Empowering Women:  Need of the Hour
By Laila Alikhan

Irvine , CA : “I look out for news and if a Pakistani or Muslim has done something bad, I stay back from school. I am afraid,” sadly laments a sixth-grade Pakistani-Muslim girl from Brooklyn, New York.

Unfortunately the words of this young girl reflect the feelings of many Muslims around the world including the United States.  With the current state of world affairs, Muslims in the West have been undergoing an ‘identity-crisis’ with themselves and those that live around them.

Women in general and Muslim women in particular are suffering the most under cultural, ethnic, social, and religious banners. Despite many international agreements affirming their human rights, women are still much more likely than men to be poor and illiterate.

They usually have less access than men to medical care, property ownership, credit, training, employment and religious places. They are far less likely than men to be politically active and far more likely to be victims of domestic violence.

Even in the developed world, where the so-called equality is granted to all men and women, the latter find themselves struggling to attain their rights whether it’s on the community level or in the corporate world.

In such critical times, where ‘silent-suffering’ and a need for seeking identity is at its peak, a group of passionate American Muslim women, LAPD- Counter Terrorism, and the Council of Pakistan American Affairs, organized the historic American MuslimWomen’s Empowerment Conference on May 7, 2011 at the Hyatt Regency in Irvine, California.

Some of the notables included Andre Birotte Jr., United States Attorney; Akil Vohra, Senior Advisor White House Representative on Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs); Riffat Masood, Consul General Pakistan;  Adnan Khan, President, COPAA; representatives of Los Angeles Police Department, US State Department;  eminent physician Dr. Meher Tabatabai, and members of all Muslim American communities.

The keynote speaker at the event was the Special Representative to Muslim Communities, Farah Anwar Pandith. Ms. Pandith is directly responsible for executing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s vision for engagement with Muslims around the world on a people-to-people and organizational level.

Through her work, Ms. Pandith is assuring that women around the world are made aware of their rights and are empowered to stand up for them. In her address, she reiterated women being the key drivers in the development of not just a community, or a country but of this world.

Muslim women are blessed to have a religion that grants rights to women. Before the advent of Islam, a girl-child was buried alive upon birth. Her only sin: being a girl. Women had no educational, employment, inheritance, legal or social rights.

Islam put an end to all that. Islamic history boasts of exemplary women like Khadija, a businesswoman, or Aisha who led an army and spoke of women’s rights. Islam gave a woman her rights.

Then why is the Muslim woman suffering the most when her religion dictates in black and white her rights? Why is she not getting those rights?

Educationist, advocate and an active member of COPAA, Anila Ali has been advocating to improve the plight of women around the world. 

 “With the political unrest pervasive in the Muslim world, we need to come together in ensuring that the rights of women in the newly liberated Muslim countries, are not violated,” stated Ms. Ali to the audience.

“This new desire for liberation and democracy must be accompanied by the empowerment of women. For it is through the empowerment of Muslim women, that we can change mindsets and stop radicalization.”

Furthermore she added, “Today, let’s make a pledge to each other to give a voice to women that are oppressed, underpaid, subjected to violence, not schooled, devalued and abused, not just here in our country but across the world.  That could be the starting point for change. But change must begin at home.”

Being the first of its kind, it is hoped that this conference has opened many doors for discourse, discussion and hopefully executable actions that will work towards achieving the third goal of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDG) for gender equality.

Council of Pakistan American Affairs (COPAA)

COPAA’s mission is to assist public officials and policy makers in the United States in
understanding issues of vital interests related to Pakistan, with the aim
of bringing about a positive change in policies and attitudes towards 
Pakistan.
It is also to participate in the US political process through an organized community 
effort and promote and encourage business, trade and investment locally and 
internationally.

 

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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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