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Inspiring Change: a Better Future for Malaysian Women

International Women’s Day (IWD) this year is an extra special one for Sisters in Islam (SIS). Founding member and former Executive Director, Zainah Anwar, was conferred the Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur (Knight in the Legion of Honour) by the Government of France, its highest distinction. Zainah is currently the Executive Director of Musawah, the global movement for justice and equality in the Muslim family.

‘Inspiring Change’ is this year’s fortuitous theme for IWD and we are extremely proud of Zainah, a constant inspiration to many young women everywhere. Her tireless advocacy has created a space for and amplified the voices of women. All over the world, Muslim women are reclaiming an Islam that is just, equal and fair.

International recognition of Zainah’s work is also a testament to the moral courage and commitment it takes to challenge injustices, particularly those committed in the name of religion. We at SIS continue to be inspired by her passion and honour her achievements by consistently promoting the principles of gender equality, justice, freedom and dignity in Islam, and empowering women to be advocates for change.

As we salute the achievements of women today, we know that more change must happen in order for women to take their rightful place as equals in Malaysia.

In SIS’ efforts to push for laws and policies that do not discriminate against women, we often encounter resistance. This comes in various forms, including those who believe that women must choose between their faith and their God-given right to equality.  This has translated, among other things, into laws that increasingly discriminate against Muslim women, even as civil law grants Malaysian women more and more rights.

One thousand four hundred years ago, Islam gave women the right to inherit and own property, to receive education and work, and to choose their husbands. At a time when women were considered inherently subordinate to men, Islam recognised the leadership of women in male-dominated fields.

This revolutionary spirit of progressive change continues to guide SIS in our work today. Our work is testament to the fact that Islam is absolutely reconcilable with women’s rights and human rights, and that Islam recognises women as human beings of equal worth and dignity as men.

Let us commemorate International Women’s Day this year by acknowledging the contributions of the women who have laboured so hard to achieve the progress we see today. At the same time, let us come together in a spirit of compassion to elevate women to their rightful status. To inspire change, we first have to be agents of change ourselves.

Sisters in Islam
8 March 2014