Feminism: Between equality and equity

By Hamka Rosli

Feminism, by definition, is the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men. This is the main description of feminism, but there are more than seeking equal opportunities for women than men.

Now let’s do a little flashback on how it all started, as the majority of the world believed it so. The movement on feminism occurred within the time period of the 19th and early 20th centuries throughout the world where women are seeking to get the rights to vote. All the feminist movements back then are centred on the suffrage, and many called it as the ‘first-wave’. Then came the second wave and so forth seeing women fight for their rights of equality. However, this movement is much stronger in the West, but in developing country like Malaysia, the case is different.

Most of western countries’ fight for woman equality in which they wanted men and women to have equal rights in economy, political, social and in other aspects. It is not wrong for women to fight for their rights, but I would prefer the term equity over equality.

Men and women both are created differently for reasons. We do not have to be equal, instead we should complement each other, and man needs to acknowledge the rights of a woman. For feminists who have been fighting for their women’s rights might not agree with this statement, but to put into perspective, they also have a valid reason why they want an equal opportunity as their counterpart’s gender.

It has been for so many years that society has treated women unfairly. Most of women, even nowadays in the third world country especially, have been treated badly. Women do not get equal pay as men by doing the same job, women’s voice will not matter much in making public policies, women are abused and owned in some countries because of the negative social affiliation, some girls somewhere in Pakistan risk their lives to go to school, and other cases too where women seem weak and almost useless to some culture.

As someone who professes the teaching of Islam, all the negative associations to women must not be accepted. Islam never teaches us to treat women badly, and if feminism is an ideology to protect women and their rights, then Islam is a feminist religion. It may sound a bit controversial to name a religion as feminist, but that is what Islam teaches us. So, it brings us to the question whether feminism should be about equality or equity.

Throughout the century, feminists have done much work by campaigning for women’s rights and also protecting the women and girls from rape, sexual harassment, and domestic violence. Things that they have done by defending their own kind cannot be denied. In today’s world, it is really a privilege for women because most of them get what they deserve. For example, rights of education, rights to work, rights to vote and other forms of protection too. This is all because of feminist movement.

However, despite all the good intentions and works, there are some feminist groups with radical movement. This type of group should be avoided as they propagated the idea of total equality in all aspects. As mentioned earlier, men and women by nature are different and cannot be equal in every aspect. There are some areas where men are more suitable, and there are some fields where women are more expert than men. The world, I believe, is created to complement and help each other, not the other way around, by dominating one another. Because of this, Islam since more than 1400 thousand years ago has showed the best way for all humankind that gives justice and rights to both women and men.

Islam and Feminism

Justice is one of the core principles in Islam. Before Islam came to the Arabic society, women were discriminated and terribly treated. They had no right to own property, were supposed to be the property of the man, and everything went to his sons if the man died. Then came Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and he instituted rights of property ownership, inheritance, education, economic endeavours, and gave women certain basic safeguards.

He granted women rights that help to improve women’s status in society. This is one way to protect women from being used as a tool. Feminist believes equality is giving women the same amount of wage as men, but that is actually being fair and just to women. Being fair and just are more superior than being equal.

If we read Islamic history books which were written by prominent historian like Ibn Hisham, Ibn Hajar, Ibn Sa’ad and Tabari, it clearly shows the struggle of empowering women’s dignity and their rights. Also, Sister in Islam (SIS), being one of NGOs in Malaysia that fights for women’s rights, acknowledged that Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is the earliest man feminist that protect women’s right after the establishment of Islam in Arabic. Besides that, we have watched many influential Muslim women succeed in high rank. It is irrefutable that Islam is a religion that upholds women’s rights, and as SIS has put forward a good point: Islam and feminism is indeed, compatible.

Nonetheless, radical movement is still part of the game played by radical feminist. As a Muslim, we need to understand that Islam does not permit something that is against Islamic teaching. For example, The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) has touched many issues related to marriage, rights to divorce and others that contradict to Islamic teaching. There is also effort by CEDAW to pressure and frame Malaysia for not being fair or applying justice to Muslim women, especially by bringing the issues to the United Nations (UN).

Because of that, the Rector of IIUM, Prof. Dato’ Sri Dr. Zaleha Kamaruddin, was sent to correct their misinterpretation about Malaysia by saying that the state cannot accept their concept of feminism because “it contradicts with our constitution which puts Islam as the official religion.” As follows, the right term should be gender equity as promoted by Islam where women and men understand their roles and not to put labels at one another.***


picture taken from Huffington Post
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