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Equal Yet Divided? Feminists Maintain Silence Over Muslim Woman’s Choice to Not Wear Hijab: What’s Wrong With Present Day Feminists

The Western activist-feminists today are undoubtedly absorbed in struggles to liberate themselves from the grasp of the oppressive male hegemony

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Western feminists continue to defend a woman’s right to wear the hijab. Then why is little talked about girls who ‘choose’ to not wear it? Pixabay
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  • Despite an active feminist movement, women in Islamic countries continue to remain outside areas of attention
  • Outrage emerged following Muslim chess player’s decision to not wear a hijab during a game, an issue that is yet to come under the radar of the Western feminists

August 22, 2017 : Unless you have been living under a rock, you would know the magnanimity of the worldwide feminist movement in support of women’s rights to be treated as equals irrespective of their nationality, religion or sexual orientation.

Upon comparison to the mainstream Western feminism, mentions of Islamic feminism do not occupy evident, or for what matter, visible part of conversations.

  • In 2014, artist Atena Farghadani was sentenced to an imprisonment of 12 years for posting a satirical caricature on Facebook as a protest against the proposed legislation against women’s rights and birth control. She was held guilty for ‘spreading propaganda’.
  • In 2015, 26-year old Iranian-British Ghoncheh Ghavami was arrested in Tehran for trying to attend a men’s volleyball match.
  • In 2014, Loujain al-Hathloul, a human rights defender in Saudi Arabia was first arrested for driving cars in a kingdom where it is forbidden. She was more recently re-arrested in June 2017, the exact reason for which has not been made public. However, Amnesty International believes the arrest has been made to curb her peaceful efforts to defend women’s rights.

Today, Farghadani, Ghavami and Loujain al-Hathloul have been reduced to mere names on a list of millions of women whose basic rights have been mercilessly desecrated.

But American feminists are yet to speak up about these injustices- they continue to be too occupied with their own victimization to raise voice against the injustices meted out to women like Farghadani.

The Western activist-feminists today are undoubtedly absorbed in struggles to liberate themselves from the grasp of the oppressive male hegemony. However, in their fights against phantom epidemics and unnecessary grievances, the gender activists today have deviated from the real fight against inequality.

ALSO READ Exclusive: 12 Sexist Remarks that Every Woman can relate to!

In the last two years, Western feminists have often turned to social networking platforms to raise issues, draw attention and mobilize support. While the increasingly global reach of  online networking sites like Twitter, and Facebook, and the inherent power of ‘hashtag activism’ can largely assist women find solidarity , the latest trend has been a far cry from the real cause.

In the last two years, some of the widely used hashtags were #FreeTheNipples, #LesPrincessesOntDesPoils or #PrincessesHaveHair and #BigUndiesOutForSam.

The former was a campaign to de-sexualize women’s breasts and the next promotes acceptance of body-hair on women. The third campaign drew support from women in favor of comfortable under-garments for women. Imagine, if the imprisoned Muslim women of Iran and Afghanistan, who lack political rights and are vulnerable to physical violence because of their faith, were to tweet, what would they say about these struggles? Will these be the issues they would raise, I doubt.

The World Economic Forum asserts an inverse relationship between women rights and states with Islam as dominant religion.

The Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2016 placed Islam as the dominant religion in the lowest ranking 44 states for women rights and equality (that means states un-supportive of womens’ rights). Evidently, in states that the report claims most supportive of women rights, the density of Islam followers is very low.

It will be wrong to say that because women in Islamic countries suffer at the hands of misogyny, the Western women should compromise with less serious prejudices. However, what needs to be highlighted is why feminist actions continue to be restricted to physical borders.  Women in different corners of the world today have one thing in common – their fight for basic rights as upheld in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Why then are the so-called liberal women’s rights activists only raising issues of one section of people and not for all?

In the Western liberal societies, the hijab has very recently emerged as a symbol of resistance to Islamophobia, against policies from President Trump’s administration aiming to establish divisions between ‘them’ and ‘us’.  Western feminists have, since long, defended a woman’s right to wear the hijab. However, very little is talked about girls who ‘choose’ to not don the veil.

ALSO READ:  Being feminine: How far are we from understanding feminism in its real form

In January, Dorsa Derakhshani, an 18-year old Iranian chess grandmaster refused to wear a hijab at a tournament in Gibraltar and instead chose to wear only a headband. Her decision to defy the Iranian law which calls upon all women to wear a headscarf in public drew massive flack from staunch radical Muslims, following which she was kicked out of the national team.

The Somali born Ex-politician and feminist critic, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who herself wore the burqa as a teenager, strongly believes that the debate over the controversial head covering is no more about religious or cultural practices but about the equality of women. “Expecting half of humanity to go around covered in black sacks is just evil sexism,” she had written for a report published in The Australian.

The author has repeatedly expressed her concern over the apathetic stance of western feminists in support of liberal Muslim women for which she has been increasingly labeled as ‘Islamophobic’.

However, what needs to be understood here is that raising questions on cultural practices in Islam does not make one Islamophobic.

