The deadly terror attack on two mosques in New Zealand is "another grim reminder" of rampant Islamophobia sweeping the world, Pakistan's permanent representative to the UN, Ambassador Maleeha Lodhi, told a gathering of delegates on Sunday.
The senior diplomat was addressing a side-event on "Breaking Stereotypes: Muslim Women as agents of change", one of the four events organised by her, at the UN Commission on the Status of Women, a global gathering of women activists,
Lodhi linked the Christchurch terror to stereotyping, which she argued can have serious consequences as it can lead to misconceptions, demonisation and violence.
"It's a slippery slope when Muslims are stereotyped and mischaracterised, sometimes deliberately by those who engage in hate speech," Ambassador Lodhi said.
She made a distinction between culture and religion, highlighting Islam's role as an enabling agent for Muslim women, contrary to Western misconceptions about the religion with respect to women's rights. According to Lodhi, the barriers to emancipation of women are patriarchal social structures and an overall lack of education in societies.
The annual meeting of the commission, which dates back to 1947, brought to the UN more than 9,000 representatives from civil society organisations. It will conclude on March 22. Khawar Mumtaz represented Pakistan and delivered her statement on Friday.
The event, a brainchild of Ambassador Lodhi, attracted a large audience with people prepared to stand throughout the hour and half event. About her own professional journey as a Muslim woman, she said it involved facing obstacles, overcoming fears but always keep dreaming.
"My professional path," Ambassador Lodhi said, "Constantly entailed challenging, defying and overcoming stereotypes."
"This almost becomes a lifetime occupational hazard for women [across the world], and not just in the Muslim world," she said. "The important thing is never to allow this to distract or diminish us."
She said women have two choices when confronted with attitudes shaped by stereotypes or when facing barriers: either seethe with resentment or press ahead vigorously to make a difference. She added that anger is not a strategy.
Other speakers from Indonesia, Turkey Qatar and Iran echoed the view that for Muslim women, faith is not a barrier; indeed throughout Islamic history women have played prominent public roles.
According to them a correct reading of religion showed that Islam was an enabling factor for women to pursue professional roles.
A lively question answer segment followed presentations by the panel of speakers. The session was moderated by Pakistani American Professor Ameena Zia.
Participating in the side-events were parliamentarians who came there to attend the meeting of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) hearings.