Women are honored every year on March 8th, in commemoration of International Women’s Day. The celebration was propelled by the struggles and successes of women throughout history and how they have broken glass ceilings, records, and revolutionized the business and sports world. The recognition for women came from their active fight for gender inclusion and equality in all aspects of life; they proved they have the ability to work equally and sometimes even better than men.
Women’s International Day dates back to 1909, where the Socialist Party of America designated this day in honor of the 1908 garment workers’ strike in New York against the working conditions women experienced. In 1977, the United Nations officially declared March 8th, as Women’s International Day. In years to follow, President Carter, in 1980 issued the first Presidential Proclamation declaring March 8th, as National Women’s History Week. By 1986, 14 states declared March as Women’s History Month leading it to become national.
Provenly, women all over the world have a long history of battling gender inequality, misogyny, stereotypes, and double standards. Often times, Muslim women are mostly associated with being deprived of basic human rights and equal opportunity as men. It has been a long battle between cultural practices and religion, and sadly culture has been on the winning end when it came to Muslim women in the Arab and Muslim world. However, most women who broke through barriers and have pushed for their right to go to school, to work, and own a home or business, were influenced by Islam and the Prophet Muhammed, peace be upon him (PBUH).
Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) was a huge advocate for women’s rights, our modern-day Feminist. He made sure that before he passed away, women knew their rights as full equal human beings and the importance of their roles in society. What people in the West don’t know, is that the rights of Muslim women were established hundreds of years ago. Women were granted to keep their maiden names so that they are viewed and treated as equal individuals to men verses being the property of a man. Muslim Women also given the right to choose whom they want to marry and rightfully divorce with the first claim to child custody.
Women were also given the right to an education equal to that of a man, to work if they choose, own property, and run their affairs as they pleased. In fact, Prophet Muhammed’s (PBUH) wife, Khadijh was one of the most successful business women of her time. She traded goods through the primary commerce centers at that time, from Mecca to Syria and to Yemen. In addition, his third wife Aisha Abu Bakr was well versed and educated in the field of medicine, history, and speech.
Muslim women were also granted the right to hold leadership positions. Umm Salamah was known as a political advisor to Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) on all communal affairs. Shaffa Bint Abdullah was appointed by the Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) to be the market supervisor. Saffiya Bint Abdul Muttalib and Um Dhahal Bint Masoud were notable soldiers who fought on the frontlines to defend their people, whereas in the US, women were just recently allowed to fight on the frontline in 2015. The input and leadership of women during the Prophet Muhammed’s (PBUH) time was common and encouraged. Women were also entrusted with leading an entire nation, in the sixth century, starting with Arwa bint Ahmad, who served as the governor of Yemen.
This legacy continued despite the challenges women faced in the Muslim world. In the last 40 years, we have had 9 Muslim women heads of state such as, former Prime Minister of Pakistan Benazir Bhutto who served from 1988 to 1990 and then from 1993 to 1996, Bangladeshi Prime Ministers Begum Khaleda Zia who served from 1991 to 1996 and 2001 to 2006, former Turkish Prime Minister Tansu Ciller who served from 1993 to 1995, former Iranian Vice President Masoumeh Ebtekar who served 1997 to 2005. In addition to Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri who was elected in 2001, former Senegalese Prime Minister Mame Madior Boye who was appointed in 2001, Malian President Cissé Mariam Kaïdama Sidibé who was elected in 2011, Kosovan President Atifete Jahjaga who served in 2011 to 2016, and current President of Mauritius Bibi Ameenah Firdaus Gurib-Fakim who was elected in 2015.
Currently, Muslim women continue to be trailblazers around the world like, Nervin Darwish who is the first Arab woman to pilot the A380 Airbus which is the largest passenger plane in the world. She is not the only woman pilot in the Arab and Muslim world; she is one of many Arab and Muslim women who have broken the glass ceiling, which may come as a surprise to all of us in the West. There are even Saudi Arabian women have paved the way to be pilots, but have not been granted the right to drive in Saudi Arabia. This women’s driving ban unfortunately goes against Islamic teachings, sadly it was a policy that was incorporated by the Saudi Kingdom.
Muslim women have also taken their God given right to make a name for themselves. They have also motivated other women to take leaps and bounds to pursue their dreams. These iconic women are, Farah Pandith who was the highest ranking Muslim woman in the George W. Bush administration at the National Security Council as a director for Middle East Initiatives and then, in the Department of State as adviser on Muslim engagement in Europe. In 2009, she continued with the Obama administration where she became Hillary Clinton’s envoy to the world’s Islamic communities. Another notable is Ilhan Omar, who is the first Somali-American Muslim woman in hijab to be elected to the Minnesota State Legislature in 2016. In addition, Judge Carolyn Walker who is the first Muslim Hijabi judge to be elected and sworn in on the Quran instead of the Bible, at her swearing in as a New York Civil Judge in 2015.
Not to mention, Muslim women have also broken the glass ceiling in the field of sports. In the 2016 Olympics, Ibtihaj Muhammed was the first Muslim hijabi woman fencer to win the bronze medal and Dalilah Muhammad, won the gold medal in track and field for the USA, and became the first American woman to win an Olympic gold in the 400-meter hurdles. Another Olympian was Sara Ahmed who became the first Arab Muslim woman to win an Olympic weightlifting medal for Egypt, in their 104-year history of being in the Olympics.
Lastly, Muslim women are also Nobel Prize recipients. In 2003, Shirin Abadi, the founder of Defense of Human Rights Center in Iran, a lawyer, and former judge won the Nobel Peace Prize and Glamour Award for the Peacemaker. In 2011, Tawakkol Karman a Yemeni journalist, politician, and human rights activist, was the first Arabic woman to win this prestigious award. And in 2014, Malala Yousafzai, won the Nobel Peace Prize at the age of 17 for her activism and heroic fight for freedom and education for Muslim women in her country and around the world.
Overall, these are some of the Muslim and Arab women who have broken the glass ceiling and cultural barriers that inspire and motivate women from all walks of life to pursue their dreams, even when people make them feel “it’s a man’s world.” Women continue to impact the world through their work and actions. Women have always been an integral part of the world and how it functions. Women’s Day is just a reminder of all the things women have accomplished and continue to accomplish. Women’s Day, is a way for everyone to commemorate women for the history they have made and continue to make. More importantly, Women’s Day in my book, is EVERYDAY and it is everyday consisting of great women and great women in the making marking their success around the world.