Women’s History Month focuses on diversity

Program Board hosted several events for Women’s History Month to celebrate and recognize the societal contributions of women from various walks of life.

The Muslim Student Association invited Sharifa Alkhateeb, vice president of the North American Council for Muslim Women, to discuss violence against Muslim women. The program, entitled, “The Role of Women in Islam,” drew a diverse crowd March 6.

Alkhateeb addressed the myths and misconceptions people have about Muslim women. She was critical of Muslim societies that have an “underlying acceptance of violent behavior.” She said this violence is a result of misinterpretations of Islam, which does not condone violence.

Alkhateeb is working on the first national survey in the United States about domestic violence against Muslim women.

In 1993, the council found violence against women and children occurred in about 10 percent of Muslim homes in the United States. That figure is about the same as in society as a whole, she said.

“One percent is unacceptable,” Alkhateeb said.

She emphasized the need to distinguish between the principles of Islam and the actions of Muslims.

“Islam is against violence against anyone, especially women,” she said. “If you read some of the materials that are put out by Western feminists, you get the idea that Islam is particularly supportive of violence, particularly against women.”

Muslim family life is characterized by a “dominance obedience paradigm” that encourages children to fear their parents, especially the father, and wives to fear and obey their husbands. This family structure has its roots in cultural beliefs that existed before Islam, she said.

Encouraging children to fear their parents directly contradicts the teachings of Islam, Alkhateeb said, citing a passage from the Koran – “Have no fear of people, fear me.”

Many Muslims believe that a husband has the right to beat his wife, she said, but the Koran does not condone such violence.

“The verses in the Koran which encourage men to be protective toward women have been bent all out of shape to the point of usurping from women their own responsibility to be moral,” she said.

It is especially difficult for Muslim women to get help in situations of domestic violence, she said, because Muslim communities believe that family matters should be kept private.

Alkhateeb was not completely pessimistic; she noted that younger couples have more open relationships.

“The majority of the younger couples have a much more enlightened way of relating to each other, have much more mutual respect,” she said.

Other events during the month focused on accomplishments of women of different cultures and helped today’s women by discussing stress management and women in the workplace.

To relieve stress from midterm anxiety, men and women were invited to a “Girls Night Out” in the Strong Hall Piano Lounge March 7. About 15 people gathered to watch Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion and Sleepless in Seattle.

The Delta Sigma Theta Sorority hosted “Breaking the Rules: How to Succeed in a Man’s World,” a panel discussion that focused on women empowering themselves in male-dominated corporate America.

GW students spoke about their experiences being women in predominantly male professions.

Candace Jackson, a junior majoring in computer engineering, said she experienced double standards while interning last summer at a technical operations company.

“With the exception of myself and another woman, every female in my department held a secretarial job,” Jackson said. “Whenever one of my co-workers needed help with something, they’d go ask this one man, and his field wasn’t even technology, it was business. He would come to me for help.”

Deborah Mathis, a White House correspondent with Gannett News Service, spoke to the audience about being female in a male-headed corporate world.

“Our grandmothers and great-grandmothers picked cotton with babies on their backs,” Mathis said. “I should never hear a black woman say `I can’t.’ “

Among the events that celebrated womanhood and cultural diversity was “Many Cultures, All Sisters.” Food, music and dance were represented from African, African-American and Latino cultures.

“So many times we socialize separately,” said Kelley Walk, vice president and chairperson of program, planning and development for Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. “We gained some unity through these programs and now it’s our job to build on it.”

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