“Women’s groups are heartbroken”

The BBC reports that, following mass protests, the president of Mali has decided not to sign the country’s new family law, and will return it to parliament for review.

Some of the provisions that have proved controversial give more rights to women.

For example, under the new law women are no longer required to obey their husbands, instead husbands and wives owe each other loyalty and protection.

Women get greater inheritance rights, and the minimum age for girls to marry in most circumstances is raised to 18.

According to the BBC,

Women’s groups are heartbroken – they have been trying for more than 10 years to get the law changed.

The reasons for the protests are no doubt more complex than they are being presented here, but this is so sad, my heart goes out to those groups.

What strikes me is how this is being presented as a Muslim issue.

Firstly, in a country where 90% of the population are Muslims, I would imagine that surely the ‘women’s groups’ mentioned include lots of Muslim women too? Talking about ‘women’s group’ verses ‘Muslims’ makes Muslim women fighting for their rights invisible, which contributes to the problem.

Secondly, let’s face it, you won’t struggle to find people in non-Muslim countries who argue that women should basically ‘obey’ their husbands (The Surrendered Wife? Fay Weldon? Every Men’s Rights / Anti-Feminist website there is?). Ok, they’re not (usually) saying it should be the law, but let’s not be high and mighty about this.

No, but I don’t want to discuss this as a Muslim issue (and Islamophobic comments won’t be published). And I definitely don’t want to turn this into a “Can western feminism save Muslim women” discussion (as the Guardian posed recently); a question that’s well-meaning but offensive on many levels.*

What I want to put out for discussion is what we, over here in the UK, can help and support women’s groups in other countries, Mali or anywhere else. How can we support feminists in other countries besides publicising their issues and signing petitions? I mean, signing petitions is great, but what other suggestions are there for practical help? Donating money? Writing letters? What? Let’s have a recap!

We feel so powerless to help so often, is that feeling justified?

Firstly I would imagine we should find out what are these women saying we should do. For example, does anyone have a link to these Mali women’s groups, and what are they saying? I did a search for Mali feminists and all I got was Google saying “did you mean male feminists?” Sigh!

[* Off the top of my head:

1. Implying that Muslims aren’t westerners.

2. Assuming that Muslim women have to ‘saved’

3. Assuming that there are no Muslim feminists.

4. Suggesting that only Muslim women are oppressed.

5. Implying western feminists have to ‘save’ non-western women rather than supporting and working with them, and maybe even learning something from them.

5. And so on. ]