Western concept of Empowerment of Women needs an alternative
Abdul Rouf Mir, PhD, Department of Biochemistry, AMU
(An associate of “Students of AMU”)
Since 1975, United Nations has been celebrating International Women’s Day and people across the world commit to women empowerment on this day. “Students of AMU”, a vibrant students’ activist group at Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) has been organising group discussions, training programs, conferences, seminars, campaigns and peace marches, raising various issues related to students and people at large, of national and international stature within the permitted limits of AMU code of discipline and by permission of concerned authorities. So it was that we decided to speak for empowerment of women, wherein we found a dire need to present an alternative to the existing models of empowerment that have led to the worst exploitation of women across the globe. In this regard, we organised ‘Exhibition and Conference 2014’ to present our point of view and share an alternative model with the fellow students at AMU. Over this, brother Adil Hossain and co. have raised certain questions and levelled some allegation against the group that needs to be dispelled.
Aligarh Muslim University has a legacy of acknowledging the contributions of people in various fields, which is why AMU students honour Teesta Setalvad. Accusing AMU of not providing “same milieu, or opportunities, for AMU girls”, is merely an attempt to disregard the contribution of AMU towards the upliftment of women. AMU provides opportunities for women to grow and a long list of renowned female alumni are a glaring example of the same. However the weakness in this regard shall be addressed by the University.
Moving on, they further write, “any kind of dress for women is a matter of choice and could be an expression of their identity, which should be defended till the end”, which stands quite contrary to their liberal counterparts who sarcastically commented, “women students in flowing burqas,” in a National Daily. However, we appreciate Adil Hossain’s view of allowing girls to cover themselves out of choice, maintaining a strong disagreement on the role of dress in sexual violence. We believe that law and provocation are essential elements of violence, be it from men or women, individuals or agencies like media, etc. Claiming that a normal woman fails to perceive a naked male and a normal man is not attracted to a nude woman is quite contrary to the existing realities. Here it is necessary to add that no man or woman has the right to violate a person of the opposite gender in any case, even in the nakedness. But denying the man’s weakness for a woman in bed dress and otherwise is something hard to agree upon. Having said that, let us again clarify that we do not believe that a rape victim, under any circumstances, is to be blamed for the horrible crime committed against her. We simply believe that the problem of rising rape incidents is not merely a question of security, but rather a part of the larger problem of society’s falling moral standards.
Further the “Joint response by Md Adil Hossain & co” falsely accuses the “Students of AMU” of “discourse and speeches revolved around what women wear”, which merely shows the ignorance of the authors about the policy and programs of the group. 
We invite brother Adil and co. to know more about the functioning of the group. May I remind them of the media statement of “Students of AMU” on the Delhi gang rape case, which read: “The gang rape in the capital of a paramedical student, who lies in critical condition in hospital, is not the first case of its kind in India. The Indian capital has become a “Crime Capital” and crime is ascending at an alarming rate throughout the nation. People call for death sentences, life imprisonment and all sorts of punishments for the criminals. We do agree with some sort of punishment but mere punishments are not going to yield any result at the end of the day. Something is seriously going wrong around us and we need to take serious note of the situation. We must acknowledge that our system needs a massive overhauling.
Our educational system has miserably failed in cultivating a corruption free society, thus questioning its very purpose of social development; our society has at large failed to cultivate a sense of morality and respect for traditions against the western materialist civilisation, our politicians represent a corrupt but powerful regime, our economic system has created a huge gap between the rich and poor, and our judiciary takes decades to address our problems. This crisis calls upon citizens to speak up for change and force the authorities to become active in guiding the nation towards a proper direction, otherwise the evil shall rise and engulf us all. AMU Girls are seriously concerned about the grave situation in the country and cannot remain passive anymore. We must strategise our preferences to save the country before the fall. We must work for change”.
Furthermore in our memorandum as a part of “AMU Students for Justice” to honourable Vice Chancellor over the Law Faculty Case the second point read, “Gender violence against anybody, student or faculty, guest or bonafide, can not be accepted as a norm and ignored, and the victim can not be left alone to fight for justice. Social pressures or the like cannot be accepted as hindrances in justice delivery system. Instead unitedly we need to call for an end to any sort of gender violence and need to remind the concerned authorities to maintain the sanctity of the institution”. So blaming the group as a movement for “women wear” is yet another attempt to malign the group.
