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Making space for Muslim women

Islamic centre hosts female-only forum to remind them of their valuable place in society

Mar 07, 2008 04:30 AM Noor Javed
Staff Reporter


Tomorrow evening, nearly a hundred Muslim women will celebrate International Women's Day at the two-storey house that acts as the Meadowvale Islamic Centre as the mosque will be hosting a women-only conference – with the goal of reaching out to the "other half of the community."

Mosques have traditionally been considered to be male-dominated spaces, said Farrah Khan, 28, a social worker speaking at the event on Winston Churchill Blvd., but the recognition of the day to "celebrate women" is a welcome sign that attitudes are changing.

The timing of the event is no coincidence, said organizer Asma Dean, 27, born and raised in Mississauga.

"This day is about recognizing women, and reminding them that they have a valuable place in society," said Dean.

"We want to explain the kinds of steps they can take to be stronger, more assertive, independent and contributing members of society."

The event, titled "Healthy Families, Healthy Communities, Stronger Women, a Stronger World," will include speeches from three social workers and will teach about safety planning, warning signs of abuse, where to find jobs, and even an hour-long self-defence class.

As a volunteer at the mosque, which serves the largely South Asian community, Dean has helped counsel a number of women struggling with marital problems and abusive situations.

But it was the tragedy of 16-year-old Aqsa Parvez that motivated Dean to do something more – and talk about issues of violence and abuse, openly and without fear.

Parvez was found strangled in her home last December; her father is charged with her murder. Her death brought issues of clashing cultures, religion and family conflicts to the fore. "I thought it was necessary to do something to educate and inform women of their rights according to the Islamic teachings and the laws of Canada," said Dean.

Using the law, seeking out support services and reporting abuse are often difficult for many women to do, both because they are unaware of available options and often become stigmatized by their families and community, Dean said.

"For too long, women have been told to remain quiet, that by talking about the abuse in public we would be shaming our families, and our husbands or abusers," she said. "But this is not about airing our dirty laundry. . . . This is about protecting oneself from abuse that is hurting you.

"If a woman can't take control of a situation in her home, she should be able to get help. That's her fundamental Islamic right and her fundamental Canadian right."

Part of the challenge of such events is to get women to talk openly to each other, said Khan.

"We're having a space where Muslim women can support Muslim women – and that is unique."

Khan said women often fear being gossiped about, or about further perpetuating stereotypes that they are victims. "Just having a space where women can talk to each other will make them stronger


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