Do Muslim Women Really Need Saving?

Abu-Lughod, Lila. Do Muslim Women Really Need Saving? Anthropological Reflections on Cultural Relativism and Its Others.?American Anthropologist September, 2002 Vol.104(3): 783-790.

The main concern of the article is to determine if Muslim women do actually need saving. The focus is on the mandatory wearing of the veil, or burqa. The author discusses many groups that maintain that the Muslim women do need saving from the oppression that binds them to wear the burqa. The author also maintains that anthropologists, among others, should not be overly culturally relativistic but that they should recognize and respect cultural differences. Do those same petitioners that try and save the Muslim women also try and save the African women from genital mutilation or the Indian women from dowry deaths? No, they do not because they have been taught not to judge cultures based upon their own.

The basic argument of the author is that there should not be so much focus on the burqa, but on the other mandates that the women are forced to oblige. The burqa is not an imposition. The author states that should the women be released from this mandate, they would most likely choose another form of headcovering to wear. A headcovering is the appropriate form of dress for their community. The burqa symbolizes a woman?s modesty and respectability and provides protection from strange men in the public sphere. A burqa is a symbol of a ?good woman? who is able to stay at home, not working outside with the public. The author refers to the burqa as a kind of ?mobile home? in that the women would be in the ?inviolable space of their homes, even though moving in the public realm?.

The author described the burqa and the practice of wearing one in Afghanistan and other Muslim societies. She also noted that the Taliban did not invent the burqa but they did impose the wearing of one on all women as being ?religiously appropriate.? The author presented her arguments in a clear manner but also admits that she is not an expert on Afghanistan

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