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Gender Perspective in the UN Document on the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing: An Analysis of Platform for Action
Social Issues
Dr. Zeenath Kausar



The Fourth World Conference on Women finally adopted the document, ‘Platform for Action’, on 15th September 1995 in Beijing, China, after having gone through a series of amendments, additions and deletions before and during the conference. The goals of the document are – equality, development and peace. These are undoubtedly the cherished goals of all the cultures and communities of the world. The realization of these goals is urgent and imperative as strongly asserted in the document. Development of a holistic perspective and a comprehensive strategy seems indispensable to achieve these goals for the varieties of cultures and subcultures across the world. However, the document has unequivocally challenged that the only appropriate perspective for all cultures which can ensure the achievement of these goals is the ‘gender perspective’. The lengthy document of over 200 pages is replete with few phrases – ‘promotion of gender perspective’, ‘incorporation of gender perspective’ etc. This article aims at the exploration and critical analysis of the ‘gender perspective’, as conceived and emphasized in the document. In the second part, the gender perspective shall be explicated and analyzed, while in the third part, the Islamic position on the related issues shall be briefly presented. All this shall be followed by a conclusion.

Gender Perspective in the Platform for Action

A brief survey of the document would reveal the emphasis on the ‘gender perspective’ in the document. Its first chapter entitled ‘Mission Statement’ comprises six paragraphs. First few lines of the ‘Mission Statement’ read as follows:

The Platform For Action is an agenda for women’s empowerment. It aims at accelerating the implementation of the Nairobi Forward-Looking Strategies for the Advancement of Women and at removing all the obstacles to women’s active participation in all spheres of public and private life through a full and equal share in economic, social, cultural and political decision-making.1

Nairobi Forward Looking Strategies (FLS) is a reference to the document passed in the Third World Conference on Women, held in 1985, in Nairobi. The Platform for Action reviews and reaffirms the objectives of Nairobi Conference for the Advancement of Women to the year 2000. The FLS provides a ‘framework for action’ at the national, regional and international levels to promote the three objectives of the United Nations defence for Women: Equality, Development and Peace. The United Nations Decade for Women 1975-1985 was declared by the UN General Assembly in the First UN Conference on Women held in Mexico city in 1975. The Second UN Conference on Women held in Copenhagen in 1980 for the second half of the Decade for Women, adopted the Programme of Action. The Platform for Action is developed and built on the Programme of Action, Forward Looking strategies, Declaration on Violence against Women adopted by UN in 1993 and various other declarations on Human Rights etc. One of the main objectives of all the preceding UN conferences on women had also been the promotion of the shared-power and responsibility between men and women in the workplace at both the national and the international levels. The Platform for Action asserts that without full and equal share of power and responsibility at home and outside work between women and men sustainable development is impossible, which is obvious from the Mission Statement, as quoted above. Emphasis on the equal share of power and responsibility at home and outside work without the consideration of the biological differences between women and men is an essential principle of the ‘gender perspective.’

Since the UN Decade for Women (1975-1985), great efforts have been made world-wide to impose the ‘gender perspective’ through governmental supports. The last lines of paragraph 26 of Chapter II, entitled ‘Global Framework’, read as follows:

Many Governments have enacted legislation to promote equality between women and men and have established national machineries to ensure the mainstreaming of gender perspective in all spheres of society.2

Despite all the government and non-government efforts for the promotion of the gender perspective, the problems remain unsolved, the Platform for Action bemoans and bewails at the failure of the governmental and non-governmental efforts for the same. In its third chapter, entitled ‘Critical Areas of Concern’, it has identified twelve critical areas. In every area, it has argued that the problems in the areas have intensified due to the inadequate planning and actions for the incorporation of the ‘gender perspective’. Hence, in every area, it has asserted that the problems can be resolved only through the integration of the ‘gender perspective’.

On the persistent and increasing burden of poverty on women, the document comments:

The failure to adequately mainstream a gender perspective in all economic analysis and planning and to address the structural causes of poverty is also a contributing factor.3

Hence, it has presented few strategic actions to be taken by the governments to eradicate poverty. One of the important actions proposed by the document is an analysis of all economic policies and programmes from the ‘gender perspective’. It states:

Analyze, from a gender perspective, policies and programmes – including those related to macro-economic stability, structural adjustment…4

Later, it proposed the following important actions to be taken by intergovernmental organisations, the research institutions and the international statistical organisations respectively:

Develop conceptual and practical methodologies for incorporating gender perspective into all aspects of economic policy-making, including aspects of economic policy-making, including structural adjustment planning and programmes,5 collect gender and age-disaggregated data on poverty and facilitate the assessment of economic performance from a gender perspective.6

