New Reports on Women in Muslim Societies

Two “hot of the presses” resources have recently come out on women in Muslim societies.

The Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) has published a collection of essays by women leaders from Muslim societies. The publication is titled, “Women’s Leadership Network: Women’s Political, Public, and Economic Participation in the Muslim World.”

I think this report is particularly important given the current flap over President Obama’s comments about the building of a mosque near Ground Zero.

In the forward (p.3) of the report it states, “These papers both join and respond to the call for Islamic feminism as part of a modernist movement bent on contextualizing Islam. The women leaders in this Network are at the forefront of reform across the Muslim world and are mining the egalitarian core of Islamic jurisprudence. Women’s struggle for equality and basic rights has been intensified by the rise of a male dominated Islam that too often defines women’s empowerment as anti-Islamic or Western cultural imperialism. The women leaders featured in this volume embrace a progressive interpretation of Islam to support women’s rights. These leaders are working both within the tenets of Islam and the universal human rights framework to make changes for women and to broaden the frontiers of economic, political, and educational participation for women.”

Gender ideologies also affect Muslim women’s participation in physical activity and sport. Another new book just out addresses these issues, titled “Muslim Women and Sport.” According to the Routledge website, “The book presents an overview of current research into constructs of gender, the role of religion and the importance of situation, and looks closely at what Islam has to say about women’s participation in sport and what Muslim women have to say about their participation in sport.”

And We Wonder Why Some Girls Aren’t Physically Active?

This morning a colleague sent me this article from about another ban on head scarves for Muslim female athletes. When I see this and other  stories, it makes me recommit to the work I do at The Tucker Center.

It its well documented that females are less physically active than their male peers at all ages, and that girls of color are less physically active than their White counterparts. There are two great reports that summarize the plethora of research on girls, physical activity and health and developmental outcomes–The Tucker Center Research Report: Developing Physically Active Girls (2007), and The Women’s Sport Foundation’s Her Life Depends On It (2009).

Some of the work I do with my graduate student Chelsey Thul, examines the barriers to physical activity of East African girls here in the Twin Cities. We have the largest East African diaspora in the US, and the East African girls in our community find in very challenging to be as physically active as they’d like to be.  They talk about wanting to be physically active but also desire to remain true to religious and cultural norms. If you want to see a great film that documents the challenges Iranian Muslim women face who desire to compete in an international soccer match with a German team, be sure to watch Football Under Cover.

The story illustrates exactly how challenging it can be for Muslim girls and women to be physically active. When are leagues and sport organizations going to enact inclusive policies that encourage and facilitate physical activity and sport participation for EVERYONE?