Hijab or no Hijab? And what religion means for Women’s Rights.

Two young women from Morocco discuss the issues they face with discrimination from northern Africa to the United States. Alia Raji and Nezha Elabassy, foreign exchange students studying at Stetson University in DeLand, Florida, face differences between the social constructs of Morocco and that of America and find solutions as to what can be done to help fight the patriarchal system.

alia .JPG
Alia Raji at Stetson University’s Palm Court fountain.

“When I walk on the streets, men will shout, cat call and be like ‘Oh’ just because I’m wearing shorts or something where you can see part of my body and I would feel very uncomfortable walking on the streets. They would always make snarky remarks and be like ‘Oh, can you play this sport? You’re a girl, you’re not strong enough.’ They would always make me feel weak and downgrade me. They always think that they’re smarter. people in my class from my high school would be like ‘Oh you can’t do this because you’re just a girl.’ It shouldn’t be an insult.

In america its kind of the same, even sometimes here in DeLand when I walk  sometimes [people] stop and honk and I just look at them like “What the hell.” Here it’s less mean than in Morocco. I guess because it’s a cultural thing of not being able to wear shorts or tank tops. It’s in our religion to show as less skin as possible. Here there are more stereotypes of like if you wear a short dress then you’re considered a slut. Here [in America] in parties if you wear something really tight then you’re an easy girl.

Here I felt more inclined to dress however i wanted to. here i felt more free of wearing shorts and t-shirts and not feeling like I’m less conservative. here i can talk more to men and know that they will listen to me and I can do whatever i want i can . I kno wthat here even though women are scene as equals there are still some things that women cant do but here its less oppressive than mrocco for sure. you can do whatever sports you want activities you want you can skateboard even though its a stereotype for men.

Attire depends. Some go to the extreme where they wear the head piece and you can only see their eyes. Normally the Moroccans just wear long sleeves or even a t-shirt with jeans. If you wear shorts on the streets it can be very dangerous because you get yelled at. In America, people are liberal, they don’t really judge. Here you can wear whatever you want, even though obviously there are going to be some types of judgements from men about what type of person you are based on what you wear.
I would say in Morocco women are really treated like they’re inferior. They still have this mentality where women need to stay at home; if they have a kid then they need to be stay at home mom and cook for the husband. They’re a very traditional type of men.  I would say here [in America] they’re more free; if you want to have two jobs you can. I feel that both parties should provide for the family and in Morocco its mainly the man.
In the courts in Morocco women barely have rights, like speaking. They basically can’t speak up to men and it’s really bad.”
I practice it, I believe in God and I fast, but I don’t pray. All my family are Muslims and they do everything like a muslim does. My mom doesn’t wear the hijab so I don’t wear it. We don’t feel the need to wear the hijab, we know that we’re conservative.
I think [religion] plays one of the main roles in Morocco. Religion and culture go hand in hand. It’s based on people’s beliefs, they way you’re dressed is the way they’re going to treat you. If you go against their beliefs then they’re really going to disrespect you and look down on you; ‘She’s not a Muslim or she’s a whore because she’s not acting the way she’s supposed to act.’ They have a set of rules of how women should dress and how she should speak and what she should do (she shouldn’t drink, she shouldn’t smoke) and if you don’t follow one of those rules then you’re not considered a Muslim or you’re not considered a woman, you’re considered trash. They really make you feel like trash and treat you like trash.
If I were to compare [Morocco] to America, here, like I said, the culture is really liberal. There are some extremist Christians, where you should dress properly and act the same type of ways that I’ve listed, but here its less crazy if you don’t follow the rules. Yes you are going to get disrespected and yes you’re going to get shouted on, but its much less.”
– Alia Raji

“There is a little bit less sexual harassment in the streets here in the US. In Morocco, if I wear a skirt and walk by myself I the street, men will stop, talk to me and say comments. So back home, I try not to walk by myself in the street and I never wear anything provocative. I feel like in the U.S., it’s a bit less scary for a woman to wear shorts and walk by herself.

I personally haven’t [experienced discrimination] but I know some women who have. A few years ago, there was a law in Morocco saying that if a woman get raped, her rapist will have to marry her. Her name was Amina Filali, she was 16 when she killed herself after being forced to marry the man who had raped her. According to Article 475, a rapist can avoid a prison sentence by marrying his victim. The law is based on a similar measure in France, repealed in 1994. Morocco was a protectorate of France until 1956.
Unfortunately, for some Moroccan families, if a girl loses her virginity, she becomes worthless. The law said “the rapist either marry his victim or go to prison.” If the family is too poor/uneducated to support an unmarriageable daughter, they can decide that it’s better for the girl to marry her rapist.
After this tragic story, our king Mohammed IV has decided to cancel this law.

To me, religion doesn’t play a role in how women are treated. The culture does. The way your parents raised you does. In my family, women are respected and treated like queens. In other families, they’re not but it has nothing to do with the religion. The Quran says that women have to be protected, respected and loved, not beaten and raped.”  – Nezah Elabassy

Dr. Kandy Queen-Sutherland is a professor at Stetson University in the Biblical Studies department. She is a feminist and women’s rights activist.