On the problems of inequalities in access to health and related services, the document asserts that women should enjoy the right of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. It points out that women have unequal access to and use of basic health resources like prevention and treatment of childhood diseases, malnutrition, anaemia etc. It also states that due to the inappropriate medical services to women and also the gender-bias in the health system, women health is badly effected. However, the solution pointed out in the document for all these and several other problems of ill health of women is again the promotion of the ‘gender perspective’. It states:

… for the advancement of women as well as technical and financial assistance to incorporate a gender perspective in developmental efforts, the resources provided by the international community need to be sufficient and should be maintained at an adequate level.7

The Draft Beijing Declaration has unequivocally declared that governments are convinced and determined to promote the ‘gender perspective’. It says:

We hereby adopt and commit ourselves as government to implement the following Platform For Action, ensuring a gender perspective is reflected in all our policies and programmes…8

For this, the Commission on the Status of Women, as a functional Commission assisting the Economic and Social Council of UN is expected to play a dynamic role. The Commission would draw work-programmes for the period 1992-2000, and would review the critical areas of concern. It has proposed that the Commission should have sufficient human and financial resources to monitor within the UN system the implementation of the Platform For Action. The document also states categorically that the Commission would play a decisive role in the promotion of ‘gender perspective’. It says:

In the context, the Commission on the Status of Women should consider how it could further develop its catalytic role in mainstreaming a gender perspective in UN activities.9

Along with the Commission, it is also proposed that a high-level post in the office of the Secretary General should be established to act as the Secretary General’s adviser on gender issues to help ensure system-wide ‘gender perspective’ in all activities. Besides this, the Division for the Advancement of Women, the office of the Human Resources Management, the Department of Public Information, the Statistical Division of the Department for Economic and Social Information and Policy Analysis, UN Development Fund for Women would also co-ordinate with each other for the promotion of the ‘gender perspective’.10

Analysis of the Gender Perspective

Although the ‘gender perspective’ is so highly focused all through the document as discussed above, it is neither defined nor elaborated in the document. However, during several Preparatory Committee Meetings of UN for the Beijing Conference, and the non-governmental organizations, the ‘gender perspective’ was revealed quite obviously. Furthermore, the ‘gender perspective’ is also attributed to the Gender Feminism, which is also called Neo-Marxist Feminism. Hence, an analysis of the ‘gender perspective’ in the document demands a two-fold study: (1) an exploration into the debate over ‘gender’ and gender perspective’ which took place during the Preparatory Committee Meeting of the draft, Platform for Action; (2) an analysis into the philosophy of Gender Feminism.

On March 15, 1995 the Preparatory Committee for the Fourth World Conference on women was held in New York. According to a newsletter, Earth Negotiations Bulletin, the Preparatory Committee was highly confrontational over the term ‘gender’ in the draft. It observes:

Several countries expressed discomfort with the term ‘gender’ and asked to bracket the word throughout the text… Those who wanted to bracket the term suspected that there was a hidden/unacceptable agenda behind its use, for example, toleration of non-heterosexual identities and orientations.11

Thus, the term ‘gender’ is not used in place of ‘sex’ but with a different meaning altogether – acceptance of all forms of sexuality. This can be further clarified through the following quote appearing in an NGO report of a meeting in Mardelplate, Argentina:

Knowing the variety of ways gender is symbolized, interpreted, and organized leads to a position ‘anti-essential’ – that is that there exists no natural men or natural women, that there is no conjunction of characteristics or conduct exclusive to one sex even in the psychic life.12

It clearly reveals that gender is not referred as ‘male’ and ‘female’. There is rather a non-existence of a feminine or masculine. Terms like ‘male’ and ‘female’ and their biological differences are ‘socially constructed’.

A careful reading of the document also reaffirms that those who drafted the document also conceived ‘gender’ in the same way. It states:

In many countries, the differences between women’s and men’s achievements and activities are still not recognised as the consequences of socially constructed gender roles.13

Biological differences between male and female are not appreciated in the document. During the preparations of the draft itself, such a concept of ‘gender’ and ‘gender perspective’ has been already integrated into the programmes of the UN system. Bella Abzung, a former US Congress woman, addressing the delegates in one of the Preparatory Committee Meetings said:

We will not be forced back into the ‘biology is destiny’ concept that seeks to define, confine and reduce women to their physical sexual characteristics…14

This is the reason that the institutions of wifehood and motherhood are referred to as ‘stereotypes’ in the document, since they are based on the reality of the female biological and natural characteristics. Instead of these highly important and basic institutions of a society, the document emphasizes the promotion of non-stereotype images of women, all through the document. It states:

