From Iran to Brooklyn: How women influence religious activity

Published: Sunday, Nov. 13 2011 10:46 p.m. MST

In this file photo taken July 25, 2009, protestors hold flags and a poster of the Iranian woman 'Neda' who was killed, during a demonstration in Brussels. Iranians around the world called for a global day of action to protest against the regime.

Virginia Mayo, file, Associated Press

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Neda Agha-Soltan drew international attention as protesters captured her death in Tehran live and posted it on YouTube during the 2009 Iranian election protests. Her death became a rallying point for the protests, and undoubtedly gave the Islamic world the confidence to begin the Arab Spring revolution.

What's been surprising about these movements are not the ideas brought forth, but rather those bringing them. As ABC news reported back in March, women like Neda across the region have championed causes to bring more freedom to their gender. Progress was seen in September when King Abdullah granted women the right to vote and run in future municipal elections. As Hatoon al-Fassi, a Saudi Arabian history professor, described the revolution to the New York Times, "there is the element of Saudi women themselves, who are not silent."

Which raises the question, are women the most important demographic in determining the direction of a religious society?

Recently the New York World, a Columbia Journalism School publication, reported a private bus company has come under fire in Brooklyn for promoting segregation between men and women on the bus, according to ultra-Orthodox Jewish custom. The Associated Press also reported that ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel were segregating gender on buses, in clinics, grocery stores and even on sidewalks.

Some have found the segregation as an infringement on women's civil rights.

Yet as The Jewish Daily Forward reports, among the least offended are the women who live among the ultra-Orthodox. Rachel Freier, a lawyer who takes the bus to Manhattan told the Forward, "It never bothered me. It is not that I feel I am being segregated. As a woman, it is my own sphere of privacy." Gitty Green, another female rider of the Brooklyn B110 told the New York Times, "It's such a normal thing for us that women and men are separate."

But women aren't just a determinant demographic amongst Islamic and Jewish customs. The controversial "personhood" amendment failed in the strongly Christian state of Mississippi partly due to the pull of women. Public Policy Polling reported a day before the vote those supporting the amendment edged out those against it by 1 percentage point with 11 percent undecided. However, women were more opposed to the amendment than men, and 58 percent of undecided voters were women.

EMAIL: jbolding@desnews.com

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