6 February 2015
In 2011, following a meeting of SIHA members in Addis Ababa, women from the Horn of Africa who attended the meeting celebrated in a restaurant in Addis Ababa, singing and dancing and exercising freedom often denied in their home countries.
The Horn of Africa countries are becoming increasingly suffocating to women as political and militant Islamic thought is gaining mainstream appeal and influencing public discourses on women. Whether it’s by governments, armed groups, or traditional community leaders, women often find themselves facing patriarchal interpretations of Islam intertwined with traditions that control all aspects of their lives, including their dress, their public presence, their private lives, their livelihoods and their levels of political participation.
The relevancy of SIHA’s current project, Negotiating Change, is therefore beyond question: ‘Negotiating Change’ produces accessible knowledge and builds the capacities of women’s rights activists around the region to combat militancy and continue to engage positively with their Muslim identity.
SIHA has launched the first issue of SIHA Journal: Women In Islam, in both English and Arabic versions, in July 2014. The Journal is geared towards dissemination of alternative discourses of Islamic interpretation provided by prominent Islamic thinkers, activists, and young writers from all over the world with a focus on the Horn of Africa countries. SIHA is now producing the second issue of the Journal, which will be printed and disseminated in June 2015.
Achieving another milestone, SIHA recently organized a course targeting women’s rights activists from Muslim communities in the Horn of Africa who spent a week acquiring tools and refining their knowledge to better challenge Islamic jurisprudence (الفقه) that does not support the Muslim values of justice, mercy and gender equality.
Musawah, an international movement of progressive Muslims who use Islamic teachings to advance women’s rights and catalyze social change, was SIHA’s partner in this training. Musawah instructors have spent decades designing a module on Islam and Gender Equality and Justice also known as I-nGEJ. Musawah’s trainers are well-known scholars who use a feminist and rights-based lens to challenge the Islamic teachings that are embedded into the participants’ mind due to their traditions and/or domestic legal codes.
Twenty (20) women activists from Sudan, Ethiopia, Uganda, Somalia and Somaliland attended the training which was held in Kampala, Uganda from 28th of January 2015 to 1st of February 2015.
For the participants, the course was an opportunity to engage in mutually-beneficial discussions and brainstorm on how to address injustices in their countries from within Islam. The experience was formative and moving for many participants who experience social and political repression in the name of religion, including arbitrary detention, physical violence, and the curtailing of their opportunities in economic, social, and academic spheres.
SIHA believes that the threat of political Islam needs to be addressed first and foremost by the communities across the Horn bearing the brunt of it. This training and the dissemination of the messages contained in SIHA Journal: Women in Islam, are valuable elements of this struggle.