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Former Muslim Rights Leader: Muslim Men Must Learn to Treat Women as Equals

Former Muslim Rights Leader: Muslim Men Must Learn to Treat Women as Equals
Muslim women look on during a demonstration denouncing racist attacks against Muslims on December 18, 2015 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

By    |   Thursday, 07 January 2016 11:39 AM

A former top Muslim rights leader says Muslim men must learn to treat women as equals.

"Some will be critical of the airing of 'dirty laundry' during difficult times for Muslims. Yet meaningful discussions about the treatment of women have been avoided for far too long. To what end?" Sheema Khan writes in a column published in Canada's Globe and Mail newspaper.

"What we don't need is another lecture about the dress and behaviour of the 'ideal' Muslim woman. Instead, we need to hear more about men taking responsibility for their actions, and treating women as equal human beings."

Khan chaired the Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations — a grassroots advocacy group that fought discrimination against Muslims — from 2000-2005.

"I fought for Muslims to be treated with basic human dignity by the wider society, yet looked the other way when such treatment was denied to women within my own community," she writes.

"Toward the end of my CAIR-CAN tenure, I could no longer stand the hypocrisy, and decided to tackle a fundamental problem that our community has been content to ignore: the treatment of women as second-class human beings.

"As chair, I came across incidents against Muslim women that would never have been tolerated had these been perpetrated by a non-Muslim. But if a Muslim did it, well, we would let it go, hoping that attitudes would one day change."

Khan says there continues to be a denial by some that many Muslim cultures have a bias against women.

"Consider the past few years of the Gender Gap Index, published by the World Economic Forum. It continually lists predominantly Muslim countries in the bottom rung of societies that equitably distribute resources between men and women," she writes.

"From the super rich (such as Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States) to the impoverished, a large chunk of Muslims live in societies where women are shortchanged in terms of development, opportunity and participation.

"Many traditional Muslim institutions continue to operate on a patriarchal model, in which women are either unwelcomed or merely tolerated, but are always expected to keep the status quo. Those who demand basic rights are labelled with the "f" word — feminist.

Khan pointed to the New Year's Eve sexual attacks of more than 100 women by men described as "Arab" or "North African."

"Perhaps countries, including Canada, should look to Norway, which, since 2013, has provided lessons for migrants on how to treat women," she writes.

"Per Isdal, a clinical psychologist who helped develop the program, told The New York Times that many refugees 'come from cultures that are not gender-equal and where women are the property of men. We have to help them adapt to their new culture.'

"Kudos to the Norwegians for directly addressing a delicate topic with sensitivity and firmness."

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A former top Muslim rights leader says Muslim men must learn to treat women as equals.
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Thursday, 07 January 2016 11:39 AM
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