To clear misconceptions of women in the Middle East, BAKA: Students United For Middle Eastern Justice and the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, held a five-person panel discussion Thursday to educate University students.
"Gender in the Middle East and its Diasporas" featured influential women speakers, who attempted to paint a clearer picture about the problems that surround them here and abroad through poetry, personal accounts and a short film.
"It is a great venue because the concentration is always on the Middle East," said panelist Maysa Abou-Youssef Hayward, head of Middle Eastern Studies at Ocean County Community College. "It is time for us to talk and redefine the image."
The discussion became heated during the question-answer session when a non-student member of the audience ignited tension with a statement about stoning, a common human rights issue in the Middle East to which all five women of the panel are fiercely opposed.
Fawzia Afzal-Khan, director of Women and Gender Studies at Montclair State University, said the practice of stoning is barbaric and should not be permitted under any condition.
"We need to wage a jihad against violence in all its forms," Khan said.
Golbarg Bashi, a University professor of Middle Eastern and Iranian Studies, spoke about the image of Middle Eastern women in the West.
Bashi said the West see the situation as white men rescuing brown women from brown men.
"We want to seek a politically active voice for marginally recognized minorities on campus," said Shehnaz Abdeljaber, the outreach coordinator for the Center for Middle Eastern Studies.
Aside from the controversial topic, panelists also focused on what it is like to be an Arab-American.
The women tried to show that not all Arabs are the same and that they are a group as unique and diverse as any other.
"A lot of people think that all Arabs are Muslim and all Muslims are Arab," said Raja Salloum, a mental health clinician for Arab-Americans at the Mental Health Association in Passaic County.
The discussion ended with readings from Zohra Saed, a doctoral candidate at The City University of New York Graduate Center, focusing on the inner thoughts and feelings of Afghan women.
Jessica Melo, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, said she attended the event because she is always open to learning about areas where she lacks knowledge.
"It was a very informative session that aimed to combat the traditional stereotypes of the Middle Eastern world, with its array of sources and even controversial moments that enhanced the dialogue," Melo said.
Hoda Mitwally, public relations officer for BAKA, started planning the discussion in June with other members of the executive board.
"I really wanted our audience to see how complex and multi-faceted gender is in the Middle East," said Mitwally, a School of Arts and Sciences senior.
BAKA, a student group since 2005, stands for Belief, Awareness, Knowledge and Activism and is concerned with promoting awareness of the current issues in the Middle East, Mitwally said.
"We allow people the right to feel comfortable to express their marginalized points of view regarding the Middle East," she said.