Elaborate recommendations and develop curricula, text books and teaching aids free of gender-based stereotype for all levels of education.15

At some other places, it is said:

Raise awareness of the responsibility of the media in promoting non-stereotyped images of women and men…16

Design and provide educational programmes through innovative media campaigns and schools and community education programmes to raise awareness on gender equality and non-stereotyped gender roles of women and men…17

Through producing such literature in Women Studies Centers and also through various means of communication, the document asserts that the non-stereotyped roles should be promoted. Education and mass communication should be free from gender-based stereotypes – wifehood and motherhood. Shulamith Firestone in her book, ‘The Dialect of Sex’, observers:

The heart of women’s oppression is her childbearing and childrearing roles.18

Ellen-Herman explains the attitude of the Gender Feminists toward family in these words:

In the late 60’s, the radical young women who reclaimed the derisive term ‘feminist’ and made it central to their own developing political identities pinpointed the family – especially, the western patriarchal, bourgeois, child-centered, nuclear family – as the most important source of women’s oppression.19

Thus, like the Gender Feminists, the document has attached no great importance and significance to the institution of family based on the matrimonial relationship between male and female and their procreation of children. In fact, the document mentioned about the existence of different types of families in different cultures. It demands equal respect for such families. It states:

In different cultural, political and social systems, various forms of the family exist. The rights, capabilities and responsibilities of the family members must be respected.20

In other words, different forms of families based on different types of sexuality should be accepted. Freedom should be given to women and men to design their families in their own life styles. As what Allen Herman explains that the Radical Feminists demand freedom to love men or women, to have sex with one or several persons and to live with or without children. They look at proper familial relationships as enslavement which blocks progress and development. Perhaps it is one of the reasons that the document instead of proposing measures and strategic actions to keep the mother and the father in the family together, shows greater concern for the female-headed families at several places. It states:

Formulate and implement, when necessary, specific economic, social, agricultural and related policies in support of female-headed families.21

The biological, natural and other factors which signify the differences of roles of husband and wife are greatly devalued in the document while the necessity for equal sharing of family and outside work is highly emphasized. Single parent headed families are, therefore, accepted and protected. One of the main causes of the confrontation between spouses – wife and husband on equal sharing inside and outside house is made compulsory for women’s achievement. The document has accepted the statistical fact that while women have entered the work force outside, men have not shared with women in the house chores. This is not looked as the result of biological and natural differences between men and women, rather as the outcome of the socially-created roles in some societies. It observes:

However, changes in women’s roles have been greater and much more rapid than changes in men’s roles. In many countries, the differences between women’s and men’s achievements and activities are still not recognized as the consequences of socially constructed gender roles.22

The fact is that equal sharing of power and responsibility of the house work and outside work between men and women is conceived as a prerequisite for equality, development and peace. It is generally appreciated that women are sharing with men the outside work even in non-standard work, sometimes as temporary, casual and multiple part-time employment despite facing sexual harassment in the work-place and child-care problem in the house. The problems of sexual harassment and the child-care are often treated in the document as obstacles in the way of women’s potential achievement and their advancement. The document states:

Many women face additional barriers to the enjoyment of their human rights because of such factors as their race, language, ethnicity, culture, religion, [sexual orientation]….23

So, sexual orientation is recognized in the document as a human right which should be duly respected. What is sexual orientation? It implies the acceptability of homosexuality and lesbianism as human rights, which is obvious from one of the fliers distributed during one of the Preparatory Committee Meetings. The flier states:

We, the undersigned, call upon the member states to recognize the right to determine one’s sexual identity, the right to control one’s own body, particularly in establishing intimate relationships; and the right to choose, if, when, and with whom to bear or raise children as fundamental components of all human rights of all women regardless of sexual orientation.24

It should be noted here that the flier was distributed by the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission [IGLGRC].

In other words, an unrestricted freedom should be given to women and men to determine their sexual behaviour and life styles. It also implies that a family based on matrimonial relationship which obliges mother and father to take care of each other and their children is not necessarily important. Men and women can live separately based on sexual orientation. However, in any way, if they happen to produce children and children are staying with women, the document asserts that men should be encouraged to share with women financial and other responsibilities, no matter whether men stay with women or not. The documents states:

Encourage men to share equally in child care and household work and to provide their share of financial support for their families, even if they do not live with them.25

It signifies the persistent demand in the document for the economic independence of women and equal economic empowerment of women with men so that both may live independently enjoying economic empowerment. What about children? Children would live at the mercy of equal or unequal share and care of such independent parents or maybe at the mercy of UN Children Emergency Fund! Perhaps, this is one of the reasons that many children have started publicly complaining and divorcing their parents who have partially or completely divorced themselves!

