WASHINGTON—“Muslim women can and should play a significant role in ensuring peace in their communities and countries around the world,” said Dr. Rosa Rai Djalal, President of the Muslim Women’s Association, at a forum on Capitol Hill in Washington on March 20, 2013. “If women are not involved in the peace process, peace is unlikely to be sustainable. I strongly believe that women, both Muslim and non-Muslim, have unique a perspective that allow them to be catalysts for peace and nation-building.”
The forum, “Engaging Diverse Voices of Faith for the Common Good,” was hosted by the Center for Multifaith Partnerships, an initiative of the Global Peace Foundation.
“Recognition for the role of both Muslim and non-Muslim women in ensuring peace, justice and prosperity around the world has been growing,” Dr. Djalal told the forum. “In many parts of the world, Muslim women already play an important role in defending and promoting peace.”
She cited growing representation of women among recent Nobel laureates, notably 2003 Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi, the first Muslim woman chosen for the distinguished award. Championing the rights of women, children, and political prisoners in Iran, Dr. Ebadi has shown throughout her career that Islam, women’s rights and social justice are compatible.
In 2011, the Nobel Peace Prize was shared by three women, Tawakkol Karman, a 32-year old mother of three from Yemen, for defending and promoting human rights in her country; Liberian social worker Leymah Gbowee, who brought Christian and Muslim women together to form the Women for Liberia Mass Action for Peace, which played a pivotal role in ending Liberia’s 14-year civil war; and Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, subsequently elected President of Liberia and Africa’s first ever female head of state.
Empowering Muslim women
Despite women’s capacity to foster peace, Dr. Djalal said, far too many Muslim and non-Muslim women are marginalized from peace-building efforts. “The question that we must address is how we can empower and increase opportunities for more Muslim women to take part in the peace-building process.”
“Much of the marginalization of Muslim women can be traced to a lack of education,” she said. “To the weak, the poor and the voiceless, education is a tremendous liberating force.
“We have consistently seen that when girls and women have the opportunity to empower themselves through education it not only benefits them, but it leads to a multiplier effect that benefits their families as well as their larger communities.
“The role that Muslim women play in fighting radicalism and terrorism is often overlooked, but it shouldn’t be underestimated,” Dr. Djalal added. “Indeed, Muslims believe that heaven is found at the soles of a mother’s feet. Thus, in the family, an educated and loving mother can be the most effective antidote for children who are at risk of [becoming radicalized]. . . . There can be no peace in the world without good loving mothers.”
Dr. Djalal said that universal suffrage and economic opportunity were also essential to empower Muslim women. Universal suffrage “naturally changes the political dynamics, and changes the political significance of women in Islamic societies. This is one of the most important reasons why Muslim-majority countries such as Bangladesh, Turkey, Indonesia and Pakistan, have elected women as Presidents and Prime Ministers.”
“The education and empowerment of women throughout the world cannot fail to result in a more caring, tolerant, just and peacefull life for all.”
–Aung San Suu Kyee, Nobel Peace Prize, 1991
She said microfinance loans have transformed not only women borrowers, but also families and communities. “Entrepreneurship will be a key driver of change in the twenty-first century,” she said, “and it is critical that women–including Muslim women –do not miss this window of opportunity.”
Dr. Djalal said that social reform will also key to empowering Muslim women to take a more significant role in the peace-building process. She urged greater acceptance in Muslim as well as non-Muslim societies of the notion that women are equal stake-holders democracy and development require the participation of women.
Finally, she said, for Muslim women to increase their role in peace building they need to claim a voice of their own. Through social media, “a person is no longer just an ID number; he or she is an opinion, a hub, a voice. The impact of this sudden connectivity to human civilization is enormous. In exercising our collective voice, Muslim women should help push back the stereotypes that exist about Islam and increase their role as stakeholders in the peace-building process.”
The Capitol Hill forum hosted Muslim, Christian and Hindu leaders who explored common values and resources for peace among their respective traditions. The forum was co-sponsored by the Global Peace Foundation, Nahdlatul Uluma North America, Global Young Leaders Academy, and Institute for Faith & Service, and sponsored by Georgia U.S. Congressman Hank Johnson.
Dr. Djalal is the wife of Indonesia’s ambassador to the United States, Dr. Dino Patti Djalal, and the founder and head of the Al Hamid Foundation in Jakarta.