“O ye who believe! stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to God, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be (against) rich or poor: for God can best protect both. Follow not the lusts (of your hearts), lest ye swerve, and if ye distort (justice) or decline to do justice, verily God is well-acquainted with all that ye do.” (4:135)
It is often said that Muslim women are one of the least empowered groups in society. While some blame the religious traditions, they ignore the importance placed on women in society in early Islamic history. Using misinterpretations of Islamic texts and cultural justifications, patriarchal systems have consistently pushed women to the fringes, creating environments where women are largely unable to make their own decisions regarding career, family, and health. However, women today are reclaiming this space of authority and agency in order to protect and promote their dignity.
A woman’s decision to marry or not marry is greatly affected by family and social pressure. As a result, women such as Yomna Mokhtar, are attempting to increase options available to women. Mokhtar’s newly created Spinsters for Change, a network for young Muslim women in Egypt, aims to end prevailing attitudes surrounding marriage and family for women.
Early and forced marriages, as well as the sometimes severe limitations on women’s divorce, violate the dignity of Muslim women in many places. Yet the idea that a woman’s marriage partner should be determined primarily by the preferences of her family is being challenged at such forums as the Doha Debates. WISE woman Nadia al-Sakkaf and the Yemen Times have successfully ended the early and forced marriages of three young girls in Yemen, as well as influenced the Yemeni government to repeal laws permitting such early marriages. Suraya Pakzad, another WISE woman, runs an Afghanistan-based shelter and social services center for women with limited options in divorcing their husband. This provides women with options for recourse and opportunities to continue their lives in a dignified manner.
Many efforts also exist to place decisions on women’s health back in women’s hands. For example, WISE woman Dr. Adriana Kaplan has established forums to address the issues and legislation surrounding Female Genital Cutting (FGC) in order to eliminate the practice and its attached religious stigma.