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Raheel Raza: Answering Women on Women’s Day

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Women celebrate Women's Day in the USA at the Statue of Liberty (Photo: Lars Niki/Getty Images)
Women celebrate Women’s Day in the USA at the Statue of Liberty (Photo: Lars Niki/Getty Images)

On March 8, International Women’s Day, I sent a message of greetings to all my female friends. Most responded with the same, but two friends from Pakistan (my land of birth) wrote back a slick response: “Every day is Women’s Day.”

Seriously? I ask which part of la-la- land do they live in? They obviously have no clue about what’s happening around them.

While there are some rays of good hope in the women’s movement (mostly centered around the Western world), the state of women in many parts of the Third World and especially Muslim-majority societies is still appalling to say the least.

My friends who live in the lap of luxury should ask the women of Afghanistan who are now terrified of their future as the U.S. signs a so-called peace treaty with the Taliban.

After painstakingly building up institutions and women’s schools, Afghan women are fearful that they will face a backlash from the murderous Taliban who have already declared that sharia law is the only law that will prevail.

This brings back terrible memories of flogging, beating, being forced to cover and staying indoors for the women.

Ask the women of Sri Lanka where activist Soraya Deen works with communities trying to assist women in their rights. The prevailing atmosphere of misogynist Wahhabi/Salafi teachings has taken Muslim Sri Lankans by storm, and the political situation there only adds to their troubles.

Ask the women of Iraq, where the age of marriage has been brought down to nine and where women who rally for their human rights have been attacked and threatened.

Ask the women of Iran who are jailed, tortured and sometimes even murdered for the “crime” of uncovering their heads or questioning the regime. There are hundreds of cases of Iranian women trying to bring about change who are being forcefully stopped.

Ask the women in Lebanon who are being trafficked as sex slaves. According to the Women’s UN Report Network (WUNRN), at least 800 women – refugees from Syria — have been forced into prostitution there.

Most importantly for my two Pakistani friends, they should look in their own backyard.

Thousands of brave and visionary women gathered for the “Aurat” (Women’s) March only to have received furious backlash and threats.

The reason cited is use of the slogan “mera jism meri marzi” (my body, my choice). Conservative critics, including the religious Right, translate this as meaning sexual freedom and have condemned usage of the slogan.

There is nothing they would like more than to confine women within the four walls of their homes and never hear their voices (which are also considered to be sinful) again.

There is also hope in the work being done by thousands of women across the globe to change the status quo. I am inspired by the women of Sudan who have almost led a revolution and the activists in Jordan who are helping change the law on honor killings and the list goes on.

But we have a long way to go before we can smugly say “Every day is women’s day.”

 

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Raheel Raza

Raheel Raza is a spokesperson for Clarion Project and of president of Muslims Facing Tomorrow.

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