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MOTIVE Art - Modernity and Conflict
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For Muslim women, modernity often leads to conflict. Laws that protect today can oppress tomorrow, which makes assessment and the need for reform necessary.  In Kuala Lumpur a forum has been organized to speak of some of the problems facing Muslim women today.  At the Musawah Global Meeting on Equality and Justice for the Muslim Family here, Rashida Manjoo, an activist, lawyer and professor at Webster University, said laws that are rooted in a certain period in time must be scrutinised to assess if they remain relevent and applicable. "The use of law as protectionism today can end up as oppression tomorrow, so we need to really think of the legacy that we leave behind," said Rashida, who was speaking at the meeting's last plenary session entitled Equality without Exception. "Law is not a panacea for social ills. There is a need for a holistic multiplicity of approaches, including the possibility of internal reform."  Fellow speaker Mahnaz Afkhami, founder and president of the Women's Learning Partnership, added that political and social strategising often deprives women of exercising their right to choose.  "It is not Islam that limits, it is the path that the history of patriarchy has taken that discriminates," said Mahnaz Afkhami, who is also author of Faith and Freedom: Women's Rights in a Muslim World. "There is much disparity between rights in theory and in practice, and we must gear our approach to the current political and cultural situation."  Modernity also does not do much to erase inequalities between men and women, as discrimination against women in developed countries is no different in developing countries.  "Women in developed countries have assumed stereotypical roles with restrictions on their rights, in career advancement and in participation in the public life," said Shanthi Dairiam, founder of International Women's Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific.  "Women are tied to a life of dependency in private, and the domination of men in the public sphere is the norm," said Dairiam, who was elected to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) from 2005 to 2008.  In terms of multiculturalism, Canadian Council of Muslim Women executive director Alia Hogben believes that equality should be embedded in religious freedom, and that "living under Muslim law is not the sixth pillar of Islam".  "Does multiculturalism or pluralism encourage each community to retain all their practices, even up to the point that it is incongruous with the rights of other communities?" said Hogben.  Hogben was referring to discriminatory practices that still exist within Muslim countries of different levels of modernity and progress, and which includes racist, classist behaviour.  In addition, conflict can also arise when terms and definitions do not tally, as the word "equality" can mean different things in different cultures. Musawah, the global movement empowering Muslim women, was launched with three landmark publications advocating equality and justice in the Muslim family.  The three books - Wanted, Home Truths, and Musawah Framework for Action - bring together theoretical and analytical studies, real-life stories and an action plan that tackles Islamic teachings, constitutional and human rights principles, and the lived realities of women and men.  The books were launched by Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil, adviser to the Prime Minister on Muslim Women and Social Development at the Feast of Equals gala dinner to mark the opening of the global meeting to launch Musawah.  "I believe that all resolutions will follow the Quran and Sunnah...and will be given due attention," said Shahrizat of the five-day global meeting. The gathering of over 300 activists and scholars from 49 countries will discuss the necessary reforms to laws that bind, shape and affect the lives of Muslim families.  Wanted: Equality and Justice in the Muslim Family compiles seven theoretical and analytical papers from esteemed Muslim scholars, including Pakistan's head of the Council of Islamic Ideology Muhammad Khalid Masud.  "We wanted arguments within Islam that justify change, equality and justice," said Musawah project director and Wanted editor Zainah Anwar, adding, "we believe that in the 21st century there cannot be justice without equality. We believe that Islam upholds the principles of equality and justice."  Zainah said that they invited scholars to submit papers "to argue why change is possible within Islam, specifically fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) and why change is necessary given the realities of our lives in the 21st century."  Home Truths: A Global Report on Equality in the Muslim Family is a compilation of reports on real-life situations from 31 countries listing the daily challenges faced by women and men while fighting for justice and equality in the family.  Musawah Framework for Action is a document that outlines why equality is possible and why it is necessary in Islam. The framework is based on the development of ideas and principles of experts, activists and scholars from over 20 countries in the field. The Framework took over one year to develop and is available in five languages. "Musawah is designed to bring together scholars and activists who wish to work within a holistic framework to ensure that Muslim women are treated as human beings of equal worth and dignity in the law, in the family and the community," said Zainah. Also present at the groundbreaking event were Prof Yakin Erturk, the United Nations Human Rights Council Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, the Palestinian Ambassador to Malaysia Abdul Aziz Abu Goush, as well as the participants of the global meeting.

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