The same philosophy lies behind the emphasis on political empowerment of women. It is argued that patriarchal culture-male-domination over women is prevailing in all institutions and spheres of life from family to international level. Hence to break such a dominant culture, women’s socio-economic and political empowerment is essential.

Men and women are conceived as two classes, standing against each other for empowerment. Men’s empowerment all through the ages has only entailed women’s suppression and oppression. The whole discussion reminds one of Marx and Engels and their dialectical materialism. Like two economic classes – bourgeois and proletariat, men and women are camped into two classes in conflict with each other for empowerment. As the classless society is the goal of Marxist Communists, the goal of Gender Feminists seems to be a sex-classless society.

The demand of the Gender Feminists of 50/50 male/female for all elected offices reveals the whole philosophy behind the equal partnership in political and economic structures as emphasized in the document. Mim Kelber’s edited book entitled ‘Women and Government: New Ways to Political Power’ can be cited as an important example. It is argued that equal participation of women in the country’s political decisions at all levels is a necessary condition for democracy.

The necessity of 50/50 male/female quotas for all elected offices from local, national to international level is emphasized by the Beijing Preparatory Committee Meetings. The Council of Europe Meeting for Beijing Preparation has played an active role in this connection. One of the reports of the Meetings States:

… and additional protocol to the convention should be adopted. This protocol should clearly and formally include the basic principle of equality between women and men as a source of positive law. Parity democracy is a means of re-thinking democracy…26

So equal representation, 50/50, of men and women in all decision-making is a sine qua non of democracy for Gender Feminists. The same conception is reflected in the document on the issue of women’s political participation. The following statement of the document can be cited here in this connection.

… monitor progress towards achieving the Secretary General’s target of having women hold 50 percent of managerial and decision-making positions by the year 2000.27

Integration of women in all economic and political structures and decision-making equally with men, is in fact a strategic solution pointed out by the modern and post-modern feminists of all political schools – Liberal, Socialist, Radical Marxist and Neo-Marxist. They look at family, society and all its institutions as patriarchal-male domination over women. Hence they argue that women’s equal participation in all institutions is essential to fight against patriarchy. Betty Friedan, who is reckoned as the mother of American Feminist movement, in her book ‘The Second Stage’, suggested a balance of women’s assimilation into the workplace with a counter assimilation of men into the family to overcome this problem.28 Juliet Mitchell’s work ‘The Longest Revolution’,29 is recognized as the first written text of the British women’s liberation movement. She looked at patriarchy as the ideological from of women’s oppression, represented in each person’s unconscious by the Oedipus Complex. Kate Millet, in her ‘Sexual Politics’30 argued that sex is primarily political and women’s liberation depends on the overthrow of patriarchy.

The document has echoed the same views and opinions throughout its pages. It has pointed out that ‘only 10 percent of the members of legislative bodies and a lower percentage of ministerial positions are now held by women’. One of the primary reasons identified in the document for such a condition is the following:

The unequal division of labour and responsibilities within household based on unequal power relations also limits women’s potential to find the time and develop the skills required for participation in decision-making in wider public forums.31

No doubt there is no proper and adequate representation of women in the decision-making forums and this problem needs to be addressed from a holistic perspective. There is also a need of sharing of responsibilities of men and women in the house-chores which has its implications in the outside work. However, sharing should not mean ‘tearing’!

Sharing the work inside and outside the house with mutual understanding and confidence through proper and adequate arrangements is advisable and should be encouraged. But participation of men and women in all works from family to social, national and international institutions based on 50/50 quotas is not ‘sharing’ but ‘tearing’ the peace and stability of all. Statistical equality between women and men in all types of works without consideration of biological differences is not possible; it would ‘tear’ all institutions into pieces. The supporters of ‘gender’ perspective’ demand equal share between women and men in all works without consideration of the biological differences. This can be further elucidated through a T.V. interview of Bella Abzug by a reporter John Stossel:

John Stossel: The men in the fire department say that women are not strong enough

Bella Abzug: That’s true.

John Stossel:  They have had to change the test.

Bella Abzug: Well, that’s all right. Institutions have to adjust. If there are still physical problems which prevent certain activities, these activities should be assisted, so that it – in a way, with technology, so that it is possible.

John Stossel: They should give them an electric axe?

Bella Abzug: Whatever is required.

