January 28, 2021

VOICES | This is why women in conservative Islamic states are fighting for their rights.

Photo, A woman wearing a red hijab. Photo by Ekrulila from Pexels

The phrase “revolutionary” seems to be an over-used adjective in advocating for women’s rights. However, to women in countries where Islamic conservatism is rife amid prolonged calls that have now become a rallying cry demanding that women’s rights be taken seriously as human rights, that phrase automatically becomes their fixated reality.

The year 2020 began on a high note and is promising to be a year of winning for human rights activists in Iran and Sudan. What’s fascinating is that these women can now hopefully draw inspiration from the act of courage displayed by Iran’s only Olympic female medalist Shohreh Bayat who is not only serving as an Iranian Chess master and referee but also as a powerful figure changing the narrative of women and girls in Islamic conservative states.

The 32-year old’s defiant stance in refusing to wear her hijab in public as demanded under Islamic law might have infuriated conservatives in her country, but for human rights activists and women in particular who are currently subjugated under the same repressive law, it is a revolutionary step which I foresee will be used intensively in lobbying for the abolishment of these harsh laws which handicaps women’s freedom of expression.

“..women in Islamic conservative states are tired of radical religious suppression,”

The message standing out is that women in Islamic conservative states are tired of radical religious suppression, but as it is, revolution doesn’t happen overnight.

The absurdity of this case is that there has been a plethora of commitments and agreements advocating for the total emancipation of women since time immemorial.

For instance, Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) that were adopted in September 2015 after the expiration of Millennium Development
Goals (MDG), targeted that by 2020 there must be the elimination of all forms of violence against all women and girls in public and private spheres according to goal 5:2, yet discrimination and suppression are still rife in conservative Islamic states such as Iran and Sudan. Furthermore, Article 2 of the Universal Declaration of human rights applies all rights and freedoms equally to men and women and prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex.

The Convention on the Elimination of Violence Against Women also covers physical, psychological violence. A few interventions have been done, women in Saudi Arabia, a conservative Islamic state also will soon be allowed to obtain passports and travel without the permission of a male relative.

This small positive move in the right direction is worth celebrating although Iran as a United Nations member and one of the countries where conservative Islamic laws are rife has been criticized numerous times for it’s continued discrimination and suppression of women’s rights. This proves that rigid Islamic laws remain a cause for concern.

Moreover, an article published by the Center for Inquiry stated that “religion in general and Islam, in particular, are women’s enemy”.

“The hijab has been a symbol of women’s subjugation, inferiority,”

For instance, the Islamic religion requires women to wear the hijab. It teaches them to limit their physical movements and free behavior. That on its own is problematic; when one has limited access to the entire world, their views become one dimensional and they live their entire lives making decisions that are influenced by a one-dimensional world. Such a practice is catastrophic since 21st-century women are playing significant roles in different aspects of life.

The hijab has been a symbol of women’s subjugation, inferiority, hence the defiant act displayed by Shohreh to take it off in public is highly significant.

The act is meant to break the ice that has culminated over a long time and this could set women in conservative Islamic states free

Lastly, it’s certain, a new decade is synonymous with change, meaningful change that will overpower the status quo. Daring rigid religious laws such as Islamic laws can be a very daunting and dangerous factor that can leave one’s nerves wrecking in a bid to understand whether religious conservatism can be tamed or not. I, however, respect people’s opinions and believe they are right in whatever way they opine.

I guess only time will tell how things will turn out. That was my opinion, let’s hear yours!

Writes Yunah Bvumbwe

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