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College hosts panel on empowerment of Muslim women

Cealy Glover | Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Scholars approached the hot-button issue of women’s rights in the Muslim world at a panel held Tuesday at Saint Mary’s College in the Vander Vennet Theatre.

Three members of the panel,”Women and Empowerment in the Muslim World: Varied Perspectives,” shared perspectives on why women in the Muslim world often are treated as inferior to men.

Nabila Feroz Bhatti, women’s rights activist and native Pakistani, discussed the social and political forces opposing gender equality in Pakistan.

“Pakistan is the third most dangerous country for women’s rights,” Bhatti said. “Today, Pakistani women are facing socio-economic and political challenges in their struggle for equality.”

Arabic professor Soraya Wirth said Islam is not inherently opposed to gender equality, especially with regard to education.

“Islam recognizes men and women as … equal but different,” Wirth said. “According to the Quran, all people, men and women, are expected to obtain knowledge.”

Wirth said the Quran does not require that a woman take her husband’s last name, that a man punish his wife physically or that a woman wear a hijab, the traditional Muslim head covering.

The Quran also depicts women as being equally worthy of entering heaven, she said.

“The Quran says that all should enter into paradise. It doesn’t say ‘men’ should enter, but ‘all,'” Wirth said.

Dr. Roy Seitz, a marine physician previously stationed in Afghanistan, analyzed the issue from a militaristic standpoint. He attributed much of the injustice against women to the Taliban.

“Although my perspective is limited to the rural areas of Afghanistan, the Taliban seemed to be directly related to the violence that occurred with both men and women,” Seitz said.

Seitz said he had little interaction with the Afghan women, who were more inclined to speak with the female Marines.

“The women steered clear of us and I really felt like they didn’t want our help. It seemed like they were, in a way, scared that we would westernize them,” Dr. Seitz said.

Seitz relayed an anecdote of an encounter with a woman and child in Afghanistan as evidence of Afghani women’s attitude toward the West.

“I remember one day when we were traveling through a town and a woman was on the side of the road with her child,” Seitz said. “Immediately when we passed her she hid her child behind her back. It was like she didn’t want the child to even see us.”

Senior Jessica Cross said the panel offered an interesting complement to her coursework on the topic.

“This panel was a great addition to the Gender and Politics course I am currently taking,” she said. “The panel did a great job at showing different perspectives on women in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and [under] Islam in general.”