ISLAMABAD, Feb 20: Former prime minister Benazir Bhutto has said that “to build stronger democracies” the US and the Muslim countries must promote women rights. “As the first woman ever elected to head an Islamic nation, I feel a special responsibility regarding issues that relate to women,” the chairperson of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) told a seminar organized by the Brookings Institute and the US-Islamic World Forum in Doha, Qatar.
She said the next decade could not be “a decade of confrontation, nor East vs West, nor men vs women, nor Islam vs Christianity. That is what the enemies of dialogue want. We can succeed by remaining true to the values of equality, democracy, pluralism and development”.
She said, “the Quran is insistent on the full participation of women in the society and the equality of men and women. Men and women perform Haj side by side. In Islam, neither gender can be superior”.
But in the Muslim World, she said, “there is the perception that a good leader is inherently masculine. This is because men tend to evaluate men more positively and women more negatively”.
She said that democracy alone was not enough.
“Empowerment is not only the right to become a prime minister. Empowerment is the right to be economically independent. Empowerment is the right to be educated and make choices”, she observed.
Only recently, women had been given representation in the parliaments of certain Muslim countries. “Women will be optimistic if there are more women role models in leadership,” she observed.
“Women are encouraged in Islam to contribute their opinions and ideas. Bibi Khadeja, the wife of the Prophet (PBUH) was the first witness to Islam. She was a working woman, a business woman.
“In terms of human rights, the Quran makes no distinction between men and women,” she said.
Ms Bhutto said the Prophet of Islam (PBUH) preached equal rights for women. “Now the task before us all is to restore them in the Islamic World.
“Islam does not forbid a woman from holding important positions in government. Abdur Rahman Ibn Auf consulted many women before he recommended Hazrat Usman to be the Caliph,” she added.
Ms Bhutto said the fact that four Muslim countries — Pakistan, Bangladesh, Turkey and Indonesia — have had female heads of government gave her assurance that “the problems of women in Islamic societies can be seriously addressed”.
The seminar brought leaders from government, business and profession for a dialogue on the future and the challenges faced by the women.
Ms Bhutto identified seven challenges for women in the next five years, the foremost being providing education. “Education leads to job opportunities — opportunities that are critical to the empowerment of women,” she said. Then came judicial representation, which was essential to the dispensation of justice, and law enforcement.
Media was the fourth challenge facing the women. “Many women are ignorant of their rights. An advertising campaign can inform women that violence against them by their family members is illegal”.
Fifth, she said women’s hostels were important where women, if abused by members of their family, could take shelter. Child care centres were also needed to facilitate women who wish to work.
Women also needed access to credit to establish business of their own, said the PPP leader.
She said that it was not easy for women in modern society, whether in Dhaka, Doha or Dallas.