Women in Islam: UN deputy chief calls for action on education, empowerment and peace
07 November 2023
Even though women have made extraordinary contributions to Islamic civilization, in many countries they are still being left behind, UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed said during a speech in Saudi Arabia on Monday.
Addressing an international conference in Jeddah on the rights and the role of women in Islam, she called for action in the areas of education, economic empowerment and peace.
End Israel-Gaza conflict
With “the human catastrophe unfolding in Israel and Gaza”, she reiterated the Secretary-General’s condemnation of the killing of civilians, and the taking of hostages, as well as his call for their unconditional release, a humanitarian ceasefire and unimpeded access to people in need.
“We, in this region and the world, must all do everything in our power to end this horrific violence, pain, and suffering and return to the table of peace, only perhaps this time with women,” she said. “Our Muslim faith demands of us that we care for our neighbours in times of need.”
World failing women
Ms. Mohammed said she was honoured to be part of the discussion “on how we can return to Islam’s original and beautiful vision of measuring a person not by their gender but by the strength of their beliefs and the virtue of their acts.”
She recalled that from the start, Islam recognized women’s right to participate in political decision-making, to inherit, and to own property and businesses, “yet many centuries later, in many countries and in many areas of life, women have been left behind.”
She said it was “a sad fact throughout history” that women and girls often suffer first, and worst, but everyone pays the price as societies are less peaceful, economies less prosperous and the world less just.
“Today, women are being failed the world over. Our mothers, wives, daughters,” she said.
“Old forms of discrimination, violence and abuse against girls are worsening all over, while new forms of gender bias and inequality are often built into the algorithms of the new era of the digital world. “
‘Right the wrongs’
Ms. Mohammed called for acting in solidarity on three fronts “to right the wrongs.” She said more must be done to secure the right to education for all people, especially women and girls, “because the Holy Quran demands it of us”.
However, she stressed that education “must be defined by an inclusive, progressive, process that respects societal, religious and cultural norms that do no harm but give agency and dignity to all persons.”
Urgent situation in Afghanistan
Islam clearly calls for ending all discriminatory laws and practices that hinder access to education, she added, noting that 130 million girls worldwide are out of school, highlighting the particular situation in Afghanistan.
“Afghan women need to play their full part in building the future of their country, and their country needs its women and girls to flourish. The Taliban’s harsh restrictions and denial of divinely granted rights must be addressed as a matter of urgency,” she said.
Economic empowerment and justice
Turning to the second front, Ms. Mohammed said advancing economic opportunities and rights of women and girls is not just a question of fairness or equality, but a matter of justice, progress, and prosperity for the whole of society.
When millions of women and girls are prevented from contributing to their communities and to the economy, “we see women’s rights trampled, as is the case in Afghanistan today,” she said, adding that “we all lose.”
But Ms. Mohammed also pointed to signs of hope across the Islamic world, where countries are demonstrating the compatibility of Islamic principles and the empowerment of women.
Honouring tradition, embracing change
Citing countries such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Indonesia, and Senegal, she said “Muslim women scholars, women doctors, women entrepreneurs and political leaders are charting a path forward, rooted in tradition but embracing progress and change.”
She underlined the need to advance women’s leadership, particularly in resolving conflict, mediation and sustaining peace.
Women, peace and security
“We know peace processes, including mediation from the home to the battlefield, that involve women, lead to more sustainable peace outcomes,” she said. “Here too, this is not a matter of doing women a favour – it is about securing the very conditions for inclusive, peaceful and prosperous communities.”
Ms. Mohammed said contrary to the stereotype of Muslim societies as static and unchanging, history shows relentless change and dynamic transformation.
Amplify women’s voices
For example, Muslim jurists have been open to finding interpretations of Islamic Law consistent with changing circumstances and evolving values, while Muslim States have reformed their laws to allow for greater economic and political participation of women.
She said this process must be intensified and encouraged.
“I urge all of you to listen to and amplify the voices of our women in our societies, especially our sisters in Afghanistan,” she said. “Together, let us correct the false impression and ignorance that denying girls and women education and opportunities is consistent with our Islamic faith.”
This article is by UN News. To learn more about the UN team's work in Saudi Arabia, visit saudiarabia.un.org, available in English and Arabic.