On July 18-19, 2014, an important liberation movement and Declaration of Equalities for Muslim Women will be discussed and signed in Seneca Falls.
Yes, Seneca Falls, the very site where Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, and Susan B. Anthony once gathered to issue their 1848 Declaration of Sentiments on behalf of women.
I recently spoke with the leader of this latest movement. Nadia Shahram is the lawyer who is convening this conference and who has drafted this Declaration.
For more on the Muslim Women’s Liberation Movement and the Declaration of Equalities for Muslim Women, see Dr. Chesler’s column on the Seneca Falls meeting this July.
Chesler: What inspired you to do this?
Shahram: I was concerned about the apathy which surrounds the plight of Muslim women. In addition to the horrific atrocities such as honor killings, stoning, acid pouring, genital mutilation, child brides, and burnings, the majority of Muslim women worldwide are also subjected to unjust laws, discrimination, and a general lack of basic human rights. Some of these include child custody, self-determination and autonomy, access to education and employment, social and cultural restriction, travel limitations, and much more. The legal systems and the courts have failed to protect these women. The Declaration of Equalities movement is my way (as a female lawyer) of putting pressure on these nations and governments to amend their laws and provide equal rights and protection for women. I was also inspired by my affiliation with the Seneca Falls community and the work of Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
Chesler: What do you hope this grand vision may be able to accomplish?
Shahram: My hope is that this movement will continue over the next decade and grow into a world community. We want to be able to add new declarations aimed at improving the lives of Muslim Women. My dream is that we generate enough signatures and support to have some influence on foreign governments and courts to amend discriminatory laws. I also want to change the attitudes and perceptions of Muslim women living in the U.S. and the West. They often succumb to the pressures of the community to conform. That is the biggest problem in Muslim communities today, conformity to antiquated men-made laws.
Chesler: What kind of support do you have for this conference?
Shahram: We are in the process of reaching out to various women’s rights and Muslim organizations. The process is extremely slow. We are currently and actively working with the Interfaith Institute of the Finger Lakes and the Women’s Rights National Parks. I have great support from local legal associations and the legal community.
Chesler: What kind of opposition have you encountered or do you expect?
Shahram: Interestingly enough, the biggest opposition seems to be stemming from Muslim organizations and, believe it or not, Muslim women who I believe are succumbing to the pressures of their communities and comfortable in a state of complacency.
Chesler: As I understand this, such a declaration is meant for Muslim women only and mainly for those who live in North America? Do you think this concept can travel to Europe as well?
Shahram: The Declaration is targeting laws of countries outside of North America, particularly in the Middle East where many of these unjust laws exist. What I am targeting in North America is the attitudes of Muslim women towards equality in court with men.
Chesler: Stanton and Anthony had to battle for sixty years for women’s right to vote. What do you envision will happen more quickly–or more slowly–along the way? What are some specific goals?
Shahram: I don’t anticipate quick results and or changes to cultural, religious, and historical practices that have been in existence for centuries. Change will come slowly. I do hope that with the access to technology more women will become empowered to react and demand change.
Chesler: Do you want to talk about anything I have not asked about?
Shahram: The role of the community here in western New York in keeping unjust practices such as polygamy alive and how they shun women who are vocal about their abusive relationships.
Chesler: Thank you so much for your leadership and commitment.