Monthly Archives: October 2017

Can Women Have Rights in Islam?

I know that by saying this many eyebrows will be raised: Islam is a modern religion with the aim of emancipation. Yes, I know, looking at the Burka of Afghan women, looking at the hijab of Iranian women, reading that FGC is mostly done in the Islamic countries of Africa, reading how poorly women in Islamic countries are treated does not really prove my point. But give me a chance to explain my point without stopping to read my paper, and I am sure that at the end of this you will understand my statement.

Since it would be too broad to consider all the Islamic countries, I will concentrate on Iran as a sample and compare it to some other Islamic countries when necessary.
Before the islamization of Persia, Persians were mainly Zoroastrians. Women had numerous rights: right to divorce, right to own real property, right of leadership etc. I could go on and on. The other Middle Eastern countries did not have any of those rights. Women were seen as “birth-machines” for male production only. Now, do not ask me how they imagined future reproduction without girls!

Islam came from Saudi Arabia, a country where girls were buried right after their birth and women who dared to give birth to baby girls were mostly kicked out of their homes, had to see their husbands bringing other women into their homes to finally produce a male child. Women had no right to education, nor to real property and were seen as property of their fathers first and then their husbands. The motto was very simple: Be happy that I allow you to live at all.
When Islam was introduced to Saudi Arabia, the Koran (translated meaning: recitation) became a revolutionary rule-book. Not only did it speak about how to believe in God and how to appreciate nature, but additionally it spoke about family law, about wills and inheritance, and about women.

Many might be surprised to hear that Islam is the first world religion, dedicating one chapter (sure) to women (Sure 4, Nessah). It speaks about giving girls the right to live, and that those parents who buried their baby girls should fear the Judgment Day, since those girls would want to know why they had to die because of their gender. It continues about the woman in the marriage, and it also speaks about divorce. Unlike most other religions, Islam does give women the right of requesting a divorce for numerous reasons (one of them being if the husband does not pay any sexual attention to her).

It continues with the rights of women after their divorce, indicating that no man should mistreat his ex-wife; neither should he take their children away, mostly not if they are still being nursed by her. He should give her dowry and make sure that she is provided for. [[4.4] And give women their dowries as a free gift, but if they of themselves be pleased to give up to you a portion of it, then eat it with enjoyment and with wholesome result.]
After saying all of this I can imagine anyone asking me: if this religion is so modern, why are women in Islamic countries treated so poorly?

For being able to answer this question, I will give you a little historical background of Islam: As I mentioned above, before Islam women had basically no rights. And while reading Islamic rules now, we do not have to look at them from our modern, maybe western point of view, but mostly from the eyes of the women from 1,400 years ago. I give you one sample: Islamic rules indicate that in a legal situation, one would need two female witnesses, which would be the equivalent to one male witness. I have to admit, the first time I read this in the Koran, I was furious! What does that mean? Are women worth half of a man? The answer is NO! Put yourself in the same position of an Arab woman in the year 600 B.C.: You had no rights before Islam, and now you can even become a witness. Now, how does that sound? Or another sample: You were not able to stay in your house if your husband decided to leave you, and now he has to make sure that you will do fine after a divorce. See the difference?

Another question people usually ask me is about the hijab. Hijab means cover in Arabic. I did a lot of research on this, since the Islamic revolution, which required that (literally from one day to another) women should wear a scarf over their head and a longer coat or a veil (chador). I could not understand why women should cover themselves up, while men could walk around anyhow they wanted. While no where in the Koran is written that a woman should wear a Burka or cover her head, I found a historical explanation: The head cover was originally for the Prophet Muhammad’s wife, or any other female related to the Bani-Hashem Family and the Quaraish tribe (While Surnames did not exist at that time in history, people used their tribal names to indicate where they belonged to.). Originally this cover was meant to make a distinction between the women form the higher groups and the working class women. Similar to the difference between women in the US Northern and Southern States: women of the South, who had their slaves working for them on the farms, were not supposed to have a tanned skin, since it would show that they were working outside.

Here, it was supposed to show a woman’s cleanliness to cover her head in order for her not to get dust or dirt into her hair. The body cover also is not written literally in the Koran, but is based on history. Saudi Arabia is geographically one of the hottest countries on the globe. With temperatures of around 120 F (50 Celsius) in the summer, it is logical that people like to wear fewer clothes. And since back then women did not have any rights, imagine who would have come to rescue a woman in case of a sexual crime? Exactly: no one! To protect women the Koran indicated that women should cover the space between their shoulders, meaning their cleavage and should not show their body jewelry. (At that time working women would wear ankle bracelets with bell-charms, which would make a tremendous sound while walking.) Now you will probably ask: Why are women then wearing the hijab or Burka?

