solely responsible for making decisions about his wife and family. And recently Turkey changed the minimum age for women to marry from 15 to 18, again not without opposition from conservative elements in Parliament.

The achievements in Turkey are due in large part to the tenacity of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the father of modern-day Turkey. If you are not familiar with this man, you should read about him. Against all odds, he succeeded at bringing Turkey from obscurity into the sunshine of modern civilization, to the delight of some and the horror of others who still hate him.

His words about women and politics are now famous: “There is no logical explanation for the political disenfranchisement of women. Any hesitation and negative mentality on this subject is nothing more than a fading social phenomenon of the past. …Women must have the right to vote and to be elected; because democracy dictates that, because there are interests that women must defend, and because there are social duties that women must perform.”

The only question is: will there ever be a Kemal in Saudi Arabia?

Ivanildo C. Trindade