Friday, March 25, 2016

Women opposing Islamic Extremism: The need for change and support

This panel discussion was hosted by the Women’s Freedom Forum a women’s rights education organization affiliated with the United Nations Department of Public Information. This organization aims to raise issues relating to women’s equality, human rights, and empowerment. They believe in the need to uplift women in the middle east through legitimizing their voices and shared experiences.

In the first half of the panel discussion two women discussed their understanding of women living in societies oppressed by Islamic extremism. The first speaker was Antonia Felix, a political biographer for 25 years. She described stories of Islamic extremism in which women still endure disturbing consequences for their actions such as stoning, acid, and female genital mutilation. In order overcome such helplessness and brutality, she believes that it is important to incorporate women in the peacemaking process, provide women with an optional view of Islam, enforce laws that oppose violence against women, encourage women to join police forces and enact change themselves, and, lastly, use social media to gather support.

The second speaker named Fran Belisle, a former diplomat at the U.S. embassies in Algiers, Ankara and Canada, as well as an expert relating to military, international issues, politics and law, discussed women empowerment under Islamic extremism by describing a close friend who risks her life working with the United States in Algeria. Being a career women, a mother, and a practicing Muslim, her friend illustrates a clear example of women empowerment in the face of Islamic extremism.

While the first section of the panel was helpful in setting the overall landscape of women experiencing Islamic fundamentalism, the following discussion provided a powerful example of the frustration and passion of actual women experiencing this issue. For example, a major frustration talked about in detail involved how to combat fundamentalism in locations with a less functional government. The speakers explained that once empowered women are involved in their respective societies there is a faster transition toward stabilizations. Once women are empowered, the government begins to stabilize. However, this is not necessarily a short-term solution because women are not protected by law. In order produce change, mothers must speak to their children about opposing fundamentalist groups, and women must work together and share their concerns during times of need. Another example of the frustration felt by women under Islamic fundamentalism involved religion and interpretation based on context. As one audience member expressed, Islam does not promote violence but does not necessarily advocate gender equality. Therefore, women must provide an education for their children that encourages gender cohesion and resistance against fundamentalist groups.  

This discussion truly provided a face to the immense frustrations felt by women who have experienced the oppressive nature of Islamic fundamentalism. There need for feasible solutions and support is undeniable.

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