Speaker discusses gender gap in Muslim societies

By Liz Lavin
April 12, 2007

Meghan Hurley

The gender gap index tracks countries according to how “gender-blind” they are, meaning how much equality there is between men and women.

On a list of 115 countries, the United States is No. 23. Nordic countries have the smallest gender gap and fill the top 10, with Sweden being No. 1. At the bottom of the list, however, are countries where the women have no equality and are considered inferior to men.

Dr. Theodore Friend revealed this in his speech, “Into Society: Visibility of Women in Five Muslim Societies” on Wednesday March 28 in the Grace Hall Board Room.

Friend is a former president of Swarthmore College and chair of the Eisenhower Foundation. He is currently writing a book on this topic and is the author of “Indonesian Destinies,” which describes the history and society of Indonesia through political events as well as personal experiences.

Friend started his speech by reflecting on the freedom Americans have as opposed to other societies.

He concentrated on the “visibility” of Americans. He described it as “visible, audible, easily conversable; that is American society for both men and women.”

“Our society is very relaxed; Americans think the world is relaxing with them,” he said.

Friend concentrated on five societies that have the biggest gender gaps, Indonesia, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are two of the biggest “gender-blind” societies in the world with Pakistan being 112 on the list and Saudi Arabia 114.

“I can’t imagine having to completely cover myself so only my eyes were showing,” junior psychology and philosophy major Amanda Sizemore said. “We can wear what we want, say whatever we’re thinking, but their lives are so different and their families may even kill them if they feel as though the woman dishonored the family.”

Friend picked one woman from each society that he considers a heroine. The women included Mukhtaran Mai, Glamour magazine’s “Woman of the Year” in 2005; Shirin Ebadi, Nobel Peace prize winner; Wardan Hafidz, an Indonesian woman who led the rebuilding of 24 fishing villages after the tsunami in 2004; Nimah Nawwab, a Saudi Arabian writer and poet and Vildan Yirmibesoglu, a Turkish lawyer who fights “honor killing” cases.

An honor killing is when a woman disgraces her family and is murdered by her family for it.

“I find it hard to wrap my mind around such things without revulsion,” Friend said.

When asked why he was so judgmental about other societies, Friend said,

“I feel strongly for women who are deprived of opportunity with the reason for deprivation being arbitrary.”

At one point Friend tried to engage the audience by asking questions and found that only the males responded, though the audience was predominantly female. When a female did correctly answer a question, Friend said, “This proves that women should speak up.”

Liz Lavin

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