|«Islam gave me the right, in which I was denied in Christianity. Such as personal freedom, economic rights, the right to represent their interests in court, the right to education, to employment and sex, “– says Rodriguez.|
Christianity restricts the rights of women, says a Spanish convert, who claims Islam is empowering women more. Laura Rodriguez, the President of Union of Muslim Women, focusses mostly on the rights of immigrant women in Spain
Women have more rights in Islam than in Catholicism, a Spanish Muslim convert told a group of visiting Turkish journalists last week (2010/04/01).
Born a Catholic and educated in Catholic schools, Laura Rodriguez converted to Islam and now represents Spanish Muslim women. She believes that Catholicism restricts women’s rights.
“Islam gave me the rights not given by Catholicism, like individual liberty, legal rights, the right to education, the right to employment and the right to sexuality,” said Rodriguez, the president of the Muslim Women’s Union in Spain.
“Women cannot communicate directly with God in the Catholic religion. They have no rights to sexuality. Their mission is to give birth to children,” she added. “[Catholic] women have no right to divorce. Birth control is forbidden by Catholicism.”
Until recently, Spanish women needed the official consent of their husbands to open a bank account, noted Yusuf Fernandez Ordonez, the secretary of the Muslim Federation of Spain, or FEME, of which Rodriguez’s organization is an affiliate.
When asked why women are more educated, more empowered and more present in public and private life in Christian countries compared to Muslim ones, Rodriguez said Europe cannot be evaluated from a Christian perspective since individual citizens may be Christian, but the church has lost its power to influence society.
Ordonez added that women acquired their rights after Christian European countries became secular following the French Revolution. “As for Islam, most of the countries are not reflecting the real Islam,” he said. “In Iran, for example, there are an equal number of men and women in universities.”
Though she says she has more rights as a Muslim, Rodriguez said there is still work to be done to improve conditions for Muslim women, especially migrants, in Spain. She has worked on migration issues for the past 17 years and says female migrants face more difficulties compared to their male counterparts.
Ordonez said he appreciates the approach Spain’s current government, led by Jose Luiz Zapatero of the Socialist Workers’ Party, has taken in regard to Muslims. “[Zapatero] is the first prime minister to officially receive representatives of the Muslim community,” he said. “He is also the first to provide financial support to Muslims.”
But Rodriguez expressed less optimism when it comes to the position of Muslim women.
“The government has not made any progress as far as improving the rights of Muslim women,” she said. “The laws on equality do not include religious issues. There are no female representatives in the Islamic Council who are in dialogue with the government.”
Rodriguez added that there are still mosques in Spain that do not allow women to enter, a problem she said has been ignored by the government.
Prejudice against Islam:
In addition, Rodriguez said, the Spanish media not only talks about Islam with negative connotations, it also portrays a prejudicial image of Muslim men and women, showing males as violent and dominant and females as submissive and victimized.
“We organized a Muslim fair in Spain. The press has shown little attention. If we had said we were going to stone a woman in the middle of Madrid, all the press members would have shown up,” she said.
In Spain, Rodriguez added, Islam is identified not only with extremism and terrorism, but also with immigration. She said that it should be seen as part of the European identity instead.
“This is a problem of identity. We are born Europeans but are Muslims. Islam is also part of the European identity,” she said.
According to Ordonez, migrant Muslims in Spain are fairly well integrated into society, noting as an example of this that the majority of Muslims in Spain supports the monarchy.
Both Ordonez and Rodriguez emphasized the social dimension of the problems faced by Muslims in Spain, which they say are aggravated by prejudice. “We are a group that is secular and not extremist,” Rodriguez said. “Yet if I try to enter a political party, I will be refused due to my headscarf.”