Meredith Rahman ‘10 Discusses Powerful Muslim Women

Meredith Rahman ’10 greeted her audience with the traditional Muslim peace greeting, “Assalamu alaikum,” in her Brace Fellow Presentation, “Muslim Women as Leaders in the Modern World: A Reality or a Paradox?” this Monday.?? Rahman’s presentation focused on Muslim women in powerful societal roles. ?“The media is filled with images of Muslim women who seemed to be subjugated by their religion or culture. Yet, there have been more women leaders in high political positions in Muslim countries than in non-Muslim countries. I wanted to understand how this could occur,” said Rahman. Rahman kicked off her presentation with an image of the only Muslim Barbie manufactured, dressed in the traditional head dressing the women are expected to wear while also modeling what seemed to be an outfit taken directly from the wardrobe of Jackie Onassis.?? Rahman said this situation is a perfect example of the constant identity struggle that Muslim women face in the modern world. ??Rahman said Muslim women must fit into a strict religious framework by exhibiting devotion and piety, while balancing these expectations with the values of the modern world. ?? In her presentation, Rahman spoke about four powerful Muslim women. ??Rahman first discussed Sheikh Hasina, Prime Minister of Bangladesh, as an example of the powerful roles Muslim women play in government. ??Hasina’s father was a Bengali politician, whose governmental status facilitated her election as the Prime Minister of Bangladesh despite six years of prior exile from the country. ?? Rahman said Hasina’s election is a testament to the power of family ties in the Muslim government. ?? Rahman subsequently told the stories of three other female Muslim politicians: Khaleda Zia, the first female Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Benazir Bhutto, the head of the Pakistani Peoples Party and Tansu Ciller, the Prime Minister of Turkey from 1993 to 1996. Rahman also discussed the importance of class in Muslim politics and revealed that class plays a more instrumental role in political elections than gender. ?? Flavia Vidal, Instructor in English, said, “Class, race and gender are issues we focus on here on campus. It’s turned around [in the Western world]. Reversed.” ?Ellen Blindauer ’10 said, “Meredith’s distinction of class over gender was interesting, along with the prominent role of familial legacies.”?? Jasmine Stovall ’10 said, “It’s very different from western ideals.”? ?“I believe that these women’s terms in power did show some progress in the status of women. However, they do not symbolize the grand change Westerners would expect it to. Men and women are still not equal. More women in politics may be a step towards gender equality; but it depends on the influence and respectability of the woman,” said Rahman.