Also in the one of the sections titled, “Our demands” in the book (‘Women under capitalistic imperialism vs women under islam’), it reads, “besides creating awareness amongst the general population regarding the exploitation of women we should also put forward the following demands to the government.
1. Laws regulating the working conditions should be passed and these laws should strictly apply to all companies. Women should get privacy at work place and her feminine requirements should be considered fully.
2. Pornography, indecent literatures, indecent websites and films should be totally banned. Media should be strictly controlled. For this sensor board and press council should come forward. All form of trade and companies dealing with pornography should be banned.
3. To keep check on cosmetic products there should be proper authority just like drug authority and accordingly the legislation should be framed.
4. Laws should be made to check the fake luring advertisements. Furthermore indecent reality shows should be checked”.
Yet they fall in the “women wear” myth.
On “job is optional, family is the real responsibility for women”, our stand on this issue is quite clear that the role of women in nourishing a family is a dignified work for which they must be duly compensated, by giving them the right to work (outside) as well as not to work. Our statement in the book reads, “economic engagement (job) for a woman is simply a matter of her consent and will. Thus the well balanced perspective of Islam is neither too orthodox to confine a women completely inside home neither too liberal to exploit her morality, chastity and put her under hardship of dual responsibility like that of western society.”
It further added, “The woman can also earn and affirm her economic independence within the prescribed limits of sharia. Islam permits women to serve her society and civilization according to her abilities and educational qualifications. The women in the time of Prophet (saw) are the best examples for such contributions to civilization and culture. The women own a full financial status that is no less than man. She has right to earn, right to posses property in the form of asset, real wealth or cash. She has full right to spend her wealth in a manner she wishes so long as it is approved by shari‘a. Whatever a woman earns she has the full right to spent it in the manner she wishes within Islamic limits (limits apply for both men and women). Neither her husband nor in-laws can force her to work (take up a job), nor they can force her to give her earnings to them. Even for earning woman her economic responsibility lies with her husband”.
Further they have raised a question, “how economic independence has emerged from the ill effects of capitalistic discourse”. Here we don’t want to entertain a debate of socialism and capitalism on the conflict of definition of economic independence and its ill effects, as we leave that infighting to the people of these false ideologies, what is our concern is the capitalistic imperialism after the failure of socialism burdened woman with financial responsibilities, and made her to leave her family for the sake of few, filling up the vacancy of cheap labour, ending up in her commercialisation and large scale exploitation. 
On their contention of ’identity’ and ’equity’ leads to an abyss’, we believe that western concept of man-woman equality has led to “stupendous rise in crimes against women (rapes, sexual assaults, physical assaults, domestic violence), stupendous rise in the market of “works” that exploit human weaknesses with the result that sex has become one of the biggest trades, almost complete disintegration of family system with huge rise in (a) the level of promiscuity including premarital and extramarital relationships, (b) separation and divorces: (c) men and women becoming single parents in increasingly large numbers; (d) increasingly large number of children being born out of wedlock; (e) increasing large number of children being forced to live with a single parent, huge number of women themselves becoming involved in degrading and inhuman activities (a) increasingly larger number of women are turning into prostitutes, pornographic actors, posing for nude photographs, giving nude shows in hotels; (b) increasingly large number of women working in casinos; (c) increasingly large number of women aborting their children (50-70 million every year) (d) increasingly large number of women succumbing to homosexuality”. This exploitation is a serious concern to us as we don’t support the exploitation of women in the name of economic empowerment. Instead we advocate the Islamic concept of equality which differentiates responsibilities, rights and liabilities.
Furthermore as the authors have concluded just by looking at an emailed photograph and without listening to what the students were explaining, so they have jumped to their erroneous conclusions, which were not expected from these learned critics. 
On their question, “Why not ask them too to wear hijab, talk in soft tones, and maintain distance from men while working at construction sites”, we would like to respond by arguing that Hijab is only a part of Islam. We question the very fundamentals of the system that they themselves agree has led to “inhuman conditions” for working women, thus we present an alternative vision.