First, let us look at Iran. Iran is the only country where women wear their head scarves differently than in the other Islamic countries. In Taliban- Afghanistan women were forced to wear a Burka, in Saudi Arabia they also wear a Burka, which looks different than the Afghan one. In conclusion one could say that the different understanding of the koranic word of “cover your cleavage” is based on the geographical location of the practicing countries. In Pre-Islam Iran women were wearing something similar to the “Greek-dress”, a simple dress with a shawl in the back. The shawl became the head cover. In Saudi Arabia, people did not want to compromise and covered the whole woman. Do you see the difference? It is not Islam indicating what women should wear; it is the original tradition of the countries adapting their life styles to their understanding of the Islamic way of life.

The second question I am usually asked is about the famous Islamic statement, why men can have four wives, and that this would degrade women. First of all, the Koran does not say that any man can have four wives. There are numerous conditions on that statement: first, the man must be financially sound, he has to have the permission of his first wife, and most importantly he has to have some supporting reasons. If for example, his wife is ill, or she can not bear any children (see the difference to the pre-Islam time: the Koran does not make a gender differentiation), and most of all treat them all equally. [[4.3] And if you fear that you cannot act equitably towards orphans, then marry such women as seem good to you, two and three and four; but if you fear that you will not do justice (between them), then (marry) only one or what your right hands possess; this is more proper, that you may not deviate from the right course.] In case he does not, any of the women could request a divorce.

I believe the latter one explains everything! I can not even treat two pairs of shoes the same way! How should it be possible to treat two women exactly the same? Hence, one can see that the Koran makes it very difficult for men to take advantage of the rule. But, before closing this chapter I should explain why it is written in the book at all. Again, this has protective reasons for women. At a time in history, where women were not able to work, where society would treat a widowed woman poorly, or where a woman who did not have any male supporters was seen as an easy target, a man who was financially sound, and hence able to support her, was allowed to have another wife. This was also the Islamic way of keeping women away from prostitution.
I could go on and on and bring you more samples. However, concluding I would say that Islam does give women a lot of rights.

Sadly, around 80% of the Islamic population is illiterate, and from that number more than half are women. Some people take advantage of their illiteracy by saying that no matter what gets done with them, they should obey, since this is the Islamic way. The countries traditions do not want women to be able to read and write, in order for them to read the Koran and become able to defend themselves based on the Islamic rules. Unfortunately the newest political developments and the involvement of terrorists in the name of Islam put a bad light on a religion, which was supposed to bring people closer and give women rights. Personally it makes me very sad and upset to see how people, who do not understand anything about Islam, act and try to explain their un-Islamic actions under the guise of the religion.

Status of a Woman

INTRODUCTION

There is an extreme manifestation of unequal social relations between men and women within the family and the economy. The state fails to transform the existing social relations based on dependence, oppression and exploitation. Socio economic arrangements of sex / gender based disparity are reflected in lower wages for women, their under reporting in the labour force and the disadvantaged position of women in health and education. The constitution of India declared the equality of sex as a guiding principle. As such family should be basically an egalitarian unit founded on equal rights of the individuals who form a family. The subordination of women to men pervades family life in all classes and castes in India.

WOMEN IN INDIAN SOCIETY

A study on the status of women in Indian history is a difficult task for several reasons. The idea of better status for Indian women has been slowly evolving, through social and religious reforms and change. It had several ups and downs. In fact, the real emancipation of women began with education, occupational mobility, diversification of their roles, changes in child marriage, widow remarriage, sati and the like. Woman is the companion of man gifted with equal mental capacities. She has the right to participate in the minutest details of activities of man and she has the same rights of freedom and liberty. Indian women have diverse multi-dimensional characteristics. They have progressive as well retrogressive, roles and values among several religious and caste groups all over India. Most of them are housewives. The urban women are better placed and have benefited from the existing opportunities for development at a faster rate than the rural. In the field of science and technology they now play a great role. They have many hurdles to overcome yet.

GENDER BIAS IN INDIAN SOCIETY

In a patriarchal society like India, repression of the women has always been justified as a natural thing. Indian thinkers and social activists did not take the issue of gender stratification very seriously. Indian Constitution and legislations provide equal status to men and women. According to Article 14 of the constitution, the state shall not deny any person equality before the law. But in reality, all women do not enjoy this equality of status with men. Especially in the home, married women are likely to experience relative inequality due to patriarchal mind sets, rigid sex role stereotypes and socio-economic powerlessness. In India, the family is mainly patriarchal and patrilineal which denies egalitarian gender relations. There prevails a great gender bias in society which stops women from coming forward on any front of life.

