Archive for the ‘women’s rights’ tag
Religious freedom initiatives are booming in recent global surveys.
Leveling the playing field for social cohesion, these advances propel Interfaith to a global tidal wave now crossing the borders of more than half of the world’s nations. If the following data is promising, it may reach almost three quarters of the world’s nations if trends in religious freedom continue. Unexpected improvements are stacking up fast toward more liberating political movements, and the station of women is appraising with higher worth in more areas as well.
- Moving closer to a human rights platform, the Council on Foreign Affairs of the European Union’s new guidelines on the protection and promotion of religious freedom and belief empower individuals to manifest religious or non-belief practices in compliance with acts on anti-discrimination, non-violence, and safety for women and children. More, the standards are set to influence official EU engagement with non-EU states.
While the European Union cements its democratic view of religious life and liberty,
- Pew Forum data discussed in this week’s the Daily Number announces that 76 percent of nations are trying to do something about “religious restrictions and hostilities.” Over half of these nations are initiating interfaith dialogue policies, and almost 40 percent of nations are specifically enacting measures to redress or combat religious discrimination.
- For even more information, the United States Department of State recently released a comprehensive, year-long 2012 report on International Religious Freedom. The online data can be customized toward research results filtered into specific nations, regions, and categories. Violations aren’t the only tracked data, and there is good news to be discovered in 15 nations improving their effort to advance religious freedom. Political, social, and anecdotal evidence is provided concerning attitudes and unprecedented legal amendments.
by Homa Khaleeli
from The Guardian
Amid the furore over the state of undress of one of the UK’s most successful female cyclists, the increasing aceptance of sportswear that allows Muslim women to compete has garnered little attention.
Earlier this month Fifa finally overturned its ban, brought in in 2007, on women playing football with their heads covered. The decision came too late for the Iranian football team. It had already prevented them from playing in their 2012 Olympic qualifying match last year and disappointed their female fans in the football-mad Islamic Republic, where women are not allowed to watch men’s matches and headscarves are mandatory for women. But the overturning of the ban was cheered by footballers around the world, some of whom, such as Australian Assmaah Helal, wear the hijab through choice.
London 2012 is the first Olympics where women will compete in all 26 sports on offer (although still in 30 fewer events in total), and Fifa is just one of several international bodies to relax clothing rules and so allow more Muslim women to compete in the Games. It’s impossible to know how many women will be competing with their head covered this year, but they include judo player Wodjan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim and Saudi Arabian runner Sarah Attar, as well as footballers.
From State of Formation
I was walking down the crowded, cobblestoned streets of Jerusalem’s Old City when a bearded man with narrow eyes reached out his hand and tried to grab my breast. I did not know him. I had not made eye contact. I was not acting provocatively—in fact, despite a heat wave that added insult to the already injurious desert summer, I was burning up in the long-sleeved shirt and ankle-length skirt that’s customary for the region. In response, the man with whom I was traveling reached out and struck the stranger’s hand, causing him to trip sideways into the crowd.
Many other women who visit the Holy Land have a story like mine.
From Al-Jazeera English
Among the most prevalent Western stereotypes about Muslim countries are those concerning Muslim women: doe-eyed, veiled, and submissive, exotically silent, gauzy inhabitants of imagined harems, closeted behind rigid gender roles. So where were these women in Tunisia and Egypt?
In both countries, women protesters were nothing like the Western stereotype: they were front and centre, in news clips and on Facebook forums, and even in the leadership. In Egypt’s Tahrir Square, women volunteers, some accompanied by children, worked steadily to support the protests – helping with security, communications, and shelter. Many commentators credited the great numbers of women and children with the remarkable overall peacefulness of the protesters in the face of grave provocations.
Although many of the world’s religions are thought to debase women, progressive faith traditions and practices empower females as a means of attaining justice and thereby, peace. The brutal violence experienced by the women of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has summoned many religious people to come together in the pursuit of peace and justice. The Religious Institute’s Congo Sabbath Initiative is one such instance of faith traditions allying to advocate for an end to the sexual violence in the DRC. The success of the Congo Sabbath Initiative can be replicated as people of faith continue to forge the path to peace.
Augusta Jane Chapin, an organizer of the 1893 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago, and the only woman to present a session at the Parliament, will be honored by the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame this year.