One of the great obstacles towards equal socio-economic and political empowerment of women is their reproductive role. Hence the document has ensured reproductive rights and reproductive health for women. Behind the emphasis of the reproductive rights and reproductive health, again lies a hidden agenda to ensure freedom to men and women to follow their own choice of reproduction. The document while describing reproductive health and reproductive role at several places has not referred to the system of marriage which ensures acceptable mode of reproduction. It discusses the safe-sex life and methods regulating fertility. It states:

Reproductive health, therefore, implies that people are able to have a satisfying and safe sex life and that they have the capability to produce and the freedom to decide if, when and how often to do so.32

Thus, reproductive health and role are defined in an ambiguous way which has only aroused confusion. Later in the next paragraph, reproductive health includes the right to make decisions concerning reproduction free of discrimination, coercion and violence, as expressed in human rights documents. It is also mentioned that women should decide their own responsibility towards sexuality. Equal relationship between women and men on sexual relations and reproduction seems essential.

This also reveals the emphasis on the ‘gender perspective’ in the document even on reproduction rights of women. To clarify the point, Heidi Hartman’s argument on reproduction can be represented here:

How people propagate the species is socially determined. If biologically people are sexually polymorphous, and society were organized in such a way that all forms of sexual expression were equally permissible, reproduction would result only from some sexual encounters, the heterosexual one… In more imaginative societies, biological reproduction might be ensured by other techniques.33

The fact is, sex life based on ones own style of sexuality implies the acceptance of homosexuality, lesbianism, transexuality and all other deviant forms of sexuality in the same way as heterosexuality. In other words, all the other types of sexual relationships and the forms of reproduction, using advanced technologies should be accepted. A careful reading of the document also suggests the same:

Equal relationship between women and men in matters of sexual relations and reproduction, including full respect for the integrity of the person, require mutual respect, consent and shared responsibility for sexual behaviour and its consequences.34

Again, it is obvious from the above lines that the institution of marriage is not mentioned which regulates sexual relationship between males and females and also directs the proper procreation of children. Instead, the document ensures the freedom to women and men for their sexual behaviour and also their consequences. It implies the devaluation of the institution of marriage and the recognition of all forms of sexuality, sexual relationships and modes of reproduction.

The fact is, for the gender feminists, the relationship between men and women in marriage is merely a sexual division of labour for economic reasons alone. Hence, they argue that heterosexuality and the dominant mode of reproduction are socially constructed. Heidi Hartman argues:

The strict division of labour by sex, a social invention common to all known societies, creates two very separate genders and a need for men and women to get together for economic reasons. It thus helps to direct their sexual needs towards heterosexual fulfillment and helps to ensure biological reproduction.35

This is the reason that all kinds of rights for individual women and men for their decision on sexual behaviour and their consequences have remained the central focus of attention in the document. For the same reason, the rights of abortion are also greatly emphasized several times in the document. At one place, it states:

Since unsafe abortion is a major threat to the health and life of women, research to understand and better address the determinants and consequences of induced abortion, including its effects on subsequent fertility, reproductive mental health and contraceptive practice should be promoted, as well as research on treatment of complications of abortions and post-abortion care.36

Thus, instead of promoting research to find out the reasons and causes for an increased number of abortion cases which become complex and cause deaths, emphasis is laid more on the techniques and research for safe abortions. In the same way, great concern is shown in the document on the greater number of women suffering from AIDS/HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. Here again, instead of looking into the problems of the unrestricted freedom and liberty enjoyed by men and women on sexuality and sexual relations, emphasis has been made on the incorporation of the ‘gender perspective’ to study the problems. It states:

The consequences of AIDS/HIV reach beyond women’s health to their role as mothers and care givers and their contribution to the economic support of their families. The social development and health consequences of AIDS/HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases need to be seen from a gender perspective.37

Quite surprisingly, the document seems reversing the problems and issues of women and turning them upside down! Therefore, many critical questions rise up while studying the document especially the strategic objectives and strategic solutions suggested in the document for various critical areas of concern: Will these strategic actions resolve the problems of women or aggravate them? Is the document addressing the problems of women and womanhood to let women enjoy their rights of being women or liberating them from being women?

It was found out that such questions also emerged even during the Preparatory Committee Meetings among some of the delegates who were surprised to see that the meetings did not focus on the problems of women, rather on the ‘gender perspective’. Dale O’eary observes.

The majority of delegates were looking for practical ways to help women and had not come to New York to debate ‘feminist epistemology’ [feminist’s philosophical theories of how we know things] ... As the debate progressed, it became obvious that the supporters of the ‘gender perspective’ believed that their understanding of the meaning of ‘gender’ as referring to ‘socially constructed roles’ was understood and accepted.38

The Gender Feminists who have influenced the conference and the document seemed not much concerned about the problems of women. Their interest was to promote the horror amongst women over male-domination over females and to mobilize them for statistical equality with men in all areas to overcome their domination. Heidi Hartman observes:

The women question has never been ‘the feminist question’. The feminist question is directed at the causes of sexual inequality between women and men, of male domination over women.39

That is why for the Gender Feminists, specific male and female roles based on natural and biological differences are ‘socially constructed roles’ of the dominant patriarchal culture. Although the Beijing Conference was named as the Fourth World Conference on Women, the Gender Feminists looked at the Conference through a ‘gender perspective’ which is quite different from all other perspective on women. In one of the Preparatory Committee Meetings, Valarie Raymond, a delegate from Canada categorically stated that Beijing should be approached ‘not as a women’s conference’ rather it should be approached through a ‘gender lens’. Raymond says:

Through this gender lens, our challenge is to recognize and value the diversity of women [including] … sexual orientation.40

Islamic Position on Some of the Gender Issues

Islam means ‘peace’ and one of the basic conditions of peace is the prevalence of justice, and justice cannot be achieved without a comprehensive sustainable development of family, society and human civilization as a whole. Thus peace, justice and comprehensive and sustainable development cannot be perused in Islam without considering moral and spiritual dimensions and without focussing on a healthy and peaceful relationship between men, women, and children. It is for this reason that the Islamic approach to the problems of women’s advancement and development is, therefore, not fragmented and one-sided, rather holistic and multi-dimensional. Islam’s mechanism, strategic objective and plans for the enhancement of women cannot be isolated from the over-all mechanism and strategy for the development of civilization. So the goals of the document, Platform for Action – equality, peace and development are intrinsic to the whole comprehensive plan of civilization development in Islam, not outside it. Therefore, fatherhood and family as a whole are basic and fundamental to the overall development scheme of Islamic civilization. Below we would elaborate briefly the philosophy behind it, while specifically dealing with some of the institutions and related issues.


The only intimate relationship which is approved in Islam is the relationship between adult male and female through the process of marriage which develops the institution of family. The institution of family is therefore considered as the basic institution for the development of civilization. It is regarded as one of the signs of Allah since it establishes a firm bond of love and compassion between a man and a woman who receive an honourable position of husband and wife in the society.41 The spouses dwell in tranquillity with each other and keep trust in each other enjoying love and dignity. Marriage unites them for peace, prosperity and a comprehensive development of their personalities so that they may live and work as co-partners throughout their life, complementing each other. Marriages does not divide them into two opposing camps of male and female fighting for empowerment against each other. Marriage also does not enslave any of them, male or female to struggle in an environment of either domination or oppression. In fact marriage in Islam is recognized as a basic step towards peace, progress and development. It enables husband and wife to carry the responsibilities of familial, social, economic, political and civilizational development. Marriage is not an obstacle for development rather an essential union of man and women for a comprehensive and balanced development of the members of the family. No proper and appropriate family is conceived without marriage between male and female and no peaceful and stable civilization is possible without peaceful and stable families.

The stable and healthy relationship between male and female in the family is a training process for the maintenance of better relationship with men, women and children in the society. If this aim is not achieved, marriage and family are not abolished rather other strategies are adopted such as proper education and training.


The family is a divinely ordained institution in Islam which comes into being after marriage between a man and a woman based on their consent.42 It regulates relationship between a husband and a wife and between parents and children. Wife and children are the comforters of eyes for man in the same way as husband and children are the comforters for women.43 Children are enjoined to be benevolent and obedient to parents. However, ‘mother enjoys more benevolence than father since mother passes through a number of travails in bearing, rearing and nourishing children more than a father.44

Motherhood is thus greatly acknowledged and respected in Islam. It is neither conceived as an act of oppression for women nor as a political institution. It is a symbol of selfless love, devotion and compassion and an embodiment of peace and serenity. Since the very time a mother conceives a child, the child becomes an essential part of the mother’s life and her existence. Although she suffers pains and troubles of various kinds all along this period, she is blessed with such a special love and care for children that she bears all the problems with happiness and content. Motherhood is, therefore, not a curse nor a nightmare, rather a Divine blessing and a sweet care.

Technology cannot replace motherhood, albeit it can help motherhood. All the positive help from the reproductive technology can be taken to lessen the strains of bearing and reproducing child, but reproductive technology cannot perform the responsibility of a mother. Procreation of children cannot be left to the machines and technical culture of no values and no norms.

