Challenges of Change Symposium Considers Religion, Secularism and Rights

Women's Learning Partnership
Publication Date: 
October, 2010


A glance at any day's headlines makes it clear that cultures and religions worldwide are and have always been in constant flux. A day-long WLP symposium September 21 in Washington DC sparked debate, laughter, and cheers as participants vowed new commitment to steering that change toward broader human rights for women.

The central message of the four panels at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies was that moments of transition like this one can cause anxiety and reaction, but women today can seize such cracks in the social structure as places to plant the seeds that will challenge cultural and religious restrictions.

"The 'clash of civilizations' between Islam and the West is really just a clash of masculinities," said Yakin Ertürk, professor of sociology and chair of the Gender and Women's Studies Program at the Middle East Technical University in Ankara, Turkey.

The work is long, hard, and sometimes dangerous, but dialogue between cultures is essential to spread ideas and strategies, said Mahnaz Afkhami, WLP founder and president. The U.S. civil rights movement inspired women in Iran, Malaysia, Morocco, and elsewhere, she said. Women can and will change patriarchal systems piece by piece, starting at home with their children and families.

More than 110 women and men of every age attended the symposium's four panel sessions, including a group of enthusiastic young women who had taken an overnight bus trip from Salem College in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, just for this gathering.

Read more and view the symposium online: