“Muslim women’s roles and personal agency in the fight against rising extremism must be given urgent attention despite the continuing antagonism and vilification it brings,” said Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir.
“Women as prime resistors of Muslim extremism is a topic greatly underserved, and important to focus on, in the drive to curb increasing normalization of extremist behavior. These include viewing multiple wives as a measure of a man’s wealth and success, the public shaming of women not wearing the hijab and the increasing media depiction of wearing the niqab as normal,” said Marina.
She added that women’s voices are missing from anti-extremist narratives for a number of reasons, such as perpetrators being largely male and their victims female; and that both women and men maintain stereotypical models of male strength and female submissiveness and silence, however violent the abuse.
“There is a disconnect between what Muslim women expect and what happens to them, particularly their inability for them to challenge the realities of life. We are taught that we are forced to live with it, that things cannot change,” said Marina.
While groups of Muslim men often get away with standing up for their rights, women on the other hand, are vilified in print or online, berated during Friday sermons and forced to defend themselves in court when they pursue the same.
Marina was delivering the keynote address at the international conference “Islam Unsurrendered: Women Rising Against Extremism” in Kuala Lumpur, organised by Sisters in Islam (SIS) and attended by members of civil society organizations from over 14 countries from Southeast Asia, South Asia and Muslim minority countries.
Also present was the head of the European Union delegation to Malaysia, Maria Fernandez Castillo,
Musawah executive director Zainah Anwar and SIS executive director Rozana Isa.
Marina added this conference was an important opportunity to discuss potential mitigating solutions to extremism, whether poverty or education or otherwise, and specifically why women are the ones to suffer the most.
Rozana echoed Marina’s call for louder women’s voices. “The narratives of those defining Islam for all of us is getting louder. Ideas and notions of a woman claiming her rights is seen as un-Islamic. Women’s groups are told to be silent, and are also made silent legally.”
The conference also saw the launch of the national survey titled: ‘Perceptions and Realities: The Public and Personal Rights of Muslim Women in Malaysia’ conducted to explore the understanding and experiences of the concept of equality amongst Muslim women, commissioned by SIS and conducted by IPSOS.