In Java, Radcliffe Fellow Nancy J. Smith-Hefner studies a functional — if sometimes tense — negotiation of gender roles within Islam. But in some Muslim societies, the tension between genders can lapse into violence. Other Radcliffe fellows can tell that tale.
Last year, Hauwa Ibrahim RI ’09, the first female lawyer in northern Nigeria’s predominantly Muslim Gombe region, talked about the sometimes violent consequences of shariah religious law for women. This year, current Radcliffe Fellow Humaira Awais Shahid, a Pakistani journalist, human rights activist, and former legislator, will present an April 14 discussion on the Islamic and tribal context of violence against women in South Asia.
Shahid has seen gender conflict within Islam escalate into gang rapes, acid attacks, honor killings, forced marriages, and other forms of violence. Legal reforms in Pakistan are slowly improving the picture, including a Women’s Protection Act and a law that protects women from workplace harassment.
Now Shahid is part of an effort to improve things further, on an international scale. Last month, she appeared with U.S. senators John Kerry and Barbara Boxer in Washington, D.C., at the reintroduction of the International Violence Against Women Act. If enacted, the law would tie all U.S. international aid to violence against women and girls, and make the issue a diplomatic priority.