TECHNIQUES FOR THE ATTAINMENT OF GENDER EQUALITY

Conscientization of Women

Conscientization of women makes them aware about their social economic conditions, their duties and rights and the way to break the chains of their ignorance.

Building confidence in women

Unless and until, confidence is built in women that they are no way inferior to men and society, they will not be able to recognize their identity and their role in society.
Change in social Attitude

We can make laws and enact legislations, but legislations alone are not going to stop atrocities on women. These can be stopped only when we in society build public opinion against these atrocities. For this, there is a need to change social attitude towards women.

Collective Awareness

Collective awareness should be brought amongst women about their roles and rights in the society. For this, action may be initiated through mass mobilization of women for their empowerment. Media can play an important role to bring about radical changes in the attitudes of people in society.

WOMEN’S STATUS

According to 2001 census the sex ratio is 933 females per 1000 males. The adverse sex ratio and its decline age groups has emerged as matter of concern in India. Preference for sons, intra-household gender discrimination and limited access to health care can explain this trend. India has enacted legislation banning the use of prenatal diagnostic techniques for sex determination. Efforts are being undertaken for implementing a master plan of action to tackle the problems of violence against girl children through infanticide, sex selection and trafficking.

FIVE YEAR PLANS AND WOMEN’S DEVELOPMENT

The approach to women’s development in first five year plan (1951-1956) was not clear. Women were projected as beings in need of education, health and welfare services only. The Central Social Welfare Board (CSWB) set up in 1953, undertook to promote a number of welfare measures through voluntary organisations. Manila Mandals were promoted for rendering essential services of education and health both by the CSWB and community Development program through the first and second five year plans. The third, fourth and fifth plans continued the same approach without giving any support to the strategies of development perspectives and empowerment of women. The sixth five year plan (1979-84) failed to remove disparity and injustice in both social and economic life. The seventh five year plan (1985-90) highlighted the strategy of direct attack on the problems of poverty, unemployment and the provision of gainful employment to the women and youth.

The strategy in eighth plan (1993-97) was “to ensure that the benefits of development from different sectors do not by-pass women and special programmes were implemented to complement the general programmes”. Education and nutrition, legal literacy and “changes in social attitudes and perceptions in regard to the role of women were mentioned as essential for empowerment. The most dramatic development during this period was the passing of 73 rd and 74th (constitutional) amendment in 1992 making provision for reservation of one third of seats for women in the local bodies. The Ninth plan (1997-2002) declared the empowerment as one of the objectives of the plan. The strategy of empowerment of women was through women’s Self-Help Groups.

NATIONAL POLICY FOR THE EMPOWERMENT OF WOMEN -2001

The policy document is devised into seventeen sections. A number of steps were taken to build a strong foundation for empowering women and making them participants in decision making. The goal of the policy is to bring about the advancement, development and empowerment of women. The objectives of this policy include full development of women, enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedom, equal access to participation and decision making to health care, quality education, employment, elimination of all forms of discrimination against women, changing societal attitudes, elimination of all forms of violence against women and building and strengthening partnership with civil society particularly women’s organisations.

CONCLUSION

While a number of legislative measures were adopted to guarantee legal equality to women, in practice these measures could not reorient and redefine the new roles that women are expected to take up. Legislation alone cannot create proper environments for eliminating gender inequalities, and transform the unequal social relations based on oppression and exploitation. We need a radical reformation in the organization of economy along with a radical change in the structure of family, including reorganization of our attitudes towards gender relations. Women should be perceived as producers and participants, not merely clients for welfare.

What Kills Women?

Many individuals still believe that the most deadly disease among women is breast cancer, not cardiovascular disease. This article discusses how this myth developed. In addition it discusses which women are at greater risk for breast cancer, and for cardiovascular disease and why? It also discusses In the case of cardiovascular disease why women have poorer health outcomes than men. The primary, secondary, and tertiary preventions implemented for breast cancer and cardiovascular disease and their effectiveness are also discussed.

