Feminist movement could prove counterproductive

Syria is known as being a fairly progressive Islamic nation. Women wear jeans and go to school, and although they might not be considered entirely equal to men, they certainly enjoy a position of greater social power than their peers in countries such as Afghanistan.

Today, Syrian women are challenging the presumption that feminism and conservative Islam are opposing movements.

Julia Vann | Daily Trojan

Julia Vann | Daily Trojan

The country has experienced a religious revival in the past couple of years, with a new movement of conservative female preachers taking power.

In one sense, this movement is a testament to Syria’s progressive nature as a nation; after all, you won’t find women leading Catholic masses even here in the United States.

Yet the paradoxical factor in this trend is that while it may empower women, it won’t necessarily provide them with greater rights.

While feminists around the globe may rejoice at this ostensible victory for women’s rights, the movement may actually be working to stifle those very trends feminists have worked so hard to promote.

The fact that women have achieved positions of power in the country is a step forward for women’s rights, though the ideology they promote is not as progressive.

Radical Islam has been under tight governmental control in Syria since as early as the 1980s, when clashes between Baath and Sunni factions brought the country to the brink of a civil war. Fearing ongoing religious tensions like those seen in neighboring Middle Eastern countries, leaders decided to create a more moderate, government-sanctioned brand of Islam, opening up opportunities for women to step in as preachers.

The most influential of these women was Munira Qubaisia, who is now 70 and is said to have around 75,000 followers, according to BBC News. Known as the Anseh, these women are generally educated, upper-class women who are well-spoken authority figures within their communities.

Today, the Anseh have enjoyed a sudden revival, with more women coming to join the cause than ever before.

While this is a great forum to reach out to the community, the extremely conservative ideology could actually make Syrian society less open to feminist activities.

The shift is reminiscent of the anti-feminist Christian movement that surfaced in the United States in the 1970s. As a reaction to the social elements of that era, Christian women began to revolt through conservative Christianity. Leaders included Phyllis Schlafly, who effectively stopped the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment.

Continuing this spirit of political activism today, Schlafly and her compatriots continue to use their religious views as both a source of empowerment and as a force of social conservativism.

On the one hand, they hope to deny women certain “feminist” rights, believing that women should abstain from sexual relations before marriage and should be subservient to the wishes of their husbands in a marriage.

Yet at the same time, they are highly successful professionally and publicly, enjoying large audiences and sizable paychecks for their writings, lectures and the like.

These conservative Islamic female preachers are enjoying an increased social status as a result of their leadership. But mirroring the tendencies of the Christian anti-feminists before them, there are some who feel the work of the preachers is denying certain progressive social elements of Syrian society,

The BBC quotes one Syrian girl, 16-year-old Hanan Kiftaro, who said, “I like [the preachers], they really care about every girl and make her feel important. But for me I take what I believe is right to do. I think God created us to enjoy life and not to be hard. I won’t be bad if I wear jeans, so I don’t care if they shout at me when I do things they don’t like.”

For Kiftaro, the socially progressive views of her larger society were strong enough to prevent her from becoming caught up in the more extreme conservative undertones of the Anseh.

And it is to the movement’s credit that she is still welcomed to return to meetings where she can engage with her spirituality and the community. Yet for those who are more easily influenced by the extremist elements of the movement, it could become a source of friction with the more secular elements of Syrian society.

So is the rise of conservative Islamic women in Syria a good thing, or a bad thing? Only time will tell whether these women will succeed in empowering women or, perhaps, denying them their rights.

Rosaleen O’Sullivan is a junior majoring in English and international relations.

7 replies
  1. Ali
    Ali says:

    Has Syria really changed since the Hama mass murders? If so then why is Syria working intimately with Iran and Hezbollah?

    First: The crimes of the massacres in Hama

    During the two years, 1980-1981, the city of Hama witnessed several attacks that took the lives of hundreds of religious scholars, prominent people as well as ordinary citizens. But according to eyewitnesses and corresponding reports, what happened during the massacre of February can only be named as ‘mass murder’. Over 25,000 people were murdered by the Syrian authorities, which called upon the Special Forces and defence brigades and selected brigades from the army (brigade 47 and brigade 21) with their heavy arms supported by the air forces. Thus, the city became a large military work area. The canons and rocket launchers bombed the city haphazardly for four continuous weeks, during which the city was sealed off and the citizen’s exit was not permitted.

    The destroying of districts and killing of the citizens, including entire families:
    During the period of mass murder, the regime killed all citizens in certain districts and wiped out entire families.

    The massacre in the new Hama district:
    On the 3rd day of invading the city of Hama, the Syrian regime defence brigades gathered the citizens of the ‘new Hama district’, in the football field and shot them. Then they raided the houses and killed everyone there. They robbed the people of their belongings. Some sources estimate the victims of the district to be around 1500….

  2. Ali
    Ali says:

    Syira a progressive state? That’s like saying “there’s occassionally violence in Sudan”.

    Could you define what “progressive” means to you? Do you mean that compared to the Islamic nation of Iran that Syria is a beacon of light? Or that compared to the Sharia ruled nation of Saudi Arabia that Syria is sort of like Australia? Wow! Comparing Syria to Iran and saying Syria is progressive is really a strong statement.

    While you’re at it, and given your obvious expertise in all things Syria, could you let us know how many of the assassinations of Christian Lebanese ploitcal figures is Syria implictaed in?

    And, lastly, why is it a progressive Islamic country like Syrai has been ruled by the same dictatorial family for something like fifty years?

  3. ibn yaqzan
    ibn yaqzan says:

    Syria is a SECULAR state with a majority Muslim population and a large Christian minority.

    How exactly is it correct to call it an “Islamic State,” or to make the bizarre comparison with Afghanistan (which is over 2000 miles away and is not an Arab country)? It seems that there is an underlying assumption here that all Muslims are the same, and even though they live in distinct countries they tend to act all the same. a LITTLE disturbing to me as a Muslim, to say the least.

  4. Joe
    Joe says:

    This article mixes different definitions of the terms “conservative” and “progressive” so much it makes my head spin. It sounds like Syria has successfully nurtured a moderate form of Islam (if there truly can be such a thing) that is open to women’s rights. You are against that why? Because they might encourage these women to do “conservative” things like seek happy marriages, remain sexually modest, and respect themselves?

    I assume when you use the word “socially conservative” in reference to Christian women in America, you mean that they are in favor of female self-respect, and opposed to abortion. You use that term like it’s a bad thing, and anti-feminist movement. It is not. A nation that embraces women as equals in the professional sphere, but also respects them as women and as human beings, is a nation moving in the right direction.

  5. Diane
    Diane says:

    Significant “rights” have been denied us by the radical feminist agenda. The right to common sense is one that has been badly abused, with feminists arguing till they’re blue in the face that women=men in every respect. Thanks to this complete inability to deal with reality, we have lower standards for soldiers, firefighters and police officers. This has not been “progressive” for anyone. We have rampant divorce, which is crippling to children. We have untold numbers of young women longing for a permanent committed relationship, but who have been duped by the feminists into believing they can trade on their sexuality (like promiscuous men) and not have it hurt their psyches or their shot at happiness, monogamy or an STD-free life.

    These outcomes, my friend Rosaleen, are the “certain rights” that Christian conservative women argue against. And they have a darn good point.

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