Magazine article The Brown Journal of World Affairs

Reclaiming and Reframing Sexual Rights in Muslim-Majority Contexts: The Role of Individual and Collective Movements in Shifting Patriarchal Discourse and Practice

Magazine article The Brown Journal of World Affairs

Reclaiming and Reframing Sexual Rights in Muslim-Majority Contexts: The Role of Individual and Collective Movements in Shifting Patriarchal Discourse and Practice

Article excerpt

Some of the most innovative strategies to advance gender equality and sexual rights come from women scholars and activists in Muslim-majority contexts. Using an inclusive approach to sexuality and building on international consensus agreements, Muslim scholars and activists are documenting and centering the diverse realities of those most marginalized by mainstream discourse, challenging discriminatory laws and policies, and building collective movements to strategize and share scholarship and practice. They are using new and innovative technologies to reach young women, developing coalitions to link and strengthen efforts across the Muslim world, and influencing strategies used to affect women's rights in other religious traditions. In the context of heightened Islamophobia in the United States and elsewhere, giving visibility to these efforts is essential as they demonstrate that there is no singular, unique interpretation of Islam or even such a thing as a "Muslim world." Moreover, efforts by Muslim women and collective organizations to reframe and reclaim progressive interpretations of religious scriptures and Islamic law and integrate these with international human rights standards could be informative for activists in the United States. This paper covers efforts to influence landmark events such as the Fourth World Conference on Women (FWCW), transnational initiatives, and advocacy at regional and local levels.

Women's Rights and the Fourth World Conference on Women

The FWCW held in Beijing, China between 4 and 15 September 1995, was a landmark event for the global women's rights movement. The Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action (PoA) that resulted from that meeting provided a road map for the global community to advance gender equality, development, and peace. The PoA recognized women's rights as human rights, underscored the centrality of gender equality to global justice, and emphasized the need to identify and challenge the many pervasive forms of gender-based violence. Participants focused specifically on the ways in which female sexuality is constructed and codified through patriarchal norms and practices and how these norms negatively influence women's rights. The FWCW also highlighted the importance of female agency over reproductive and sexual decisions, without fear of coercion or prosecution.

The following paragraph on sexuality was inspired by women activists and negotiated by government delegates:

The human rights of women include their right to have control over and decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their sexuality, including sexual and reproductive health, free of coercion, discrimination andviolence. Equal relationships between women and men in matters of sexual relations and reproduction, including full respect for the integrity of the person, require mutual respect, consent and shared responsibility for sexual behaviour and its consequences.1

Women from Muslim-majority countries contributed to all aspects of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. They participated as part of government delegations at the official intergovernmental meeting and as part of organized panels, workshops, and conferences during the NGO Forum that began prior to the official convening. The latter was a space for grassroots organizations, regional networks, and global coalitions to highlight the priorities of women activists in their respective settings and strategize ways to influence the final official conference Beijing Declaration and PoA. Women Living Under Muslim Laws, an international advocacy and solidarity network, organized sessions on women's human rights in Muslim countries during the Women's International Tribunal held at the NGO Forum that included examples from Algeria, Bangladesh, India, and South Africa. The Arab feminist forum and network, Aisha, brought together organizations creating safe spaces for women fighting fundamentalism, while the Maghrebian network, Collectif 1995 Maghreb Egalité, brought together advocates from across North Africa working on changes to those countries' personal status codes. …

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