Women are at a greater risk of dying from heart disease as compared to other disease, including breast cancer. Still, many view heart disease as a middle age man’s disease. This myth developed because heart disease has been seen as a man’s disease and breast cancer as a women’s. There was insufficient research in the area of heart disease to find out that women express heart disease differently than men (Condon, 2004). Initially, research was conducted on men due to their greater accessibility. For example, heart disease has different symptoms in men and women. Men experience an aching pain, whereas women may experience a dull pain, dizziness, sickness, shortness of breath, or sweatiness, which resembles anxiety or stress (Kornstein & Clayton, 2002). Women’s symptoms were not reported, and often heart disease went undiagnosed in women. The public has been made aware of the threat of breast cancer to a greater extent than with heart disease. Awareness of heart disease in women is slowly increasing.

Any person that partakes in behaviors and circumstances that cause injury to the inner lining of the bloods vessels that supply the heart and brain with oxygen and nutrition is at an increased risk for heart disease (Condone, 2004). Women who smoke, eat a poor diet, are overweight, have a sedentary lifestyle, or are of a low socioeconomic level are more at risk for heart disease and breast cancer. Other risk factors include, increasing age, menopause, male sex, family history and heredity, diabetes, high blood pressure, or cholesterol (Condone, 2004; Kornstein & Clayton, 2002). African American women have a greater risk of heart disease, stroke, and more severe blood pressure than Europeans. Incidence of heart disease is higher among Mexican Americans, American Indians, and Native Hawaiians (Condon, 2004).

Women who are increasing in age have an increased risk for heart disease and breast cancer. Women who have reached menopause are at a greater risk because estrogen can protect against heart disease as it maintains cholesterol. With menopause is a lowering of estrogen and women are left more vulnerable. Estrogen replacement can reduce most of the risk factors (Condon, 2004). Breast cancer increases with age, as women age 30, 1 out of 5900 will have breast cancer whereas women age 70, 1 in 330 will have it (Condon, 2004). This may be due to an increase in age, being associated with an increased exposure to ovarian hormones, external estrogens, and environmental toxins. External estrogen increases the risk of heart disease and decreases health (Condon, 2004).

In people under 50, obesity poses a greater risk for coronary artery disease as it increases strain on the heart and increases the risk of diabetes (Condone, 2004). Diabetes is more serious for women than in men. Women diabetics are three to seven times more likely to develop heart disease than a non-diabetic, whereas men are only two to three times more likely. This may be due to the strong negative effect diabetes has on lipid levels and blood pressure in women (Condone, 2004).

Smokers are more at risk for heart disease. Nicotine constricts blood vessels and increases abnormal plaque formation on the walls of the vessels (Condon, 2004).

Smoking also increases the release of catecholamines into the blood and lowers estrogen levels. This causes levels of undesirable low density lipoprotein to increase and the levels of heart protective high density lipoprotein to decrease. In addition, nicotine masks chest pain and increases platelet aggregation. It also lowers oxygen levels (Condone, 2004). There is a clear risk associated with cigarette smoking, high estrogen contraceptives, and risk of heart disease in women over age 35 (Kornstein & Clayton, 2002).

A lack of social support, depression, anxiety, hostility, social isolation, and low or no religious involvement are associated with an increased risk of heart disease as these factors are associated with an increase in stress (Condon, 2004). This is especially true for those of a lower socioeconomic status. Stress increases the release of catecholamines and free radical damage to the coronary arteries (Condon, 2004).

African Americans, the elderly, and those with less education and from a lower socioeconomic group are at an increased risk of developing heart disease. The higher rate of heart disease in ethnicities is partially due to higher rates of obesity and diabetes within these cultures (Condon, 2004). Minorities in many circumstances have less contact with healthcare. Their healthcare is also of lesser quality. Illnesses are less likely to be detected early and early detection increases survival. Both breast cancer and heart disease need to be diagnosed and treated as soon as possible (Condon, 2004).

African Americans have double the rate of cardiovascular disease. African Americans have an additional 22-40 percent chance of dying after a myocardial infraction (Condon, 2004). They are also more than twice as likely to suffer death and disability from stroke. Heart disease is the leading cause of death ages 30-39 years (Kornstein & Clayton, 2002).

African American women experience breast cancer less than white women, but die from it more frequently then white women. African Americans are less likely to get tested early for heart disease and breast cancer. They are unlikely to devote attention to a problem that “might” exist (Condone, 2004). Many of these women carry heavy social burdens that prevent them from getting preventative healthcare and early treatment for health problems. In regards to breast cancer, by the time a lump is found, the cancer has already been growing. This is why breast cancer needs to be detected as soon as possible, before it spreads to other areas of the body (Condon, 2004). Breast cancer death rates are decreasing, but not for African Americans, which suggests these women do not have the access to the healthcare that white women do and are not receiving the much needed clinical breast examinations and mammography screenings (Condone, 2004).