One thing I’ve found quite challenging as a non-Western feminist living in the West and taking part in the feminist movement here, is finding a way to incorporate my values with those of Western feminists. I don’t want to paint a broad picture of Western feminists (because there isn’t just one type) but the general point of view is that of one opposing men or seeing men as the main villain holding them back from achieving equality– at least from my experience. Like I said, all Western feminists are not the same and do not hold the same values or perspectives. There are those who are for gay marriage and those who are against gay marriage, those who are in favour of women working outside the home and those who think women should only work in the home to support her family (yes, believe it or not there are feminists who think like this!)– you get the idea. What I always try to remind people, especially my fellow Western feminists, is that men are not always the villains. Sure, in the majority of scenarios men may be the reason why women are held back from achieving equality, access to education, being able to work outside the home etc., but in many societies around the world men are the only gateway to achieving equality and freedom for women. Therefore, we must work with them and not against them.
For example, in Afghanistan there is currently a small movement by religious leaders (who are almost always men. I have yet to hear of or see a female religious leader) who use Islamic teachings to tackle issues surrounding the abuse and neglect of Afghan women. The new initiative involves these religious leaders (or mullahs) who use their power and status as someone who men and young boys look up to and treat with respect, to teach them to protect the health and lives of the women in their families and communities. According to Malawi Abdul Wali, a leader in this movement in the province of Badakhshan, “when issues are raised in light of religious values, it has an impact.” Some of the messages Abdul Wali and others like him are sending to Afghan men are to oppose domestic violence (they call for finding other means to solve disputes that doesn’t involve violence) and early marriage, practicing birth spacing (Islamically, the births should be spaced out 13 months) and ensuring women’s access to healthcare. According to these religious leaders, by ensuring women’s rights and fighting their ill-treatment it will ultimately lead to a higher quality of life for all Afghans. Even the Prophet Muhammad once said, “The best among you is the one who is best toward his wife.”
I personally would love to meet some of these religious leaders and ask them if they have achieved any positive results since advocating these messages. I was only made aware of this movement after watching a short video clip online but I would hope that more powerful and high-level men in societies (not just in Afghanistan) will use their power and abilities to send positive messages like these to other men in the hopes of changing the treatment of women. Another thing that I like about this movement is the use of religion to send these positive messages. I am by no means a religious person (my non-Muslim friends and classmates always have a hard time understanding how I call myself Muslim when I don’t wear a headscarf, to which I respond “how do you call yourself Christian when you only go to Church on Easter and Christmas?”) but I understand that the majority of people in the world gain their values, morals and upbringing from religion and that is why factoring it into the feminist movement is so important (especially in the developing world). I find that here in the West, the feminist movement is largely atheist or anti-religion. This may be because in the past religion (Christianity) was used to deny women their rights. But in some societies religion is actually the key to women’s liberation rather than holding them back. This, I feel, is where a lot of tension arises between Western and non-Western feminists.
Without involving men in the feminist movement we cannot achieve all we seek to. Maybe in the West where there are different circumstances feminists feel that they can achieve their goals without men, but I firmly believe that in the developing world that is simply not the case. And our fellow feminists in the West have to understand and respect that rather than impose their imperialist values on those living in the developing world.
Here’s the video I was referring to about the religious leaders in Afghanistan using religion to advance women’s rights: http://www.viewchange.org/videos/using-religious-values-to-advance-women-s-rights-in-afghanistan