Reproduction is one of the unique signs of Allah that ensures procreation of children through proper and appropriate relationship between the husband and the wife. Reproduction is not a matter of a mere physical union of husband and wife just as marriage is not a mere physical union of a man and woman endorsed in a covenant. Marriage and reproduction are physical and spiritual unions of husband and wife which ensure procreation with better physical and spiritual health. In the same way, family is not a mere physical relationship between husband and wife and between parents and children but a spiritual relationship between them. It is for this reason that family in Islam is considered as a cradle of civilization in which all the fundamental rights and duties towards each other and moral obligations towards society and humanity are taught. It serves as a foundation of education and spiritual training for children to be the better future scholars and leaders of human civilization. So the development of motherhood and fatherhood and family is considered a prerequisite in the whole developmental process.


Islam is highly sensitive regarding chastity and purity of men and women. It not only forbids the acts of adultery but also prohibits men and women to go near it. It looks upon adultery as an evil that opens the venue for all kinds of injustices in the society.45 Islam completely forbids all forms of sexual relationships outside marriage. It totally rejects all deviant sexual relationships and sexual orientation – homosexual, lesbian, transsexual etc. All kinds of deviant behaviours are considered as the attitudes of injustice and ignorance. Sex only through marriage is acceptable in Islam. It is against total abstinence and also unceasing promiscuity.

Sex is not a mere physical satisfaction. Sex is also not something political that entails male domination. It is one of the natural instincts of men and women which is regulated and disciplined in the institution of marriage which entails moral and spiritual sublimation and elevation of both, not domination and subjugation of one over the other. If sex is not disciplined through the system of marriage and men and women are given all kinds of sexual freedom and liberty, the institution of family will be completely demolished. The demolition of family entails the prevalence of anarchy and bestiality in the human society. Such anarchic conditions in society will lead not only women but all human beings towards total destruction.

Equality Versus Identity

Equality of man and woman constitutes one of the important principles of Islam. Its philosophy of equality lies in the very creation of man and woman from a single soul.46 It does not subscribe to the myth of the creation of a woman from man’s rib which relegates her to a secondary position. It also rejects the attribution of temptation of eating the forbidden fruit and its consequences of fall of man to Eve alone which assigns women a less spiritual position than men.

Women and men are also assigned equal position of vicegerency of Allah. Not only this, the acquisition of knowledge is made obligatory for both man and woman so that they may efficiently perform the responsibility of the vicegerency.47

However, there is no confusion of ‘equality’ and ‘identity’ in Islam. Woman and men are equal but not identical. Biological and natural differences are respected, not suspected and eliminated.48 Differences in biology, colour complexion, language, ethnicity, nationality and others are all considered as the signs of Allah. Neither the exaggeration of any of these differences to the disapproval and disrespect of the other is accepted nor the elimination of any of these differences is approved.

Men and women are partners in family, society and civilization as a whole. Being partners does not mean that they are similar. Men and women are not similar in their biology. For instance, men are expected to perform the responsibilities of husbands and fathers and similarly women are expected to perform the functions of wives and mothers. The roles of wife and mother are not inferior to the roles of husband and father. Differences of roles does not mean differences in positions and honour.

Furthermore, being a wife or a mother does not mean that all the opportunities for women to work for the development of civilization are closed for them. Islam does not forbid women to play a dynamic and constructive role in the society provided she is also doing justice to her basic responsibilities as a wife and as a mother. Similarly, being a husband or a father does not mean that he should not share with her wife the work inside the house.49 So Islam infuses a sense of sharing in the members of family for the sake of co-operation with each other not for competition against each other, suspecting and disrespecting the differences between each other. Confrontation between husband and wife for statistical equality is not a sharing rather a tearing of spirit.

Concluding Remarks

The objectives of the Platform for Action are acceptable to all cultures and communities across the world, including the Muslim community. However, the ‘gender perspective’ that is emphasized in the document is highly objectionable. Gender perspective is not implied as women’s perspective which is obvious from the discussion made earlier. Such a perspective envisions a different model of progress, peace and development which does not coincide with other models of development based on other perspectives of human family. One model of development based on one perspective cannot be forced upon all the cultures and communities of the world. Contemporary developmentalists have rejected the hegemony of one model over other communities. They argue for different models of development and progress based on indigenous cultures. The following observation of Huntington illustrates the point:

Maybe the time has come to stop trying to change these societies and to change the model, to develop models of a modern Islamic, Confucian, or Hindu society that would be more relevant to countries where those cultures prevail.50

A revision of the Platform for Action seems, therefore, logical and necessary to incorporate other perspectives and let other communities follow their own models of development based on their own worldview.

(The author is Assistant Professor, KIRK & HS, IIU, Malaysia)
Courtesy: The Hamdard Islamicus, April-June 2000


1. Platform for Action, UN Document approved by the Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing, China from 5th - 15th September 1995, Chapter 1, Mission statement, paragraph 1.

