Recent upsurge of militancy and terrorism by some so-called Islamist groups in a number of Islamic countries including Pakistan have not only adversely impacted their development growth path in general, but in particular with their crude ideas and ideologies based on extremism regarding women status have been found degenerating Islamic values, which emphatically advocate equal opportunities for men and women in all walks of life. In areas of their hold an unacceptable Islamic way of life is being propagated, which bars women from acquiring education and health care facilities and their activities are being strictly confined to four walls of their houses. In this scenario it becomes essential for all Islamic countries to take a collective initiative to ensure collective participation and equal opportunities for all without any gender discrimination through direct participation of the people in the process of planning at all levels. No doubt government of Saudi Arabia and some other Islamic countries have taken initiative and women are being inducted as legislatures, being allowed participation in judiciary, economic planning and development. Driving by women were banned has now been allowed. However it is desired that women presence be made mandatory on equal footings regarding all decisions pertaining to economic, political and social issues, not only on the basis of their being a major segment of population, but also due to their extended role in today’s social environment. It is the divine will of Allah Almighty repeatedly expressed in Holy Quran that Nations for their success must improve human society as has been particularly quoted in verses 102 to 110 of Surah Al –Emran.
It is an established fact that presence of women in social activities enhances the economic and cultural quality of the society. This particular role of women in addition to finding a proper identity as a model for upbringing their off springs provide guidelines to planners/policy makers to tailor all human development plans with realistic and sustainable goals.
In early days of Islam, Muslim women were guided or rather inspired by Hazrat Khadija, great lady of Islam regarding the code of conduct needed for adhering to Islamic teachings and also for women involvement in economic activities. Quran and Sunnah clearly give message regarding women obligations in an Islamic society. In addition to their general obligations of reinforcement of family unit and development of Muslim nation, they owe their duty to have concern for meeting mental and emotional needs of the family and also participate in economic activity if need arises by taking employment in jobs not defying Islamic code of conduct.
One can deduce from all relevant Quranic verses, emphasizing development of humanity that it is the prime duty of women to transfer Islamic teachings from generations to generations through propagation and invitation to entire women fraternity to thoroughly learn and practice Islamic teachings in letter and spirit. Women have also been given the right or rather duty to create aesthetic beauty in the style of living of the family without jeopardizing prescribed code of conduct for a Muslim woman.
For undertaking above said varying challenges women need to be facilitated through provision of quality education, access to latest technology in all fields, healthcare for them and opportunities for participation in economic, social and political activities. Further for disadvantaged segment of female population, besides providing them temporary financial relief under social safety net programs, system should be in place for facilitating them to undertake any income generating activity for economic empowerment of entire family. Over and above these measures, there is utmost need for networking of Muslim women in world community.
Since last mid sixties International community including UNO and its affiliated bodies like UNICEF, UNIFEM have tried to facilitate education and health care needs of participating developing countries and International forums like Nairobi, Beijing conferences and compulsion to remove gender disparities through Millennium Developmental Goals (MDGs) have made quite a headway for ensuring equal opportunities for women by suggesting strategies to combat discrimination against women in all aspects of life and made it mandatory for all participating countries to endorse the Convention on Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).
Contrary to these twenty first century initiatives, teachings of Islam almost 1,400 years ago, had laid emphasis on creative role of women and protected their social, political, economic and property ownership rights both at family and society level. It is unfortunate that recent upsurge of militancy and extremism under the grab of religion Islam in quite a number of Islamic countries including Pakistan have dampened the glory of Islam for non-believers. In order to heighten the image of Islam women themselves need to converge/collect at international level to regain their rightful status and depict to non-believers Islam as symbol of total justice and equality.
No doubt since late seventies Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) realized the need of looking into women affairs of the member countries and devise strategies for their socio-economic development and since then agenda of all OIC Foreign Minister meetings had included women issues.
Pakistan has the privilege of putting forward the resolution for establishing international organization of Muslim women in OIC meeting of Foreign Ministers in 1982 held at Niger. The issue was vehemently discussed at all subsequent forums and finally said resolution was adopted in 18th Conference held in March 1989 in Saudi Arabia. Thereafter 6th OIC Summit held in Dakar, Senegal in 1991 considered the role of women in Islamic societies and adopted holding a symposium for devising proper mechanism to ensure active participation of women in all walks of life. In 21st session of OIC Islamic Conference of Foreign Ministers held in March 1993 at Karachi, a resolution was passed to hold the symposium on ‘Role of women in development of Islamic countries’. The deliberations of said symposium had highlighted the fact that although Muslim women have taken initiatives to reveal their capabilities and rather their true identity, but unless such achievements/endeavors are not coordinated at a global level to enable each Muslim country women to have access to know-how of new technologies and emerging markets their contribution towards socio-economic development of their country will remain obscure. Coordination among Muslim women was considered an utmost need for exchanging experiences and knowledge. As such it was decided that on the pattern of OIC, an international forum is to be created for networking among women of Islamic countries. It was felt that agenda of this international body should be based not only on women issues relating to their development and welfare, but also guidelines given in Joint International Conference held in Beijing were also to be adopted in totality as almost all the Islamic countries are signatory to CEDAW.
Above all OIC itself is committed to promote and adhere to human rights and fundamental freedom for all in accordance with Islamic values and teachings as well as compliance of Charter of the United Nations and Universal Declaration of human rights.
Accordingly since many initiatives had come forth from various Islamic countries, particularly for providing a platform of network among business women of the OIC member states and other Islamic countries. OIC General Secretariat was first to come forward to hold first OIC conference on women’s role in the development of OIC member states in Istanbul in November 2006, deliberating on devising strategies to increase women employment and eradication of poverty, women’s participation in decision making mechanism from local to national level, research in women issues, provision of education, health care and training and reinforcement of spirit of solidarity among women in Islamic societies. Later same year a similar conference was organized by Islamic Development Bank in collaboration with UNDP in Karachi. Due cognizance was taken at these forums for need for development of human and institutional capacity building to cater for sharing knowledge and dissemination of skills, supporting civil society through NGOs and supporting women in development initiatives. The need for an institutionalized networking among business women of Muslim countries was also emphasized to enable them to enter into free and regional trade agreements with each other for expanding not only their own export business, but also enhancing export volume of their countries as a whole.
At the present juncture women of majority of Islamic countries are faced with worst challenge from onslaught of militancy and extremism bringing acute misery and poverty. As such at all international Islamic countries forums apart from their main agenda emphasis should be on devising effective programs for reforming Islamic societies through eradication of extremism and misinterpretation of Islamic teachings, which hamper women development process, thus depriving Muslim nations of a big chunk of their potential human capital.