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Once again, everybody is entitled to speak on behalf of Muslim women except themselves. A few days ago, El Mundo reported that this year’s Comisión Islámica de España (Islamic Commission of Spain) did not include any women in their board.
The Commission plays an important role in lobbying with the Spanish government in anything regarding the country’s Muslim population. Therefore, they are a unique organization that has access to the sphere of power and is in charge of negotiating with it. Nonetheless, this year no women will be there to take part on some of the current discussions in Spain, such as the banning of the veil.
Marie Laurie Rodríguez, president of Mujeres Musulmanas de España (Muslim Women of Spain), expressed her disappointment to the media. Rodríguez not only explained the importance of having women in this organization, but she also requested equal representation. As Rodríguez points out, Islamic organizations should promote women’s participation in order for them to say what they really think on issues that concern them and the community as a whole.
Rodríguez, who identifies herself as an Islamic Feminist, asserts that women should express themselves instead of becoming someone else’s topic of study. In her opinion, anyone who believes in the Qur’an must be a feminist because the revelation grants status and rights to women. Thus, women should have equal access to organizations and must have the right to respond and contribute to issues that affect not only women, but also Muslim communities.
However, trends are different these days. With the commission being represented only by males, the female Muslim experience is dismissed. This will provide further excuses for the Western media to claim that Muslim women are oppressed, evidenced by the fact that men that represent them. Although men can be well intentioned when lobbying for women’s rights and participation in Spanish society, women’s presence is vital. Muslim women should have the option to represent themselves, give their opinions, and lobby for their particular interests without intermediaries.
In the Spanish case, despite the fact that an Equality Law has been in place for years, female participation in the main Islamic lobbying group in the country has not been encouraged. This is problematic in many aspects.
First, discussions on the banning of the veil affect Muslim women (and arguably only them), who could be prohibited to wear it on the grounds that wearing it is an act of oppression or a “portable jail.”
Next, most discussions on Islam endorsed by everyone from the media to politicians have to do with the status of women. As Rodríguez explains, the main examples that the media provides to justify their arguments on the oppression and mistreatment of Muslim women are countries such as Iran, Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan, which are well known for their lack of women-friendly policies. However, many Muslim women are professionals, activists (even in predominately Muslim countries) and are very engaged in society and politics around the world.
Finally, the Comisión Islámica de España recently mentioned the importance of Muslim women’s roles in the organization. So, if women are so important, why not give them a place right in the center of action?
Some people would argue that men in this organization can lobby and negotiate for women in matters that concern them because Muslims are a community and must look after everybody’s interests. Nonetheless, we see many examples where men speak “on behalf” of women without serving the best interests of the latter.
In the West, especially in countries like Spain, there are few things more important than empowering Muslim women to talk for themselves and actively participate in the community. Women must have an equal part in the Comisión Islámica de España!