American philosopher, Martha Craven Nussbaum had rightly pointed out that the feminist theory heeds diminutive consideration to struggles of women outside United States. While this may come across as demeaning to some, that does seem like the present day state of affairs.

The need of the hour is to shatter the dominant opinion which holds that Islam and feminism are not consistent and that one can either be a Muslim or associated with feminism but not both. This, however, can only stem from a larger understanding that human rights- including rights of women, are meant for all and not just a few and definitely must not be restricted by religion.


 

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Indian Women Step up for #MeToo Movement And Let Their Voices Be Heard

The fire has spread from Bollywood and the comedy space to the news media industry as well, with a slew of journalists and editors being named.

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The hushed whispers are getting louder. Flickr

Call it a bonfire of the vanities or an all-consuming sacrificial havan. But the “MeToo” flames now sweeping across social media have turned into a cleansing firestorm, burning holes in carefully honed public personas and turning the heat back on those whose job is to keep the social conscience and hold the powerful to account.

From best-selling authors to creative filmmakers to senior media editors and other guardians of public morality — people across industries are being named and shamed by the “MeToo” and “Time’s Up” movements which began in Hollywood a year ago.

The irony is profound in the case of celebrity author Chetan Bhagat. With a Twitter following of over 12.3 million, Bhagat has long been an active social commentator. But it is social media that is now pestering him with questions.

“Bhagat now finds himself arraigned in the court of public opinion, having to answer charges ranging from sexual harassment to wilful abuse of power that comes from a mass culture of celebrity worship. The old cliche of idols having feet of clay couldn’t ring truer,” said a senior media analyst.

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#MeToo movement is a movement against sexual harassment and sexual assault. #MeToo spread virally in October 2017. Flickr

On Saturday, Bhagat responded quickly to the charge with a somewhat abject apology, saying “sorry” for “going through a phase” in trying to “woo” a woman — all of this without naming the woman concerned.

“Much of what Bhagat says suggests that he believes himself to be no worse than ‘stupid’, guilty at best of misreading the drift of an intense, friendly social interaction and not being able to exercise ‘better judgment’.

“There was, as he puts it, ‘nothing physical’, ‘no lewd pictures or words were exchanged’ — as though sexual harassment cannot be said to have taken place in the absence of these overt predatory markers,” the analyst said.

In a scenario where silence or brazening it out are seen by many as an acceptable option, this may come as a relief. But is it enough, the victim might want to ask?

The lady who came out against comedian Utsav Chakraborty and opened a Pandora’s box of harassment complaints against a slew of popular comics on social media feels “punished” for telling the truth and claims she is facing post-traumatic stress disorder. And it doesn’t matter that Chakraborty wrote tweets over tweets explaining the “context” of his behaviour because the damage was done a long time ago.

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Tanushree hopes her story gives “girls a sense of confidence to come out with their story if they are suffering”.

It was actress Tanushree Dutta who last month gave the MeToo campaign the much-needed spark in India when she renewed an old allegation against acting veteran Nana Patekar of harassment on the sets of a 2008 film, “Horn OK Pleasss”. A decade ago when she came up with the same accusation, she says she felt silenced by those in power.

But now, there’s silence no more.

Leading stars have spoken up against the harassment that goes behind the gloss and glamour, and how the industry protects the “creeps” by letting complaints go unanswered or unaddressed.

Filmmaker Hansal Mehta has openly called “Queen” director Vikas Bahl a “creep” as the latter grabbed the spotlight, again in light of the MeToo movement, over allegations by a woman who had earlier accused him of sexually assaulting her.

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Queen” star Kangana Ranaut hasn’t been far behind in calling out Bahl,

“Will anybody do anything about this bloody creep or will the industry protect him like it always does,” questioned Mehta, who as a father of two daughters, fears they would have to deal with such “predators”.

Faced with sustained trolling and criticism, Mehta finally declared that he was “done with Twitter”.

“A platform that has ambiguous guidelines about hatred, negativity and abuse is no platform for debate or discussion — forget social change. Goodbye,” he said before deleting his account.

“Queen” star Kangana Ranaut hasn’t been far behind in calling out Bahl, who she said “bragged about having casual sex with a new partner every day”.

Two women have also come out about singer Kailash Kher.

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Two women have also come out about singer Kailash Kher.

As Nandita Das noted, “The hushed whispers are getting louder and are finally being heard.”

“Unlike in the past when such discussions disappeared all too quickly from the media, this time it appears that more people are listening. Women at the work place and outside too often face harassment and violence that almost always goes unreported. Especially, though not only, when perpetrated by powerful men.

“I am adding my voice in support with the hope that more lasting change comes out of this,” Das said.

The fire has spread from Bollywood and the comedy space to the news media industry as well, with a slew of journalists and editors being named.

Also Read: The Never-Ending Fight of Gender Inequality in Hollywood

Now, as Shobhaa De puts it, there are people “waiting impatiently for ‘MeToo’ in Indian politics”.

“Who will cast the first stone?” De asked. (IANS)