“My story would be that I grew up in a female world, with a single mom and a sister and whatever had to be done, we did. There

Dr. Kandy Queen-Sutherland holding her published book “Ruth and Esther”.

were no questions asked about what ever the task was we accomplished. Because I went to a women’s college in the early 70’s, the women’s rights movement was in full sway and I was very influenced by that. I really didn’t encounter the idea of barriers and limitations until I went to graduate school. And there, I was not just in the minority, but one of fifty women with 1,200 men. It was a total transition into a male world. There it was a constant challenge to barriers and limitations that were being imposed based on gender expectations. And so I challenged them as I encountered them, one by one. I did it personally and I did it to help break through to help other women who were experiencing the same kinds of barriers.

Where women really are held back. Where women really are oppressed. I do know, I’ve traveled in these countries. I keep up with the news, I keep up with women’s issues globally. I encourage students and bring up these topics in my courses. I want women to be aware of the fact that there’s a huge diversity of human need and women’s issues here in the states that are vastly different [from other countries]. I’ve been involved in instances where I knew a woman was going to have to deliver a baby without anesthesia. I know personally of women who have bore the consequences of inadequate healthcare, of being denied the access to fulfill their calling or destiny because of patriarchal values.

I think its terribly important that we champion the rights of all women. Some of our issues are luxury issues, because of the life style that we’ve obtained. That doesn’t make them unreal but they fall down on the category when you’re talking about women who have access to healthcare of any kind, access to education, women who have freedom from living in violence and sexual exploitation. There are some real threats to the lives of women in our world today. And knowing those and being willing to speak out against them are incredibly important. It’s very recent that violence against women has been recognized as a crime or, as a matter of world concern, as a human rights issue. And what’s deeply troubling is the normalization of language that objectifies women. That should’ve gone away a long time ago and instead we’re still seeing it excepted in a way that there’s no place for it. There’s simply no place for it.

The Bible has been used against women. In classes that I teach, I talk of the myth of Eve as temptress. There is entire body of tradition that ties women to evil, and in doing that,  it’s been used to justify sexism and exclude women. What I do in my courses is to go back and re-read those texts and un-layer it, remove the patriarchal layers and biases that are on there against women. The Bible can be liberating for women, but it historically has been used to suppress women.

Not all religions are inherently male oriented, but they are. There was a time when we can say God was a woman. We can recover that. When the shift was made to patriarchy, then the shift favored males in most religious traditions. There are women religious who are challenging this overt sexism in many of the world’s religions. They’re questioning, they’re challenging, they’re no longer accepting as norm that somehow women are less than. We see it more critically in Christianity and in Judaism, but even in Islam there are women who are looking in new ways of what it means to be Muslim and fining new ways of expressing their own faith experience.” Dr. Kandy Queen-Sutherland

What should be done to solve the struggles women face?

“Women have to be super hero.” Nezah Elabassy

“I think more rules should be applied there are countries that disregard womens rights completely. women aren’t allowed to drive in saudi arabia. superior people should make it there duty to make women equal to men as they should feel like.l I don’t think theyre doing anything theyre not putting themselves one womens shoes shouldn’t be taken lightly at all.” Alia Raji

“The female heroes of the bible [define women’s rights]. In story after story, women are the turning point toward the future. In stories that would’ve ended badly, women open the way, they see a way that leads to peace rather than violence, they see a way that leads to acceptance rather than exclusion.

Women have to claim their own rights. Women have to claim their own personal identities, claim their futures, own their bodies. Refuse to negotiate over one’s self-actualization; we have to vocally say ‘No.’ Saying ‘No’ means no to any form of intimidation, oppression, limitations that keep us from being fully human and engaging in a world on our own grounds. It’s over. The time has passed for waiting. There is no more waiting. There is no more time to wait for someone else to give us rights. It is time for women to stand in solidarity and men to stand with women. Women have always known this. It’s called intersectional identities. We don’t just face the world as women,  but we may face the world as women of class, women of race, women of ethnic identities, religious, whatever it is, there is a multitude of facets to being female. We have to recognize that we have to claim our identities and refuse to let anyone else define those identities for us.

We cannot have public figures held up as some kind of model figure, whoever they are, cannot be known for sexual harassment against women and not be chastised. That has to stop. We have to name it and we have to name it as inappropriate, it will not be accepted, it will not be tolerated. I think that is particularly important to say to young women, ‘No it’s not acceptable.’; to say to perpetrators ‘No. You will be judged. We will in fact judge you and you will be judged unfavorably. This is not acceptable.’ Whether it’s verbal abuse, physical abuse– anything that demeans women, puts them in second class categories, anything that denies women equal access, there’s no longer any place for that.   We have zero tolerance on any grounds.” Dr. Kandy Queen-Sutherland


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s