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Please send your emails to interviews@ukstudentnews.co.uk with any comment you will like to be published, relating to this topic.

Prof. Estelle Freedman speaks to UKstudentnews.co.uk



Andy -- Question 1:
From your knowledge of women movement so far, do you think feminism has made a fast progress in the western society and little or no progress in Muslim and African countries?
    Prof. Freedman -- It depends how you define feminism, for movements for women's rights appear in many cultures but in different forms, and the rate of change depends a great deal on local economic and political contexts. For example, women in western Europe and North America began calling for suffrage in the 1840s but did not achieve it until the twentieth century, so progress has not been that "fast." Women in Egypt also campaigned for suffrage in the early twentieth century, as did women in Latin America. Indeed, women in Turkey could vote before women in some European countries. After World War II, in the wake of anti-colonial and democratization movements, women in many parts of the world organized for greater economic and political rights. Today, for example, Muslim women work for the reform of family law so that women and men have equal rights to choose spouses and to divorce. African women have been important in NGOs (Non-governmental organizations) addressing health issues, including AIDS and female genital cutting). I think the "fast progress" you refer to has more to do with women's entry into wage labor forces, which occurs most quickly in urban, industrial economies. In NO TURNING BACK: THE HISTORY OF FEMINISM AND THE FUTURE OF WOMEN I argue that where market economies and democratization converge, and especially where women have greater access to education, you will usually find women's movements, though the focus will vary depending on cultural differences such as religion.


Andy -- Question 2:
Some people may say, feminism is a western concept and interfering with religion, which is regarded as a way of life. What would you say to a non-western individual, that believes feminists are trying to Westernize the whole world.
    Prof. Freedman -- Again, you are conflating feminism and western women. I am defining it more broadly to include women's movements internationally. In my book, No Turning Back, I stress the diversity of these movements, which change over time and are never monolithic. In terms of religion, even in the west there have been debates about women's roles in organized religions (the increasing ordination of women, the growth of a female spirituality movement). Feminism may be historically linked to secularism, but many feminists also embrace religion. In terms of westernization more generally, some feminists in the west are extremely critical of elements of their own culture (sexualization of women in advertising, for example). And women outside the west have noted that many men in their cultures don't necessarily question western values when it comes to economic and political change, but suspiciously draw the line at feminism.


Andy --Question 3: What would you say to a young woman that wants to better herself, but is frighten because her family/environment believes women should be second class citizens.
    Prof. Freedman -- Historically, education has been a key entry point for women to gain access to full citizenship. I would advise seeking education and finding support for her growth intellectually and personally. Arguments about the need to educate women to be better mothers worked in past centuries and may still be effective. Some women found strength within their family religious traditions to argue for the importance and spiritual equality of women. It depends of course on the individual.


Question 4: Do you believe there would ever be a point on this planet, when all women are treated as equals to men ?
    Prof. Freedman -- Feminism is, admittedly, a utopian movement, part of a larger historical effort to achieve a more just social world. As a historian I usually avoid predicting the future, but I don't expect full equality for women and men throughout the world in my lifetime. I think over the next century men will have to rethink their lives as much as women have in the past century before we can see a truly feminist future that values both women and men equally.


Andy-- Question 5: Is religion good or bad for the society ?
    Prof. Freedman -- Both - if religion is used to justify intolerance, hate, misogyny, or racism, it is bad for all of us; but religion can also be used to empower individuals and to imagine a more just society. Even the same religion can be interpreted to empower or oppress certain groups (e.g. the Christian Bible was invoked in the era of slavery both to justify and condemn the practice). In terms of women, historical women ranging from Buddhist and Christian nuns or mystics have drawn on religion as a form of empowerment, and in the recent past many denominations have recognized the ordination of women. For many fundamentalists of all faiths, however, beliefs in women's need to submit to men counters the femiminst view of spiritual equality


ukstudentnews.co.uk will like to thank Prof. Freedman for her time and comments.
The above interview is based on her recent book: "no Turning Back -- A History of Feminism"
ISBN: 1 86197 345 4 Royal HB: 20.00 Pub Date 25th April 2002



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