We are advocating against the system, where women “feed their child at the same time and face domestic violence at the hands of abusive husbands, or the domestic workers who go from house to house braving all sorts of harassment” as they quote. Hijab is only a part of the discourse of empowerment of women in Islam, thus it needs to be considered within the overall ideological Islamic worldview. The critics seem ignoring all the other models condemning violence against the women, just because that answers the question in the broader perspective.
Their Claim, “Advocating against economic independence for women not only creates more dependents than workers, but also leaves women open to abuse” is totally baseless as we did not call for economically dependent women. Since they did not visit the exhibition so they could not see the sections wherein the role models like that of women in business, women surgeons, women in politics and education, women in agriculture, women jurists, poetess and women warriors were shown to inspire the visiting ladies. So it is yet another misconception in place.
Their question, “why is a group hell-bent on reminding only women of their family responsibility on Women’s Day and not to men”, is yet another false attempt to malign the group as they completely ignored the program in Kennedy auditorium. Had they heard Dr. Asma Zehra, a practicing medical doctor and others, they would have preferred some other question. Furthermore, they can yet hear my recorded speech at Bab e Syed to hundreds of the students at the time of the Law Faculty case, wherein the responsibilities of men were an important part of the address to AMU.
On their contention that we, “put many restrictions for them to work is only a subtle form of moral positioning”, our stand is that we don’t believe in absolute freedom, neither for men, nor for women. The restrictions in place are only to maintain the larger social fabric in place. No system in the world can exist by absolute freedom, restrictions are a necessity and all impose them as per their requirement and belief.
To their position “And sadly this is being done in the name of religion whereas it is more concerned with varied cultural practices”, we would clear to them that we understand a difference of culture and religion and our programmes don’t ever over rule that difference.
In regards to Committee Against Sexual Harassment and For Gender Sensitisation (CASHFGS), let me clear the dust, as they have tried to take the entire credit of the body for themselves. Primarily we appreciate the efforts of the writers during their time at AMU in spreading awareness about the issue, and in preparing the draft constitution of the CASHFGS. However, since their departure many other students have also taken up the cause of making AMU a safer campus. On the part of “Students of AMU”, it was Adv. Naheed Mustafa, Anam Rais Khan and Dr. Naghma Mirza, members of “Students of AMU” who stayed in touch with honourable Vice Chancellor in regards to CASHFGS and the new constitution of the body is the result of the same.
Also our members filed an RTI to decipher the information of working of CASHfGS and they have been vocal on this issue in the media as well. Furthermore “Students of AMU” as a part of “AMU Students for Justice” sent a memorandum to Honourable Vice Chancellor, reading, “The safety of our sisters is our primary concern and there cannot be any concession on that. So the official body of AMU working for the purpose (CASHFGS) cannot stay senescent and irresponsive.
Its mere existence does not solve the purpose; instead we all together need to demand for an updated, empowered, functional body with mass awakening programs and easy executive tendencies”. Lastly we had an hour long discussion on women safety and their empowerment with the honourable Vice Chancellor. Even with regards to the Exhibition, “Students of AMU” met honourable Pro-Vice Chancellor and requested him to order CASHFGS to hold an awareness stall at from 7-9 March. The Chairman CASHFGS, Prof Nighat and Zainab, the student member of the committee successfully reached hundreds of the girls with the message of CASHFGS at the Exhibition, so claiming that they have the monopoly on women issues is far from reality.
On their feeling that AMU does not support their version of programs, is something hard to digest, as AMU gives a complete open space for students’ activism. If anyone has disturbed any of the programs, it should be brought to the notice of concerned authorities for proper action.
On the issue of “factual errors” in media, we believe that the reports were totally meant to malign positive students’ activism and the people behind the report should all be shamed for their role in maligning the alma mater and in hindering the freedom of expression at AMU. They should apologise to AMU fraternity for providing a gross misinformation to the media.
