KARAMAH continued its mission of community outreach and education by addressing a group of seventh and eighth graders at Paul Public Charter School in Washington, D.C. on May 29, 2012 as part of a program for International Women’s Week. The talk focused on the rights of women, dispelling common myths about abuse, explaining the challenges Muslim women in particular face, and distinguishing culture from religion. Aisha Rahman, Executive Director of KARAMAH, headed the discussion by sharing KARAMAH’s mission and vision of education and advocacy of women’s rights. The students came prepared with questions, and the floor was quickly opened for discussion.
The class asked their initial questions, ranging from basic definitions of abuse to common misconceptions about the rights of Muslim women. Instead, Ms. Rahman engaged the students by asking them to define “abuse” and “domestic violence” based on their own perceptions. To no surprise, they provided very educated and insightful answers. After Ms. Rahman offered clarification, the students went on to ask specific questions about abuse as it relates to Muslim women.
Ms. Rahman explained that abuse is not limited to specific religions or specific types of people but it can inflict anyone, regardless of race, ethnicity or religious affiliation. After students asked questions about specific instances or cases they heard about on television, Ms. Rahman explained the distinction between acts committed under the guise of religion and acts stemming from cultural mores. This concept seemed to resonate with the students as they asked further questions to clarify their understanding. One student asked whether men are taught that abuse or oppression of women is wrong. Ms. Rahman explained even when bad acts are defined as wrong, people often act on what they have witnessed in the past and what they have experienced themselves.
The discussion then turned to the ways in which women’s rights in other countries differs from women’s rights in the United States. Ms. Rahman highlighted some of the disparities that women face in education, jobs, and finances. Many students asked about children’s rights and recalled the popular movie Slumdog Millionaire as an example of how poverty affects children all over the globe.
After the questions concluded, one student recalled a show he had seen on ABC’s What Would You Do in which an actor acting as a coffee shop server engaged in blatant discrimination against a Muslim woman actor who was purchasing a pastry. While he made outlandish and rude comments about her appearance and suggested she “go back where she came from,” the cameras recorded the subjects of the experiment: the coffee shop customers. He recalled that some of the customers approved of the server’s actions, while some customers were blatantly offended by his discrimination and vocalized their disapproval. The cameras then turned to the silent majority who appeared neither to approve nor disapprove, but watched the unabashed act of discrimination take place without a reaction.
KARAMAH’s education initiative still has many people to reach, but making an impact on a few bright-eyed students is an incredible way to keep moving forward. Addressing these issues and providing education at an early age ensures the impact of the fundamental nature of all women’s rights.