Book Review - Sexuality As A Component Of Human Rights
Jordan Times (Amman)
By Sally Bland
Posted Monday April 30, 2001
Women and Sexuality in Muslim Societies Edited by Pinar Ilkkaracan
Istanbul, Women for Women's Human Rights, 2000, Pp. 455. Women For
Women's Human Rights (WWHR), founded in 1993, is an autonomous human
rights NGO based in Turkey. By publishing Women and Sexuality in Muslim
Societies, WWHR has ventured into a field largely unresearched and
still considered taboo by many, despite the growing body of literature
dealing with gender.
The reasoning behind the book's focus is clearly stated in the preface:
"Sexuality is an integral part of our lives, our relationships, and our
communities. And whether rural or urban women, illiterate or highly
educated, we all face violations of our human rights in this area....
Sexuality continues to be used as a basic tool for patriarchal control
of women and for oppression of society at large." Editor Pinar
Ilkkaracan is very explicit that Women and Sexuality in Muslim
Societies does not claim to be the final word on the subject, nor to
speak for all Muslim women. Nevertheless, the scope of the book is
impressive in terms of its subject matter, the diversity of the
backgrounds of the contributing authors and their styles of
presentation. Topics covered range from Islam's concept of female
sexuality, the question of virginity, honour crimes, female genital
mutilation, sexual abuse and rape, to love, marriage and sexual
fulfillment. These topics are addressed in the context of various
societies, with examples drawn mainly from Turkey and Arab countries,
including Jordan and Palestine, but also from Pakistan, India, Iran,
Malaysia and the Muslim community in the UK.
The authors include women from all these countries and from many walks
of life: academics, feminist activists, doctors, poets, writers,
psychologists, journalists and lawyers. This gives a multidisciplinary
perspective on the topics at hand.
Concerning Arab countries, the book includes reprints of important
writings by Fatima Mernissi, Nawal Saadawi, Leila Ahmed, Evelyne Accad,
Mervat F. Hatem, Alifa Rifaat, Lama Abu Odeh, Nahid Toubia and Aida Seif
The contributions are a mix of historical studies and current analysis.
Some are scholarly research papers; others are the results of field
surveys, training programmes to empower women, or campaigns for women's
rights. Still others are personal accounts, poems or cartoons. As a
result, although the book appears rather dense at first glance, it is
highly readable; there is never a dull moment.
A recurring theme in the book is that Islam does not have a monolithic
view of the various issues related to women's sexuality; nor do harmful
practices, such as honour crimes or female genital mutilation, derive
from Islamic teachings.
Some of the most startling examples of variation in Muslim society are
to be found in Bouthaina Shaaban's eye-opening account of visiting the
Tawariqu society in Algeria southern Sahara. Here she found that men,
not women, cover their heads; teenage boys and girls are encouraged to
get to know each other well before marriage; marriage partners are
freely chosen, and women are as likely as men to seek divorce. There is
no social stigma placed on divorced women or on children born out of
wedlock; wife-beating is almost unheard of; and it is totally
unacceptable for a man to order his wife to cook dinner for him.
© 2001 Jordan Times (Amman).
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