On “why do AMU students fidget or feel so uncomfortable when media reports on women in the campus”, our response is that media was misused by some anti AMU people for their vested interests, by completely giving a wrong picture of women at AMU. Since the students know the ground realities at the campus and the practices of “Students of AMU”, so they were shocked to see lies being spread in the name of journalism. The overall mood of students on the ill media coverage was anger, as they expected media to stay unbiased and truthful, which unfortunately some media outlets could not remain.
On, “Why not defend your views, your pamphlets, and your publications to a larger audience who think of celebrating Women’s day from a different perspective? Why blame that media stereotype Muslim woman when a large group of students themselves support a stereotypical representation or remain silent when it is being done”, we respond by demanding ethical reporting by media.
Lastly, we invite all the writers of this article, the media outlets that misinformed people to come forward and have an open dialogue with “Students of AMU”. That way surely the dust will settle.
The history of Women’s Day goes back to the struggle of Luise Zeitz and Clara Zetkin with the demand that women be given the right to vote and to hold public office. They also protested the discrimination prevalent in that society in offering employment to women as most thought home and children are for women, and the outside world is for men. They were socialist leaders with no sympathy for the market forces and they demanded more women in public spaces as a matter of individual rights and choices. This is to dispel the theory that ‘market sponsored feminism’ caused commercialisation of women’s labour. One thing we should also note here is that this movement by these leaders had no relevance for the working class women who are working since times immemorial outside their home to support their families.
Any attempt by any forces who advocated greater opportunity for AMU girl students to access university resources at equal level with boys has been viewed with suspicion and contempt, with people being blamed for spreading immorality and attacking religion. In the past, the AMU administration stepped backwards on this regard and stopped many facilities which were available to undergraduate girls in the 1960s or even till 2007-08, and nobody said a word.
Outing permissions for Abdullah Hall girls for GEC Clubs was there till I was the Secretary of the University Film Club and this allowed many Abdullah Hall residents to become senior members in the club and then become its Secretary, something unimaginable now. Hope on the next International Women’s Day, Students of AMU, will raise these issues of discrimination and help the university to produce more Setalvads as without access to resources, you hamper the growth of an individual. As raising these issues of discrimination has made me an “attention-seeker”, “malicious propagandist”, someone who defamed university tradition (though AMU tradition says otherwise if you go by facts) and religion, I hope to do an interview with famous convert Yvonne Ridley (using my UK contacts) and ask her about what she thinks of these practices at AMU. I hope you people will listen to her intelligence.
“Further the ‘Joint response by Md Adil Hossain & co’ falsely accuses the ‘Students of AMU’ of ‘discourse and speeches revolved around what women wear’, which merely shows the ignorance of the authors about the policy and programs of the group”- We meant it was primarily about, quoting your words from this article, “the role of dress on sexual violence. We believe that law and provocation are essential elements of violence and…denying the man’s weakness for a women in bed dress and otherwise is something hard to agree.” You have given a very confused position in this regard.
While we appreciate your views that no person should be violated even in nakedness, we disagree with your view that the way women dress provokes men to commit acts of sexual violence because it leads to neglect of a large number of sexual harassment cases that take place against Muslim hijab-wearing women while it goes on to reinforce the fact that rapist men are freaks who would rape you in any case.
Attraction does not lead to rape. We wish to draw your attention to the fact that women are harassed and abused, irrespective of their age and irrespective of what they wear, whether they wear hijab or they do not wear hijab. The provocation theory shows utter contempt and disrespect to the victims of sexual attacks like in the Gujarat and Muzaffarnagar riots, or in the Bosnian war or in the mass rapes of Kashmir’s Kunan Poshpora. In all recorded rape cases worldwide, 90% of the cases are related to women knowing these men through family or relatives.
Again, in this section, I found your statement extremely confusing, and more so, after I read the essay “Empowerment of Women within Islamic framework” by Dr. Javed Jamil. At one place, you alleged “market sponsored feminism”, “commercialisation”, “fall of socialism” (again I emphasise they have no connection with women joining public spaces) led to a greater number of women leaving the family and joining the workforce, and on the other hand, you claim to advocate economic independence for women within your model. How a woman joining the workforce (in the liberal sense as you alleged) exploits “her morality, chastity and puts her under hardship of dual responsibility like that of western society”, I could not understand. Let me tell you each and every literature I found on your Facebook page on this regard reflects this confusion. For example, Javed Jamil Sahab says,
“What further pains me is that women in general and the ‘feminists’ in particular have allowed their ‘right to work’ to have been severely misused by the market to the huge loss of mankind.”
