Western countries 'look down' on Muslim women

Istanbul congress accuses Europe of prejudice

Istanbul congress accuses Europe of prejudice

ISTANBUL (AA) - "Being from the East is a problem for the West; being a Muslim from the East is a big problem, but the greatest is being a Muslim woman from the East," said Merve Kavakci, a Turkish politician who is currently a Lecturer of International Relations at George Washington University. 

Speaking at an international congress in Istanbul on Thursday on “Perceptions and the Image of Muslim Women in Europe," Kavakci said Western countries look down on Muslims, patronizing them and thinking they need to be trained in humanist values. 

She said this prejudice was not just in Western countries, but some Turkish circles share this attitude towards believers in Islam. "It is significant for the image of Muslim world that the ban on women wearing headscarves in the public sector has been lifted by the ruling (Justice and Development – AK Party) government," Kavakci said. 

Kavakci is recognized as one the world's 500 most influential Muslims, and has travelled the globe in support of Muslim women's rights since May 2, 1999, when she was precluded from taking her oath in Turkish Parliament by members of the Democratic Left Party, due to her headscarf. 

She failed to disclose her American citizenship, which was revealed after elections, which led to her losing her seat in parliament in March 2001. Kavakci won her legal case in 2007, when the European Court of Human Rights found that Kavakci's expulsion from parliament was a violation of her human rights.

The congress, organized by the International Women and Family Association, was held at Marmara University on May 8, hosting a number of women from the academic, media, and business worlds.

Turkey's Undersecretary of Ministry of Family and Social Policies Nesrin Celik said many people today still do not understand that headscarved Muslim women can be part of the modern world, without making any concessions in religious duties. 

"The image of Muslim women as weak, illiterate, and poor is a planned image; and it is partly because of this image that Islamophobia reaches so many," Celik said. 

Pointing out that women were not treated as human in Western countries until the 17th century, Celik said it was only after the 17th century that Western women began asking for equality in their economic, politic, and social lives. 

"In the 20th century, Europe went through a radical cultural change when modernism and secularism developed in a parallel way," she said, "However modernism has developed in the Muslim world without harming religious beliefs."  

Aslihan Eker, a producer for Al Jazeera, has been producing a documentary on 'Women in Muslim countries' for 10 years, and said there has been the image of non-active Muslim women for many years. 

"When people watched our documentary in the countries we visited, people were surprised when they saw how actively Muslim women from different countries were involved in social life. Even this surprise makes us understand that most people do not have a good image of Muslim women."

She said the reality was quite different from the 'created images' of Muslim women, who have to assert their responsibility to clearly present their true nature.

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