News briefs for week of June 29, 2009

This week, an American Muslim woman takes over US outreach to Muslim communities, the rise of the influence of jilbabs in Indonesia’s elections, and the Neda effect on the perceptions of Iranian women worldwide.
Farah Pandith, the special envoy appointed to lead the Obama administration’s effort to reach out to the Muslim world said this week that her approach would be based on a simple diplomatic tool: listening. “There is no one bullet that is going to fix everything; there is not one program that is going to be the magic program to engage with Muslims. It’s really listening. It’s really understanding what’s taking place on the ground.”

The Golkar Party, one of three parties running in Indonesia’s presidential election, has put up posters of the candidates’ wives next to their husbands, posing demurely and wearing Muslim head scarves known here as jilbabs. “It’s the first time that the jilbab has become an issue in a presidential campaign in Indonesia,” said Siti Musdah Mulia, a professor of Islamic studies at Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University and a leading proponent of women’s rights. “There are so many more important issues that should be addressed in the campaign,” said Ms. Mulia, who has worn a jilbab for eight years. “Why this one?”

In the Phillipines, the bishops’ commission on interreligious dialogue has lauded the health department’s move to allow Muslim women health workers to wear veils while on hospital duty. On June 30, the Islamic Medical Association of the Philippines (IMAP) started distributing a Department of Health memorandum which states that female workers “should be allowed to use their veil (hijab) and wear their prescribed mode of dressing inside the premises of all healthcare institutions.”

Iranian protests, and the death of Neda are forcing the world to reevaluate [‘url=http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/harvardbusiness?sid=H436d21cf48b7cbf937ba493c5adba1d5]preconceived notions[/url] of Iranian women. Hijabs and chadors notwithstanding, the prominence of women in these protests, and Neda’s brave, untimely death, are introducing the notion that women in the Middle East are a force to be reckoned with. First off, they’re hugely qualified. Women in the region newly outperform men in tertiary education: in Iran, they’re 63% of college graduates; in the UAE, 65%; and in Syria an incredible 88%! Few organizations — private companies or state government — can afford to ignore this huge and valuable talent pool.
Rabea Chaudhry is Associate Editor of Altmuslimah

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