use of 'culture and religion to deny women's rights' by
political Islamists and other patriarchs in Muslim contexts
is an example of the power dynamics that disempower women.
Women's empowerment in Muslim contexts is in crisis because
political Islamists claim that religion itself sanctions
women's disempowerment. However, the 'use of culture and
religion to deny women's rights' is not limited only to
political Islamists or to Muslim contexts. Such claims are
also made by patriarchal elements in non-Muslim contexts,
especially with the rise of conservative extremism across
a range of religions. Yet these disempowering power dynamics
that are occurring on the ground are generally ignored by
policies, programmes and development interventions.
In Muslim contexts, the Islamist political agenda seeks
to impose a uniform construction of a 'Muslim woman' as
the cornerstone of an equally constructed, supposedly immutable
'Muslim world'. Denying the diverse historical and contemporary
realities of over a billion Muslims worldwide, intolerant
Islamists are trying to impose all-encompassing gender system
that strengthens patriarchal oppressions, undermines more
gender-equitable Muslim practices, and reduces women to
being symbolic boundary-markers without rights. Such a political
agenda inhibits equitable development and democratisation.
Women who resist are condemned, ostracised, threatened, abused,
and de-humanised. Overturning this political construction is therefore
pivotal to women's empowerment in Muslim contexts. Contrary to spurious
claims that women's empowerment is alien and illegitimate, women
in diverse Muslim contexts have long negotiated for their rights
through indigenous strategies. Most, however, have struggled alone,
their strategies largely undocumented, their endeavours muted by
violence justified as 'tradition' or 'religion'.
The WEMC programme documents and amplifies women's indigenous strategies
for individual and collective empowerment. The programme is implemented
in four nodal countries - Indonesia, Pakistan, China and Iran -
as well as among cross-border communities. The cross-border research
covers a range of supra-local processes, including migrations and
diasporic networks, the convergences and divergences of women's
empowerment strategies across generations and cultures, and women's
resistance to spreading exclusionary systems. WEMC's aim is to build
a body of new knowledge that will strengthen existing, bottom-up
transformations that are culturally appropriate and socially sustainable.
Cumulatively, such transformations promote democratisation from
the inside out, with women's voices from within calling for accountability
and equal rights. While WEMC research focuses on women's empowerment
in Muslim countries and communities, its findings are relevant to
other contexts where culture and religion are also being used to
marginalise and disempower women.