sexta-feira, 1 de julho de 2005

Taslima Nasreen: «No progress without a secular society»

«Every day, women continue to be victims of rape, trafficking, acid-throwing, dowry deaths and other kinds of torture. At the opening of this new century, women are still not considered as equal human beings in many parts of the world. Religion and patriarchy continue to have an all-encroaching hold on their lives, maintaining and justifying their age-old oppression. In some South Asian societies, this hold is even increasing.
I do not believe that there can be real equality in a society dominated by religion. Western countries speak repeatedly about the necessity of economic development to alleviate poverty. But this is not enough. Societies such as Saudi Arabia may be economically developed, but women are deprived of all rights. The supremacy of religion is incompatible with freedom of expression, women’s rights and democracy. This is why I see religion as the main enemy of women’s development.
We have to act on several fronts at once. First of all, improving access to education. In a society like Bangladesh, 80 per cent of women are illiterate. For centuries women have been taught they are the slaves of men. It is very hard to change their minds, to make them aware of their oppression, to give them a sense of their independence. This educational effort has to go hand in hand with a secular feminist movement in society. Such movements have to start within the country and they cannot take hold when people are uneducated and unaware of their oppression. I’m not sure you can accomplish much from the outside, except to expose in the media the atrocities women in all too many countries face in their day to day lives.
In Muslim countries, this movement is emerging, but very timidly, and it has a slim margin of maneuver. It has the uphill task of fighting for the repeal of religious laws and the introduction of a uniform civil code. So far, it tends to be constituted by a few individual feminists who are forced to be diplomatic, to compromise with fundamentalists, be they men or women. But they are trying to change the system, step by step, and it will take a very long time. People are not yet ready to do away with religious laws that impact upon every aspect of society, from education and health to the workplace and the home.
For women’s status to change, we also need enlightened leaders who believe in equality. In countries such as mine, women with a strong voice do not have the support of political leaders, whether they be men or women. Look at the countries in which women are in politics, or even heads of state. Does it follow that women in those countries are emancipated? Because of long-standing vested interests, such leaders continue to back measures that oppress women. They are not ideologically committed to changing these conditions. In South Asia, most of the women who become heads of state are religious, and like men, they adhere to the religious objectives of the Establishment. I am the victim of a country where the prime minister is a woman. Because I went one step too far in denouncing religion and the oppression that it keeps women under, I had to leave my country.
I have seen women oppose me when I talked about women’s rights. They said straight out that God did not believe that women should have so many rights. And I have met men in my country who are against what is said in the religious scriptures and believe in equality between men and women. It does not depend on gender. It depends on one’s conscience. Muslim women who are wearing the veil and glorifying their subservience are obviously not going to better the lives of the oppressed.
Until a society is not based on religion and women are considered equal to men before the law, I do not think that politics will advance the cause of women. In Western countries, women are educated, they are treated equally, they have access to jobs. In these conditions, their participation in politics has a meaning. Education, a secular feminist movement, and leaders–both men and women–committed to equality and justice. This is what it will take to change the dire conditions which too many women still face today. It will take a very long time, but we are here to work towards that end.»

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