On Thursday, May 14 IR Soc welcomed Ahlam Akram to Keble College to deliver a stirring and opinionated talk entitled “Why Women are Veiled in International Relations”. Ms. Akram is an activist and the founder of an organisation named BASIRA (British Arabs Supporting Integration, Recognition and Awareness), which aims to bring light to the discrimination and injustices faced by women in the Middle East and North Africa regions. Throughout her talk, Akram discussed how there is an “absence of justice and equality for women in the Middle East”, and how the social, religious and political climate in the MENA region intensifies this discrimination. Akram strongly believes that much of this prejudice in the legislation that is being created and enforced in many of these countries such as Tunisia and Jordan is due to many of the religious clerics whose biased interpretations of religious texts have a strong impact on the legal system. Akram’s concern is that women are not being incorporated enough into decision-making processes and conflict negotiations. She believes this is a mistake because women have opinions and sensibilities that can be complemented with those of men and she believes that both women and men can work together to resolve many of the issues that are being faced in the post-Arab Spring political and social arena. She asserts the importance of a partnership rather than dominance between the genders. Even after the adoption of Resolution 1325 by the UN Security Council, which “urges all actors to increase the participation of women and incorporate gender perspectives in all United Nations peace and security efforts” as well as calling on actors to protect women from gender-based violence, Akram believes that women are still not considered equal in many societies especially in the MENA region and she attributes a lack of political will to this inequality. Akram believes that it is absolutely essential to help women in the Middle East to “change the mindset of religions and cultures that empower an unjust legislation system”.
How do we resolve this issue? Akram believes that BASIRA is going to help provide a start to the dialogue about how we can change the political and social climate for women. She plans on making documentary films in order to bring awareness about the issues that women are facing including the violation of women’s rights through legislation and with that, inspire people to work together to bring about a positive change. Through her films, she hopes to provide a different lens and understanding of the situation. As far as the immediate issues she feels needs to be resolved on the ground, she believes that some laws such as female genital mutilation and childhood marriage, which encourage female oppression, should be criminalized. She encouraged the audience to become more active and educated about these issues and to become more sensitive to the unique climate that is being faced by many women around the world. As Akram said, “an absence of equality is a hindrance to democracy”.