'Women's rights, West's stalking horse'

In honor of International Women's Day, leaders and rights activists around the world have been praising the role of women in toppling dictators in Tunisia and Egypt and in the ongoing protests in Libya.

However, the role that women have played in these protests is not mentioned in the headlines much and the big question now is what they can do so that the revolutions will not leave them behind.

Press TV has put this question to Dahlia Wasfi, a peace and justice activist in Wilmington, North Carolina.

Press TV: Why have the women's roles not been highlighted by the media in these revolutions and uprisings?

Wasfi: I think women have always played a major role, not just in the start of this decade, the start of this millennium but in centuries past, it has never been highlighted, and quite frankly, I have to ask, because I am in the West and rely on what the Western media tell me and the mainstream media in the West tend to give a distortion of the reality on the grounds, so I am not sure if there is an agenda going on, but absolutely looking at the history, in general, globally women have played half the role, when simply existence is resistance, there is always the role of women as caretakers, as mothers or out in the streets leading the way as well, so hopefully we will continue to see more and more of that.

Press TV: Given the fact that many women in the North Africa and Middle East countries are Muslims, what can be done for them not to lose their Muslim identity, while at the same time incorporating some of the Western ideologies, they are aspiring to, into their society?

Wasfi: Well, ultimately that is their decision. One of the most progressive countries in the Arab world in terms of women's rights was Iraq until the Westerners showed up and invaded the country and destroyed it and set back women's rights for decades, if not for centuries. I know the focus of this conversation is the current uprisings, but if you look at what Iraq had before, just as an example in history, there was a secular government even though the country was 95 percent Muslim and what ends up happening, and I have to be very careful again coming from the West. The West tends to use women's rights as an excuse for sending over death and destruction but I respect the self-determination of peoples all over the world, and certainly as an American, I cannot come screaming demanding for women's rights overseas when there are no equal rights for American women in this country.

When I was a little girl, the Equal Rights Amendment in the Constitution failed to pass; women have yet to earn equal pay for equal work in the workplace and there are still considerable double standards for men and women in this country so we have our job to do here and absolutely every society to move forward. Basically, you are going to get the best out of your people when you treat everyone with respect and equality and that is definitely something that my country needs to strive for and there is an opportunity now, if Western intervention does not corrupt this new field that is open, there is an opportunity to move forward in a positive way.

Press TV: How can the phobia about Muslims, and especially Muslim women, be eliminated in the West?

Wasfi: Unfortunately, we have gone so far in this society to demonize Islam and the Arab culture in general and that is because it garners public support for our foreign policy. The US government likes to throw religion into the mix because it is easy to divide and conquer that way. I think if this is a political discussion for how these countries can move forward on the issue of women's rights, I don't know, maybe because I am not religious, but I see that as separate from a religious discussion but there are a lot of Muslim women here in the West.

Overall, it is a very fierce atmosphere now, there is a level of hatred directed towards Islam that is very difficult for us to overcome and what I do in my work is to try to shed light on the truth and show the diversity and show that this is really a male-dominated society and world, and this is a global issue. What needs to happen is more women coming forward as we have seen take place overseas, and the courageous women here in the West as well. Those who are part of the system here need to help open the doors. This is not the type of advancement of women in politics where we have Hillary Clinton and Madeline Albright saying that slaughtering 500,000 children was acceptable policy.