2. Ibid., Chapter 2, Global Framework, paragraph 26.

3. Ibid., Chapter 4, Persistent and Increasing Burden of Poverty on Women, paragraph 50.

4. Ibid., Strategic Objectives A.I., Enable Women to Overcome Poverty, (Actions to be taken by Governments), paragraph 60b.

5. Ibid., Strategic Objectives A. 4, paragraph 70a.

6. Ibid., Inequalities in Access to Health and Related Services, paragraph 106.

7. Ibid., Chapter 4 section K, Lack of Adequate Recognition and Support for Women’s Contribution --, paragraph 361.

8. Ibid., Draft Beijing Declaration, paragraph 38.

9. Ibid., C. International Level, 1. United Nations, paragraph 321.

10. Ibid., C. International Level, see paragraphs from 327-345.

11. Earth Negotiations Bulletin, April 1995.

12. Christine Delgado, Reporte Sobre Ruunion en Mar del Plata, In Dele O’Leary, gender: The Deconstruction of Women: An analysis of the Gender Perspective in Preparation for the Fourth World Conference on Women, Providence, R.I. USA, 1995.

13. Platform for Action, Chapter 2, Global Framework, paragraph 28.

14. Dale O’ Leary, Gender: The Deconstruction of Women, p. 5.

15. Platform For Action, Strategic ObjectivesB.4, Develop non-discriminatory education and training, paragraph 85.a.

16. Ibid., Strategic Objectives D.I., Take integrated measures to prevent and eliminate violence against women, paragraph 26.

17. Ibid., F. 6, Create a flexible work environment, paragraph 182b.

18. Shulamith Firestone, The Dialect of sex, New York, 1970, p. 12.

19. Ellen Herman, ‘Still Married after all these Years’, Soujourner: The Women’s Forum, Sept., 1990, p. 14.

20. Platform for Action, Global Framework, paragraph 30.

21. Ibid., Strategic Objectives A. I., paragraph 61j.

22. Ibid., Global Framework, paragraph 28.

23. Ibid., section I, Lack of Awareness of and Commitment to Internationally and Nationally recognized Human Rights of Women, paragraph 226.

24. See Dale O’Leary, Gender: The Deconstruction of Women, p. 7.

25. Platform For Action, Strategic Objective C. 2., Strengthen Peventive programmes that address threats to women’s health, paragraph 108 c.

26. See Dale O’Leary, Gender: The Deconstruction of Women, p. 25.

27. Platform For Action, Strategic Objectives G.1., Take special measures to ensure women’s equal access to and full participation in power structures and decision-making, paragraph 195 c.

28. Betty Friedan, Second Stage, London: Michael Joseph, 1981.

29. Juliet Mitchell, The Longest Revolution, London, Virago, 1984.

30. Kate Millet, Sexual Politics, London: Virago, 1985.

31. Platform for Action, Chapter 4, section G., Inequality between men and women in the sharing of power… paragraph 187.

32. Platform for Action, Chapter 4, section C., Inequalities in access to health and related services, paragraph 96.

33. Heidi Hartman, ‘The Unhappy Marriage of Marxism and Feminism’, in ‘Women and Revolution’, Boston: South End Press, 1981, p.13.

34. Platform for Action, Chapter 4, section C, paragraph 97.

35. Heidi Hartman, ‘The Unhappy Marriage…’, p. 13.

36. Platform For Action, Strategic Objective C.4., Promote research and information…, paragraph 110 i.

37. Ibid., Chapter 4, section c., paragraph 99.

38. See Dale O’Leary, Gender: The Deconstruction of Women, p.4.

39. Heidi Hartman, ‘The Unhappy Marriage…’, p. 5.

40. See Dale O’Leary, Gender: The Deconstruction of Women, p.7.

41. The Qur’ān, 30:21.

42. See Khurshid Ahmad, Family Life in Islam, Leicester, 1981.

43. The Qur’ān, 25:74.

44. The Qur’ān, 31:14.

45. The Qur’ān, 17:34.

46. The Qur’ān, 4:1.

47. See Fatih Osman, Muslim Women in the Family and the Society, Minaret Publications, USA, [n.d.], pp.34-36.

48. Lamya Faruqi, Women Muslim Society and Islam, MSA, USA, 1988, p.26.

49. Zeenath Kasuar, Women in Feminism and Politics, pp. 106.109.

50. 50. Samuel P. Huntington, ‘The Goals of Development’ in Myron Weiner [et al.,], Understanding Political Development, Chicago, 1987, p.25.

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