Born in New York, Chapin completed her education in Michigan and was the second woman to be ordained as a Universalist minister. She was also the first woman to serve on the Council of the Universalist General Convention, and the first woman ever to receive an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree, presented to her at the Chicago World’s Fair.
Chapin was a champion of women’s rights, forging the way for future generations of women in the United States to seek higher education and advanced degrees.
In addition to organizing the first Parliament in 1893, Chapin also served as Chairwoman of the Woman’s General Committee. She gave comments at the opening and closing presentations of the Parliament, and stated in her opening address, “My memory runs easily back to the time when, in all the modern world, there was not one well equipped college or university open to women students, and when, in all the modern world, no woman had been ordained, or even acknowledged, as a preacher outside the denomination of Friends.”
Chapin will be honored among two other Historical Honorees and 10 Contemporary Honorees on October 19 in East Lansing.
Women religious leaders may be gaining more visibility in churches, temples and synagogues, but there are still some areas where women clergy are not welcome. Examples of institutional holdouts to allowing women to become ordained are Roman Catholic churches and Orthodox Jews. There is also continued resistance in most of the Islamic world to allowing women to worship in the same area as men during Friday services, let alone to letting them becoming Imams. I haven’t seen much written about this from the perspective of the women who are largely left out, so it was refreshing to see Maureen Fiedler’s anthology of interviews mostly conducted on her public radio show, “Interfaith Voices.” We talked by phone about her thoughts on womens equality in religious leadership and what the future might bring in this area.
How did you choose the title of this work? Not every house of worship has stained glass, for instance, though I like the use of the metaphor.
Fiedler: The phrase “stained glass ceiling” became fairly common among religious feminists when “glass ceiling” became common for other women.
Before you started your work on Interfaith Voices (a religion news magazine on public radio) what was your experience with women religious leaders?
Fiedler:There are many leaders in religious communities of women, like Mary Luke Tobin, SL. She was a leader, not only in Catholicism, but beyond that, and highly influential in carrying out the reforms of the Second Vatican Council nationwide. Nuns have long been presidents of universities and administrators of hospitals when other women could only dream of such positions. In my work with interfaith coalitions around issues like the Equal Rights Amendment, and Central American issues in the 1980’s, I also met many women leaders for justice, peace and equality.
Was there a particular interview that resonated with you more than the others? I was moved by the perspective of Julia Butterfly Hill and her spirituality, for instance. I found the women who had been ordained as Roman Catholic priests to be particularly interesting, considering the discussion of women’s ordination in the church recently.
Fiedler: I too liked those 2 interviews. But the two interviews that struck me most deeply were those with the two African women: Leymah Gbowee and Immaculee Illibagiza. I actually met Gbowee about three months after the interview when she came to the US and the DC area to receive a “Living Legends” award. She is every bit as powerful as her story! Organizing an interfaith coalition of women in Liberia to overthrow a dictator is no small feat! And Immaculee’s story still strikes me as one of the deepest examples of spirituality I’ve encountered… her willingness to forgive is something like one would read in the annals of saints, I think. I also felt that way about Hill, who claims no religious affiliation per se.
Editor’s Note: CNN’s Nicole Cukingnan files this report from Washington, DC about a religiously minded fashion company.
Former model Giselle Meza’s career allowed her to visit exotic locations and world-renowned sights, but it was witnessing the worst violations of human rights that stuck with her throughout the years.
“The more I would go on great assignments around the world and if we’re in Africa for a shoot…we were using that beautiful backdrop for pictures and for making so much money,” she said. “But behind me were these beautiful little children and women that were really just experiencing a lot of need and injustice.”
Out of her desire to help victims of human trafficking, Meza created Puresa Organics, a faith-based company whose goal is to empower women through spiritual, mental, physical, and emotional rehabilitation. The company then gives rescued women new skills and provides employment so that they are able to sustain themselves and start a new life.
Partnering with Project Rescue Nepal, the company started in 2007 with twelve rescued women and has grown to 265 in three years.
Project Rescue is another faith-based organization that aims to provide a safe haven for victims of sex trafficking.
Women and children are brought to the Puresa Organics center in Katmandu, Nepal where they are given medical attention, food, shelter, counseling, and eventually job training. They are taught how to sow and become part of the creative process in the design and production of the eco-friendly organic bags that the company sells to fund their mission.
Meza stresses the importance of spiritual counseling in the rehabilitation process.
“Most of the women in other programs commit suicide because there comes a point where there’s nothing above and beyond you that can continue to give hope. We try to holistically give them a complete restoration program and as well as employment,” she said.
The ministry aspect of Puresa Organics is evident through daily prayers, devotion time, bible studies, and regular church attendance.
“If you can imagine the tremendous healing that has to happen to each individual, that those memories may never go away,” she said. “Providing the spiritual aspect of it to us is so important because those girls and those women will always flashback to that but in providing the hope in God, they know that they have something else to grab onto.”
Interview Conducted on July 2, 2010
Bio: Afeefa Syeed is Senior Advisor at the U.S. Agency for International Development Middle East and Asia Bureaus, where she designs and implements initiatives and training on emerging programs, including engaging traditional and religious leaders and institutions, radicalization, and madrassah enhancement. She works with Washington based and mission staff to define best practices, highlight success stories, develop tools, and frame country strategies to bring expertise in engaging with the cultural contexts. Afeefa is a cultural anthropologist with a focus on grassroots development, with special interest in youth and women. She has worked for over 15 years with various international and grassroots NGOs and US and international development agencies, public and private. She designed and managed a model school whose core curriculum is peace education and civic engagement. She is a member of various interfaith, social service and political action organizations in the US.
What is your source of inspiration for the work you do? Can you reflect on what motivates you, both in the past along the path and today?
For me, much of what I have been doing through my life, regardless of job or position, comes as part of my identity, and that encompasses faith. My faith is very much embedded in a cross-faith understanding of justice. It is a way of life, the idea that faith itself grounds us in what we must or should do, as humanity. It is not religion itself, but a sense of connectivity that has shaped my experience.
This understanding and faith was shaped by my experience growing up, as a child of immigrant parents, by what my parents taught me and modeled, and what I have learned of my story and ancestral heritage along the way. They all conveyed an idea of spirituality that was an active spirituality. This was very much grounded in the inclusive practice of Sufism, and that in turn was part of the experience of my forefathers had as they migrated across Arabia, Cental Asia and then to Kashmir, where I was born and then imbibed through growing up in the multi fabric-ed American society It was a seamless part of the way I was raised. This spirituality is so multifaceted and grounded in my life experience that it is hard to say what dimension moves or motivates me. But it is integrated in a progression of how I understand, and have understood events and my surroundings at different levels as I have grown older. This spirituality is not just a force in itself but a connection to others, including to people from other faiths, or people of no faiths, as many people have experienced this applicability of spiritual approaches in their lives.
How has this shaped your understanding of what it takes to build peace?
In this context, my understanding of what peace building is about is a completely integral part of spirituality, and it is a spirituality that is a cornerstone of everything, and that moves us to action.
What grounds me in my focus on social justice or peace are above all the stories that I heard from a very young age, many coming from Islamic traditions, and then resonating in my American identity as well. Their message is that when you witness injustice, or something that does not serve humanity, you are called to take action. One story is about the Prophet Muhammad, who said, when you see injustice, you should do something with your hands- take action; if for some reason you can’t do it with your hands, do it with your tongue- speak out against the injustice and share with others. And if you can’t do with your tongue, if you cannot speak, do it within your heart or mind – feel bad about the injustice, do not settle for accepting it even in your heart, and seek guidance in approaching it. Here is where there is some sort of natural connection, a spirituality that is part of consciousness. Connection leads to action, whether it is for justice or peace. That is the least you can do, to be connected in consciousness, and it is an obligation. And this was easily reflected in all the great peacemakers I have studied and met from all corners of the world.
That is the mentality I grew up with, a life consciousness that has helped in shaping where and how I can act and what I should do. It has helped me to understand, as I have matured, that you have to choose your battles and helped determine what makes sense to do in a given situation. When I was much younger, I was much more vocal and out there, present at protests, ready to demonstrate, and prone to frustration. Now I have given much more thought to how to create change, and focus on how to establish the patterns and approaches that will not only bring change but also sustainable change, not just for a single group of people but for the community more broadly. I focus far more on how we change and on what it takes to have a lasting impact. That is also a factor in how I think about peace building: our approach needs to be integrated, very much focused on the long term, and accessible.
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In the face of great personal risk, Dr. Sakena Yacoobi founded the Afghan Institute of Learning (AIL) in 1995, eventually establishing 80 underground schools and educating 3,000 women and girls, defying Taliban rule. Today, AIL educates over 350,000 women and children every year and has reached over one million people.
CPWR: Tell us about your work with the Afghan Institute of Learning.
S. Yacoobi: I was in the U.S. completing my education when Russia was invading my country. I did not know if my family was alive or dead. I was very worried, so as soon as I completed my education, I returned home to find my country completely destroyed. I visited refugee camps and found that the people of Afghanistan were no longer the same. People were very different; people were sick, people were poor, people were refugees detained in camps, not having anything to do—women and children especially. There were no schools. It was heartbreaking. I felt miserable, and I said, “Well, I must do something.” The more I thought about it, the more I said, “What can I do to help?” I figured out that I could educate them realized that lack of educational opportunities had left my country vulnerable to invasion– and had ruined people’s lives. If we empower people with education, they will be able to think critically, and this will not happen again to Afghanistan.
CPWR: What sort of education does Afghan Institute of Learning provide?
S. Yacoobi: The best way to provide education is to provide teacher training, because if you have a good teacher in the classroom, you keep students. But if you don’t have a good teacher, especially for students who are traumatized, students who are just in the refugee camp, students who don’t have shelter, they will not stay in school. The best way to keep them engaged is to keep them challenged. Once you provide critical thinking, then you can transform individuals, because they can ask questions and they can have a sustainable life; they can begin to feel confidence. I started working in areas of education and health in the refugee camps during the Taliban. And it’s a great opportunity for me. I can see it has had a great impact on the people, because, day to day, I can see that people are changing. Women are actually going to school, they are getting jobs, they are building capacity, and they are learning skills. Health-wise, they are developing healthy habits, they really take care of their children and they are having fewer children. I can see all these changes. It has taken a long time and it will take time. In the 20 years I’ve worked in this area, I can see a difference.
CPWR: Twenty years ago you came to the realization that you had a unique role to fill for the empowerment of women and girls in Afghanistan. How did you go about establishing the underground schools? How did you recruit the potential teachers for the teacher training?
S. Yacoobi: During the Russian system of education, the Taliban didn’t support education. It was forbidden to provide education for women. I visited the refugee camp and I tried to convince a mullah to be a teacher and, of course, he thought I was crazy. I told him, “No, I will train you.” I went day to day for three months to different camps and tried to convince this mullah, who was a really old man, to be a teacher. He finally agreed. Because he was a respected leader in the community, people would come to his compound to learn. So that’s what I did. I hired him as a teacher, I paid his salary— I not only paid for his salary, but I provided the supplies and the tent. In one year, we went from one tent inside the compound to opening schools in the refugee camp, one after another. We had 16 schools and 1,700 students. We didn’t have to do anymore convincing because people knew what we were about, that we wanted to provide education, that we were not held back by custom and culture.
We started by listening to what the people wanted. We started school after school and continued to provide teacher training, and today we have about 17,000 teachers. We also have also a portable health clinic with a van and a doctor and a nurse to provide health services. Children are learning about their environment, how to be clean, how to wash their hands. These models have been successful because people really protect the schools. They are behind the schools. We also tried to teach them skills training such as tailoring. We started offering workshops on hygiene and sex education, leadership, management, and gender issues. Through these workshops, 5,000 people came. So far, we have a reached a million people inside Afghanistan, and we provide services for 350,000 women and children.
CPWR: That’s a tremendous impact.
S. Yacoobi: It’s a great impact. But still, we have a 13 million population and 7 million to reach, but it’s a start. Women are stronger, women are participating in the political arena, they have jobs, and they are bringing income to families. In our program, many are widows, and these widows are the sole breadwinners for 10 to 15 family members. It’s great to see how they begin to take confidence, and that’s really what we are after, you know.
CPWR: You sound optimistic about the future of women’s rights in Afghanistan.
S. Yacoobi: Absolutely. It is important for people to understand that education is a human right. Every individual has the right to education. Before, they didn’t understand; they didn’t understand that Islam gives this opportunity, that Islam provides gender equality. It provides a principle for democracy, if people can understand it, if people can re-interpret it, and this is what we are trying to do… to teach that all religions teach equality; that you should be gender sensitive. This is something that has become popular. People really want to know. Once they come to know, they follow it.
CPWR: Would you say that your work has become easier since the Taliban lost power?
S. Yacoobi: Yes, it has become much easier, because we did not have to be underground – we didn’t have to be hiding. Our main problem is lack of security. We are now allowed to do the work, but women are scared to travel, women are scared to be by themselves. The first four, five years of the new government were fantastic, you know. But these last two years have become harder. Nothing compares to the time of the Taliban. I can say to you now that the women are better off, of course. Still, we have a lot of violence and a lot of health issues. Providing support to families in far away villages is very hard because of security. People are poor, they don’t have housing, they don’t have water, they don’t have electricity, and they don’t have a road to go from one part of the country to the next. Lack of security enables more violence, more war inside Afghanistan. So, if the issue of security were taken care of, it would be fantastic, yes.
CPWR: Your country has been making headlines recently. Over $1 trillion in natural resources have been discovered and reports say Afghanistan may be one of the most important mining centers in the world. How do you think this will affect Afghanistan’s future?
S. Yacoobi: Well, to tell you the truth, the people of Afghanistan always knew that Afghanistan has lots of natural resources. They knew that because so many people are trying to get into Afghanistan. Always somebody comes and raids us, one after another, and we knew that something must be special about this country… so great that everybody wants a piece of it. But the people of Afghanistan will benefit only if there is security. If security is not there, I don’t think that the people of Afghanistan will benefit. We need to first take care of the security issue, because people are not safe in Afghanistan. There is war inside Afghanistan. Everyday there is a war. The second issue is that corruption is everywhere. If there is corruption, no matter how many resources the government or the country has, the people will suffer. I hope that somehow this resource will benefit civil society, because they are very poor, they don’t have enough. My people have suffered for 30 years. They are refugees. And we still have 1.5 million refugees in Pakistan. I hope this resource will be a great help for the people of Afghanistan. Not intercepted by corrupted people, you know?
CPWR: Do you think the discovery of these natural resources will or can help strengthen your cause?
S. Yacoobi: It should go to education because if this goes to the right area, Afghanistan society will benefit. Education is the key issue for infrastructure. If this resource is being spent in the right place, we can educate society; society that is well educated will have good lawyers, good doctors, good scientists, and good teachers. Then our country will not have to look to somebody else to provide. They can have these skills; they can do it by themselves. If we have high technology, we can one day provide for ourselves, and that is my hope.
CPWR: What’s the most challenging aspect of your work?
S. Yacoobi: Security. Security is the first challenge. If security is taken care of, we can go province to province of Afghanistan and implement programs. The second challenge is the lack of resources, lack of funding. We don’t have enough funding. Thousands of people are waiting to get into the program and want us to open additional trainings in different provinces of Afghanistan. Human resources are lacking, because we lost all of our educated people during the war. Our government is facing problems because we don’t have human resources. We don’t have people who are skilled specialists, people who are highly educated.
CPWR: What can the global community do in order to help your work in empowering women?
S. Yacoobi: I hope that the global community can see the Afghan people, especially Afghan women, as courageous and not submissive. There are brave and courageous women in Afghanistan… very talented women. We have young women who are so smart, so intelligent. If opportunities are given to them, they can create … they are very creative. People want to do things for themselves, and the only way we can offer this is to give enough training to our people. Once we train people, we bring a skill, and, in turn, they can support us. I would like the international community to understand that lots of training needs to be done in this country, and once we get it we will be able to do it. I really appreciate funding very, very much, because then I can spend more time inside Afghanistan and do my trainings. I spend most of my time outside my country, because I have to do fundraising. I am only one individual, so, of course, God has been helping me. But it has been very tough, and it always will be.
CPWR: Yes, funding is key for providing the opportunity to the women and children of Afghanistan. If anyone reading here would like to support your work financially, how might they do so?
S. Yacoobi: The best way is to support the work of Creating Hope International. Its webpage is www.creatinghopeinternational.org. That is the way you can reach out to my program.
CPWR: Is there anything else can we do to help support your work other than through making donations to the website?
S. Yacoobi: The first thing I want to say that you can pray for my country and for my people, because, really, we need the prayers. Prayer is the best thing for us. And second thing is share the information about my program with others.
CPWR: Yes, yes. We would be delighted to. We’d love to.
S. Yacoobi: Thank you.
CPWR: Thank you. Dr. Yacoobi, what do you consider to be your most significant achievement?
S. Yacoobi: When I see children going to school. When they smile, when they are happy, when they can freely play I am most satisfied. When I first visited refugee camps and followed the children around… they were crying… they were sad. Their eyes told their story. But now when you see them and they are happy and smile, that is the greatest achievement I could ever imagine.
CPWR: How has your work been shaped by your faith?
S. Yacoobi: I strongly believe that I’ve been able to do my work because I have a strong faith. I really believe in God. I am a Muslim. I practice my religion, but I am not a fanatic Muslim. I believe that God gave us this opportunity and flexibility, especially when speaking about the Qur’an. Qur’an offers text that is timeless — for 10-15 years from now or 100 years from today. It is a text that you can use as a resource and apply that knowledge in everyday life.
I believe that God is with me – always protecting me. People say, “How could you survive, and aren’t you scared?” And I say “No, I am not scared; first of all, because I have a strong belief in God, and I know that God is protecting me every step of my life, and He has been guiding me.” Otherwise, for me, just myself, to be able to reach 7 million people, to be able to provide almost $3 million in funding to my cause… any other way… would be impossible. He has been providing for me and He has been guiding me. I have a strong belief, and I consider my faith a big part of my life.
CPWR: What sort of steps do you believe must be taken in order achieve harmony among the different religions of the world? Where do you think we should begin?
S. Yacoobi: Religion is global. Everybody has a religion. And I think we should respect each other’s religion, and we should not discriminate against anyone’s religion. I also believe that every religion has something good to offer. I feel that if we really put aside our differences and work on our commonalities, we will achieve a lot.
CPWR: Can you share about your experience at the 2009 Parliament?
S. Yacoobi: The event meant so much to me. First of all, I was exposed to so many wonderful people. When you go to a conference and see so many different people from different nationalities, different backgrounds, different faiths, this was so wonderful. I met one individual that I will never forget – a very spiritual and wise individual who I’ve learned so much from. I have been talking with this individual afterward. I learned so much; everybody was so kind, generous, wise, and I learned a lot, yes.
CPWR: Would you share with us the most meaningful moment for you at the 2009 Parliament?
S. Yacoobi: When I was at the Parliament, I felt a sense of solidarity. In the moment when I was standing at the podium, I saw so many great and wonderful people who, from their heart, shared with me and listened to what was happening to me and to my country. I appreciated that very, very much.
CPWR: What message would you most like to share with us today?
S. Yacoobi: Well, today I would like to share with you that I am at a conference here and that I am getting an award, and it is wonderful. This award is not only for me; it’s for all the women of Afghanistan. When I achieve, I feel good because this recognizes the work of the women of Afghanistan. I would like to share with you that this is not my award. This award is for the women of Afghanistan and for the children of Afghanistan and for the suffering that they have undergone. One of the reasons I am successful- as individual I am successful- is because I really believe strongly in my religion. I want to share that every individual needs structure in their life, and that structure is their religion.
CPWR: Thank you so much for your time. And congratulations on receiving the award. What institution is presenting the award to you, and what’s the name of the award?
S. Yacoobi: The Global Health Council is giving me an award. It’s called the Jonathan Mann Award.
CPWR: Well, congratulations on it! What an honor. Lastly, if you could only share one final thought with us, what would it be?
S. Yacoobi: Be yourself. Offer yourself to the world. Always be yourself.
CPWR: Ah, how true. Yes.
S. Yacoobi: Very important. Thank you very much. I really appreciate your time also and your good questions. And I am looking forward to when maybe I can see you.
CPWR: Yes, hopefully at the 2014 Parliament, if not sooner? It would be lovely to have you there.
S. Yacoobi: Yes, I am looking forward to it. Thank you, thank you very much.
CPWR: Thank you so much, Dr. Yacoobi.
S. Yacoobi: Wonderful talking to you. Thank you.