Gender (roles) and Islam

In Muslim societies women and men are expected to behave in line with with social, cultural or religious codes (gender roles). These are created to distinguish between what is considered to be ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’ (gender). These gender roles are learned within a particular social and cultural context and are affected by education and economics. In practice gender roles often affect women adversely impeding their self determination in areas like their socio-economic status, status within the family, health, life expectation, independence, freedom and rights (gender bias).

Although the Qur’an views women and men to be equal in human dignity, this spiritual or ethical equality has not been reflected in most Muslim laws. For example, women do not have equal rights to make independent decisions about choice of (marriage) partner, getting a divorce and custody of their children. Reformists and feminists have challenged women’s lack of rights and lack of control over their own lives in Muslim lawsthrough the various techniques as in the section ‘Framework for Progressive Islam’.

Central to this challenge has been the reinterpretation of Qur’anic verses which seemingly privilege men over women and reinforce gender rolesQur’an verse 4.34, which refers to men as ‘guardians’ (qawamun) (over women), has been used to justify gender roles and male privilege over women. (For details of this and other verses see WadudHassan & Mernissi). Reformist and feminist scholars have argued that the concept of guardianship has formed the basis of particular ‘gendered’ roles in Muslim societies. Women are often expected to be obedient wives and mothers staying within the family environment and men are expected to be protectors and caretakers of the family (HassanWadudBarlas).

These scholars have explored how verse 4.34 has been interpreted and used to limit women’s autonomy, freedom of movement and access to economic opportunities and independence. They believe that the concept of ‘guardianship’ only meant to make sure that a woman who is bearing and nurturing children, is provided for (by her husband) whilst undertaking this task. Feminist scholars believe that this economic safeguard has been extended through the concept of guardianship to create a rigid division of gender roles and social control of men over women (HassanWadudYamani). This extension of male ‘guardianship’ over women has become embodied in Muslim laws and is embedded in Muslim societies.

One of the key reasons suggested for justifying male guardianship over women within the family and in society at large, is the idea that female sexuality needs to be controlled (MernissiDunneStowasser – see the section on ‘Women’s Sexuality and Islam’). The concept of guardianship, rigid gender roles and male control over women’s sexuality are also tools to impose and enforce heterosexuality.

Original Post here

by Safra Project

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