By Dr Professor Alhagi Manta Drammeh
Al-Maktoum College of Higher Education, UK (FHEA, FRSA, UK)
Empowerment is not a static concept. It could be quantified and measured against many indexes across times and different contexts. Considering socio-political transformations, empowerment can be studied through new lenses of feminism and non-feminism. The new political conditions in the Gambia have raised hopes that the Gambian women are partners of men and they are able to break the imposed silence fighting for their rights. The long-standing taboos and stereotypes have been defied and their ability to defy the brutal regime of authoritarianism and tyranny is very clear. Women empowerment became a dominant theme of global politics in the 1970s emphasising the fact that women empowerment is fundamental in the creation of equality, development and peace. Empowerment is not limited to power relations between men and women. Rather it transcends to a multi-layered holistic process of civil, political and socio-economic partnership. Islam in many cases, provides the general principles and guidelines. The communities and individuals are thus provided a range of options to operate and negotiate practices and symbols on one hand. On the other, they must continuously engage in social action.
The status of women in Muslim majority countries can be associated with historical, social, political and economic factors. The use of force and intimidation against women has no place in Islam. In fact, Islamic sources namely, the Qur’an and Sunnah have a great regard for women and that they are partners of men. women’s rights, integration of Muslim women and misrepresentation in Western media require further qualitative research from cultural, anthropological and sociological perspectives. This will help raise awareness and broaden our knowledge and understanding of experiences and personal identities of Muslim women, providing them with a sense of agency and educating any misconceptions held by the wider public.
I believe that increased female literacy initiated new demands from women and changed the expectations and attitudes of the societies in both the Muslim and Western world. Expansion in women-oriented and women-run social and political movements throughout the Muslim world and NGOs (whether secular or religious) has led to public discussions on issues that some decades ago were taboo because of traditional social norms and beliefs. The text of the Qur’an is definite but its interpretation is not definite and continues. Therefore, the emergence of the important conception of Ijtihad. Ijtihad is concerned about the human interaction with the sacred texts through their human reasoning to derive laws from them. Thus, women can present their interpretations and play an active role in the development of principles that support their human rights within the framework of the Islamic law. The first woman whose legal opinions were important to Muslims throughout the ages was Aisha the wife of the Prophet Muhammad. She related many hadiths of the Prophet and many of them were approved by Al-Bukhari the great hadith scholar. She was considered an important and rich source of religious rules and an expert on Islamic legislation.
Muslim women assumed political power and literary authority. Islam observes the principle of equality between man and woman. Rights have sanctity attached to them and evoke respect.
The literalist reading of Islam assumes that Islam is static and not compatible with human rights. The literalists have taken up a hostile attitude towards the idea of human rights as it is a cover up for a neo-colonial agenda to dominate the Muslim world (Akbarzadeh and MacQueen, 2008:1). Others believe that recognition of human agency in interpretation and acknowledgement of the text and contextualisation enables one to relate Islam to the contemporary contexts (Akbarzadeh and MacQueen, 2008:3).
We believe that our new Government will leave no stone unturned to ensure that women are empowered. Exactly, Islam came 1400 years ago to empower women and to liberate them from the pre-Islamic jahili dogmas and tyrannies. Women emancipation is not westernisation or cultural alienation. Rather, it means to claim sacred rights women have been deprived of.