Women’s voices from the Middle East

This report to YFile was supplied by Marianne Vardalos, executive coordinator, MCRI Project, Diaspora, Islam and Gender.

On March 11, The Diaspora, Islam and Gender (MCRI) Project held its third annual half-day symposium, “Women’s Voices from the Middle East”, to honour International Women’s Day. The symposium included a rich variety of guest speakers, a vibrant drama presentation, an art exhibit and a lively reception featuring Middle Eastern food.

Right: Project director Haideh Moghissi

Project director Haideh Moghissi inaugurated the day by briefly speaking about the necessity for forums which highlight how imposed identities and continued oppressions most often occur at the intersection of faith, ethnicity and gender. Dean Rhonda Lenton of the Atkinson Faculty of Liberal & Professional Studies officially welcomed the speakers and guests while Vijay Agnew, director of the Centre for Feminist Research acted as moderator.

The first panel included Sedef Arat-Koc of Trent University, Rizwana Jafri, a founding member of the Muslim Canadian Congress, and Victoria Tahmasebi, a York doctoral candidate in Social & Political Thought. The panel discussed issues facing women in Turkey, Pakistan and Iran. An underlying theme uniting all of their presentations was that of “fundamentalist secularism” or the notion that misguided liberating efforts often unwittingly replace religious oppression with other, more covert repressions. A common example referred to by each of the panelists was that of the French government outlawing religious symbols in public schools, hence denying women the opportunity to choose for themselves what they deem appropriate or inappropriate displays of faith.


Above: Left to right, Vijay Agnew, Sedef Arat-Koc, Rizwana Jafri and Victoria Tahmasebi

The second panel included Asma Ibrahim from the University of Toronto and a board member of the Afghan Women’s Organization, Nergis Canefe, a professor of political science at York, and Rafeef Ziadah, a doctoral candidate in political science. They spoke of Afghan, Kurdish and Palestinian women’s issues. This panel concluded that historically, in highly political climates and particularly those of occupation, the oppression of women intensifies with the needs of the resistance.

Midway through the program, a dramatic presentation, Arousi-e Ghoraysh (Ghoraysh wedding), under the direction of Farshideh Nasrin, featured eight actors in colourful costumes singing ancient folk songs that revealed the timelessness of the symposium’s themes of oppression, patriarchy and persecution. For more details click here.