International Women’s Day 2013
In his final sermon, the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) instructed Muslim men on women’s rights, telling them, “It is true that you have certain rights in regard to your women, but they also have rights over you.” (Sahih Muslim, Book 7, No. 2803)
But the treatment of women today around the world does not always reflect this sentiment, including in many Muslim countries. Although women’s rights are universal – regardless of belief – as a faith-based organization, we are able to encourage the empowerment, equality and respect of women, from the perspective of Islam. We are breaking down the misconceptions that Islam prohibits women from employment and education or that it permits violence, harassment or FGM.
In Bangladesh, we run projects that teach women about their legal rights as women, especially then it comes to marriage, divorce and dowries. We also give female breadwinners practical training, support and a way to grow a business.
Trading cattle in Bangladesh
Mother-of-four, Mosammat Khatun from Kaunia Upazilla, Bangladesh, lost her husband 15 years ago. Even when he was still around they rarely had three meals a day. “Many days we only ate boiled flour with salt.” Mosammat took any work she could get in paddy fields, rice mills, as domestic help- but none of it lasted or gave her a way to meet her family’s needs.
Two years ago, Islamic Relief began assisting Mosammat. With the livelihood support allowance, she bought a fishnet. “From the profit of selling fish, I bought two pairs of pigeons.” Then, with the savings Mosammat made from selling pigeons and fish, she bought a cow. “From that cow I got two calves and now I have three cows. Now we even have milk!” Mosammat explained that she was shocked by her own success, and shared milk with everyone she knew, and can afford to treat her daughter’s illness. “I am planning to have more cows, goats and lease a land for cultivation from my savings… now my brain is working. My neighbors are inspired by my success and other women are saving money, rearing pigeons and come to me for advice.”
Women’s rights in Sudan
In West Darfur, Sudan, Islamic Relief is teaching women affected by war about women’s issues, health, protection and their rights under domestic and international law.
By improving their understanding of early marriage, HIV, gender-based violence, the importance of education and women’s rights, Islamic Relief Sudan aims to protect, assist and empower women in Krinding 2 camp for displaced people. We also focus on increasing female-participation in society and helping them to understand conflict resolution.
Classes on building fuel-efficient stoves were offered to 100 women, while 100 more learnt to make cheese, soap and yoghurt, or how to run a business.
Habeeba lives in Krinding 2 camp and is responsible for her four children and mother. She attends the women’s workshops where she has learnt to make bread, pasta and handicrafts.
She said, “The activities of the women’s centre has had a great effect; the training on fuel efficient stoves saved me from continuously having to collect firewood. The centre has changed my family; we have gone from being completely dependent to semi-independent.”
Habeeba is now regularly selling the bread she learned to make in the classes, “I have customers from the camp market who rely on my bread and I am proud that even a single mother is able to serve the community.
Call centre in Germany
But our work with women is not limited to teaching trades in camps for displaced people. In Germany we fund the only Muslim chaplaincy helpline, where 70% of callers are women. Islamic Relief offers help to people all over the world, regardless of faith. But in Germany, our faith-based perspective allows us to assist Muslim women going through difficult times, all our volunteers are Muslims, so they have a sound understanding of a caller’s cultural context.
“For the most part, it [Islamic knowledge] is important, even though the topic they want to talk about has nothing to do with religion,” says Vahide Akesh. “The caller would be confident that the counsellor is familiar with religious rituals and their culture…that the [volunteer] will understand me – that we share something.”
Microdam in Mali
Kadia (far left) is a mother-of-six from Mana village in Mali. For years, the community survived by burning wood and selling the charcoal it produced. But this practice has had a drastic effect on the cyclical drought that has been getting worse over the last few years.
The drought makes it difficult for anything to survive- crops, livestock and people. “We did not harvest anything from our rice farm; I could not sleep at night because I spent the night thinking about how I was going to nourish my children.”
Islamic Relief installed a micro-dam in the village, which stores and distributes water to the whole village. People are not forced to burn trees, as they can now grow plants for their fruit or grain. In addition to bringing water to the village, the micro-dam has also brought community discussion. The men and women of Mana regularly meet to discuss how to improve the effectiveness of the micro-dam.
The women of the village are once again able to rely on their crops to live, and Kadia collected around 15 kilograms of rice last harvest.
Social awareness and livelihoods in Bangladesh
In Bangladesh, we are raising awareness about women’s legal rights concerning dowry, divorce and the harmful aspects of early marriage. For years we have supported female-headed households bring in an income by teaching mothers how to build businesses, and offering them the opportunity to put into practice by giving them cattle, a loan, or items to sell in a shop.
Lipi from Rangpur is the breadwinner for her two-year-old son and husband who lost his leg in a traffic accident. She was given lessons in fattening cattle for sale and profit and then received a bull. After selling it for profit she was able to buy another bull and vegetables. Each time she sold her cattle her profit grew.
For the first time she bought land to plant vegetables on.
She explained, “Now my family can have fruit and vegetables, we can afford medical treatment for my husband. I take care of everything from dawn to dusk. Now I have four decimals of land, a cow, three hens, two goats, ten pigeons and 16 ducks. I am strong enough to do all these by myself. Now people are very inspired to rear pigeons after seeing me and they are rearing cows, goats and chickens. It gives me happiness that people are learning from me.”
Teaching trades in Kenya
We are also creating jobs for women in Mandera, Kenya. As children turn 18, they are no longer eligible for orphan sponsorship. To ensure that young adults are supported financially as they transition to adulthood.
This project offers interest free loans to women to start up businesses. They are trained in business management, group dynamics, marketing, costing, record-keeping and enterprise development.
The mothers are able to choose from a number of businesses that are most profitable in the area, including the trade of cattle, handicrafts and building materials, as well as donkey cart businesses. Each woman receives training and equipment to help her in her chosen field.
This project has helped reduce the need for orphans to drop out off school to help earn money for their families. It also reduces dependency on orphan sponsorship and fosters the principle of creating a self-reliant livelihood.
Islamic Relief is committed to ensuring the legal and social rights of women and empowering them to break out of the cycle of aid reliance.
Today we have highlighted some of our livelihood support projects, which offer women the opportunity to start up and grow businesses. This programme is offered to women- and men- all over the world. You can donate to our livelihood support project here.
“Be at your mother’s feet and there is the Paradise.” (Ibn Majah, Sunan, Hadith no. 2771)