WOMEN of the Muslim world have experienced discrimination and injustice over a long period of time. History we cannot change. Today, however, women are gradually becoming empowered in many parts of the Muslim world as they gain access to education, opportunities, and self-expression.
Take the case of women in Pakistan. My country is an Islamic state and a multi-party democracy at the same time. In its early history, nearly five decades ago, Pakistan offered very few women opportunities to participate in formalized careers. Mainly, they tended the fields and cared for the livestock. Recently, however, this has been changing as more and more women learn the value of economic independence and begin to fend for themselves.
Our religion is very important to us. Religion influences culture, especially in Islamic countries. How do we reconcile our modernism with the dictates of our faith? It is widely believed in the Western world that discrimination against women is imbedded in our religion. This is not so. The dictates of our faith do not in themselves discriminate against women. Rather, it has been later interpretations and the process of history that has created those situations that many activist Muslim women are working
to change. In the Qu'ran, the basic document of Islam, women's rights are specified, not the least of which are the rights to inherit property and to work and earn.
Muslim women are beginning to interpret Islam from their own perspective and to find in it reinforcement for their claim to equality. In every Muslim country, to one degree or another, the woman's voice is gradually being heard, and women are doing this without treating their religion as an adversary.
IN recent times the generations have seen much change. My grandmother lived a life of segregation. My mother began life in a segregated environment but eventually stepped out of it and into the integrated one. I grew up in a totally integrated environment. This is the story of most women in most families in my country. Fewer and fewer Muslim women today live lives of segregation, sequestered from the mainstream of their world.