January 25, 2016

Reclaiming and reframing cultural norms to advance sexual rights

Written by Leila Hessini, Director of Community Engagement, Ipas


Women in majority Muslim contexts are leading in inspiring ways to promote positive sexuality, agency and power in ways that are often unknown outside of their countries or regions.  Muslim scholars and activists are documenting and centering the diverse realities of those most marginalized by mainstream discourse and building collective movements to strategize and share scholarship and practice. They are reclaiming the right to serve as religious leaders and spokespersons and reread and reinterpret religious texts in light of contemporary realities and universal values. And they are creating new sites of strategic interaction, engaged mobilization and collective advocacy. 

Ipas has long recognized the critical importance of amplifying the voices of Muslim women leaders and scholars across the globe.  Muslim women’s networks such as FOMAN played a critical role in supporting the national Violence Against Persons Prohibition  (VAPP) bill in Nigeria. Women have been at the forefront of organizing community dialogues to sensitize religious leaders, including Imams in Bangladesh on the importance of menstrual regulation and safe abortion access.   In Pakistan, we have partnered with the Lady Health Care Visitors of Aga Khan Health Services, a faith-based organization, to deliver a wide range of reproductive health-care services to women in remote rural areas of the country. By working with them, Ipas has connected with hard-to-reach populations to strengthen capacity and local ownership of key sexual and reproductive rights issues.    

We have also provided small grants to a number of progressive and feminist Muslim women’s reproductive health organizations, and convened a regional meeting in Kuala Lumpur for grantees, religious leaders and health professionals to discuss health, abortion and Islam. In fact, the Reproductive Rights Alliance of Malaysia (RRAAM) grew out of the meeting, as well as a number of peer-reviewed articles and community-based materials on women, Islam and abortion.   We have participated in the annual November 9th One Day One Struggle of the Coalition for Bodily and Sexual Rights in the MENA region and participated in the founding of Musawah in 2010 in Kuala Lumpur –a global movement to advance equality and justice within Muslim contexts.

At the ICFP, we will be partnering with the Women’s Health Foundation, Alimat and Samsara on a roundtable discussion to highlight strategies to encourage progressive interpretations of Islam, reform restrictive laws and policies, promote fatwas (religious edicts) that support women’s comprehensive reproductive health care, and build broad-based coalitions that include religious leaders and faith-based groups.