International Women’s Day Thursday highlights women’s struggle for equality, justice, peace and development. For many it is a day to celebrate progress. For others, it is a reminder of just how far they still must travel. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports that, positive changes affecting women in the Islamic world are coming slowly, but steadily.

The principle of equality between men and women is deeply rooted in Islam. The Prophet Muhammad was known for his equal treatment of the sexes. All his children were female, and he advocated women’s rights. He required that a dowry be paid directly to a bride, rather than to her father or guardian, and he offered special protection to widows and orphans.

Mishkat al-Moumin, a scholar at the Middle East Institute in Washington, says that has interpretation has changed.

“Later on, when Prophet Muhammad died, and so many other interpretations came to exist, again, it goes back to controlling society,” said Al-Moumin. “If you want to control society, if you want to control families, then you control women.”

Today, Muslim women are working to break free of restrictions. Al-Moumin says economic and social empowerment are the keys to women’s advancement in the Islamic world.

“You cannot expect a woman to stand up for herself, if she has no income, or if she cannot afford to put food on the table for her children. There are so many widows and divorced women,” said Al-Moumin. “They are responsible for a whole family — sometimes three or four kids. If there is no social or economic program to support them, it will be so difficult for them to survive.”


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