Admittedly I hadn’t heard of International Women’s Day before traveling overseas. It’s not commonly celebrated in the USA, shocking considering the idea for a women’s day started with our women’s rights and suffragette movements over 100 years ago.
At any point in time, there are regions in the world undergoing political or social upheaval. Right now our global focus has been on the Middle East. Although we’ve focused our attention on the political change, one of the emerging stories is the social and cultural changes taking place, especially regarding women. Recently I read Paradise Beneath Her Feet, by Isobel Coleman, a book about how women are changing the Greater Middle East. Fitting given current political and social situation, the book traces the rise of the Islamic Feminism movement and its growing impact.
It is easy to stereotype and assume that veiled women are oppressed by their religion, but Coleman dispels these misconceptions and stereotypes. The premise of her book is that much of the gender oppression we see in Islam is not part of the Qur’an. Coleman tells an inspiring and engaging story about how religion is being used to improve the status of women in five of perhaps the most misunderstood societies in the world: Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. It’s a interesting look at a fascinating topic and it broadened my thinking about Islam and the strive for gender equality.
We’ve forgotten how many people still strive for gender equality in this world. As we go about our daily business we forget that there are women out there who aren’t allowed to drive, don’t have access to working outside their home and have little access to formal education. We forget that women fortunate enough to have access to formal education might live in a society where higher education is frowned upon or where they might not have the freedom to express themselves. We forget that these women could have easily been us. These women live in countries all over the globe. They come from all sorts of religions, ethnic groups and backgrounds. Their lives are shaped not necessarily by the choices they make, but by the choices that are made for them.
How easily we forget.
International Women’s Day is now an official holiday in Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, China (for women only), Cuba, Georgia, Guinea-Bissau, Eritrea, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Madagascar (for women only), Moldova, Mongolia, Montenegro, Nepal (for women only), Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Vietnam and Zambia. You can find more information about global celebrations at: http://www.internationalwomensday.com.
If you’re interested in reading Paradise Beneath Her Feet, check it out (it’s on sale) on Amazon!