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The Role of Women in Muslim Countries

October 17, 2003

"Repressing Women, Repressing Democracy," by Steven Fish (Opinion, Oct. 12), spins a tantalizing tale of the repression of women, and of Islam and democracy, in the current climate of Islamophobia. I found his vague, generalizing references to "Muslim countries" and statistics less than persuasive. How does he explain that four predominantly Muslim countries -- Turkey, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia -- have elected women as heads of state? Only the United Kingdom, Canada (briefly) and the Scandinavian countries have done the same in the West. Though sometimes flawed (as in the West), democracy functions in these and other predominantly Muslim countries. Iran has had a woman vice president; there are more women in the Iranian parliament than in the U.S. Senate.

Women outnumber men in university enrollment in Iran. Even Saudi women, living under the strictest laws governing their appearance, are highly educated and in various professions. It is interesting that Fish ends with a recommendation of U.S. cultural dictates in Iraq. Iraqi women were among the most educated and overtly "Westernized" in the Middle East.

Shafia Mir

Culver City

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