How? It is not explained. If he is talking about family peace and all then why are only women held responsible? Both can equally participate in family and work.
“Before the onset of Industrial revolution, women normally behaved the way the leading men of the family – fathers and husbands — wanted them to. After the onset of Industrial Revolution that led to increasing commercialization of human weaknesses, the role of the family was taken by the market; and women started behaving the way the bosses of the market, mostly men, want them to act – obviously in the interest of market which caters to the demands of men by exploiting women”
Now, men at the helm of most decision-making bodies is considered a problem by us as well which we feel discriminates women. Therefore the solution can be more participation of and opportunity for women to be at the top rung in any field, be it politics, education, science, media and many more. If there are 50% women who become the Vice-Chancellors, CEOs, politicians, scientists, media persons today, in the end, they will decide what is best for them and not men. Not, what Javed Jamil sahab suggests in next paragraph:
“There should be new schemes and plans mooted that make it possible for women to work within the confines of their houses. When there can be outsourcing from one country to other countries, why not from companies to homes?”
If a woman follows this as suggested by Jamil sahab, I don’t think you will find any Indira Gandhi, Indira Nooyi, Kalpana Chawla or even Yvonne Ridley to put their posters in the next exhibition by Students of AMU.
And the message is simple as we claimed – women, you better stay at home.
This section looked full of rhetoric said without any empirical evidence or scientific conclusions that how these things are linked. Many of the things mentioned above had existed in many societies in entire human civilisation in many different forms for thousands of years.
For an example, in the paper “Love Sex and Marriage in Nineteenth Century Bengal” by Oxford Historian Tapan Raychowdhury, he showed how in a highly conservative nineteenth century Bengal when both Hindu and Muslim women were not even allowed to step outside their homes without any male members, prostitution and extra marital affairs were very common. We know that high caste landlords since centuries committed serious sexual crimes against low caste women which may not have even got recorded. Please come with facts attained through scientific process. Media perception can’t give proper facts but only tell how things are coming to the surface.
Well, if photographs give messages like these as written by Javed Jamil sahab, I think we are duty bound to respond.
“Lesser number of women working will give more opportunities to unemployed youth with better distribution of wealth; but this will not help the cause of the market forces which first create disparity and then thrive on it.”
On “job is optional, family is the real responsibility for women”, our stand on this issue is quite clear that the role of women in nourishing a family is a dignified work for which they must be duly compensated,”- We wish to draw your attention to the fact that Islam has prescribed the responsibility of the family, household and even upbringing of children on men. This is why we said that “job is optional, family is the real responsibility for women” is not in sync with what Islam prescribes but is largely a discourse that is concerned with cultural understanding of a specific set of people.
Our point is that women and men both can work in any given areas of their choice and it should left to their individual intelligence how to share family work. The only safeguard they need at workplace i.e. for example at AMU is strict implementation of rules like CASHFGS which puts deterrence to sexual crimes at workplace and make women safe.
This is a false allegation against us. Where did we claim the credit in our post? We stated that we worked as a team during the period 2011-12 during the initial phases of CASHFGS and we can rightly take our due credit for this. However if something good happened after we left the University and if organisations like yours are working towards the better implementation of CASHFGS, all praise to you and hope you are successful. Here our motto is the same and we are ready to offer our support, despite whatever other differences we may have. However, after the first programme we did on CASHFGS in Arts Faculty Lounge, where many girls including those in hijab came forward to speak on their ordeal, many attacked us for defaming the university as unsafe. Hope you also organise a programme like that in an open forum to sensitise men not to harass any women in the campus under any pretext.
We also believe in the supremacy of open dialogue and we look forward to it.
P.S- Any subsequent response both from the author and the editor of this website, and also from the readers will be taken up in the comments section below. Please maintain a civil discourse and refrain from personal attacks.