Posts Tagged ‘ Women’s rights ’

Why Don’t Men Cover Their Faces?

By Hind Aleryani for Your Middle East
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Yemeni blogger and journalist @HindAleryani tells her intimate story about what’s feminine and masculine in the Middle East.

 

We used to play at my aunt’s garden when we were younger…girls and boys, there was no difference… we grew up together… we used to race, play, laugh… sometimes we would fight playfully… we used to watch TV together… cry at the end of sad cartoons together… we grew a bit older… we began to study for our classes together… whenever we’d fight we used to threaten the other that we’d tell on them to the teacher… we used to play practical jokes on one another… we’d laugh with all our hearts…

And so the days went by…

My cousin and I are staring outside the window… we are looking at the garden where my male cousin and his friends are playing… this is the garden where we used to play together… they used to be our friends once upon a time… these are the boys we used to play with… what happened? Why are we prisoners at home, while they play ball outside with all freedom… what did we do? Did we grow older? Did our bodies change? Did we become an object of temptation that needs to be covered from people’s eyes? Aren’t those the boys we knew since we were children? What changed? Why are we strangers? Why do I run and hide whenever I hear one of their voices? Is it just because the pitch of his voice changed? Is that why we aren’t friends anymore? Are we supposed to act differently towards one another? Different to how we acted just yesterday? We started to act shy and anxious whenever we’d speak… we stopped playing with one another… My cousin and I began spending our spare time watching Mexican soap operas, as if we were in our 50s…

And so the days went by…

I am at school…we are learning about what a woman should cover… her hair is temptation… her eyebrows are temptation… I remembered my favorite male singer… his eyes were beautiful too… his hair is beautiful… why doesn’t he veil? I asked myself this question, however, I couldn’t find the answer… I remembered that I was banned from playing in the garden because I hit puberty… however, my male friends weren’t… didn’t they hit puberty too? Why weren’t they imprisoned at home? I also couldn’t find the answer…

And so the days went by…

I hear it all the time… “A woman is a jewel that needs to be protected (i.e. covered)”… and sometimes it is even said that a woman is like candy “if you remove the wrapper (i.e. the cover) the flies will swarm around her”… I turn on the TV and find that favorite male singer that I am so fond of brushing his soft silky hair and flaunting his handsomeness… his arms are bare… his chest is bare… why isn’t this object of temptation covered? Why isn’t he imprisoned at home? Why aren’t women tempted by him? Some might claim that a woman shouldn’t look at this… then shouldn’t men shield their gaze when looking at a tempting female “object”? I couldn’t find the answer…

And so the days went by…

I am at university… I see some people distributing a small religious book… “Temptations of a Woman”…Her hair… her feet… her eyes, and “thus, a woman must cover one of her eyes as both of them together are tempting”…I swear this is what I read in this book!… it’s as if there is nothing left in this world to talk about and scrutinize other than a woman and how she is a temptation…I decided to observe men’s looks…I wanted to know which women would attract men with her temptation… in front of me walks a woman wearing a tight Abaya (long black cover)… aha!.. I found her… she is an object of temptation… I continue watching… in front of me walks a woman with a baggy Abaya, however, with an uncovered face…the man stares at her… aha! So her face is also a temptation… a third woman walks in front of me… her face is covered and she is wearing a baggy Abaya from top to toe… the man is staring at her! Huh? I don’t understand… what is so tempting about a black Abaya? No eyes, no feet… What is this man staring at? At that moment I realized that clothing has nothing to do with it… men would stare on all occasions… however, he, with his broad shoulders and his hair, eyes and lips isn’t considered an object of temptation, even if all the women in the world started at him… he is a man…he shouldn’t hide in his home… no one calls him a jewel… at that moment I wished I wasn’t a jewel. I wished to be a free man…

And so the days went by…

I am in a Western country… women are walking around me…one is wearing pants… the other is wearing a short skirt…another wears shorts…men and women are walking side by side… it is strange… no one is staring… why don’t I see the looks of men I saw in my country? Those looks that made a woman feel naked… those looks that I hated… the ones that made me hate being on this earth, and hate being born a woman… those looks that deny me my humanity…why don’t I see those looks here? All the women are dressed up… why don’t I see those looks even though all the women are attractive here? I saw one women run and laugh… I remembered that I wasn’t allowed to run once I hit puberty… I remembered my aunt’s window… I remembered I was an object of temptation that must be covered… I remembered that a man in my country wears white, while I am covered in black… I asked myself, why don’t men wear black? Why don’t men cover their faces? And I couldn’t find the answer…

And so the days go by…

 

Indian Women March: ‘That Girl Could Have Been Any One of Us’

By Heather Timmons and Sruthi Gottipati for The New York Times

Women India

Neha Kaul Mehra says she was only 7 years old the first time she was sexually harassed. She was walking to a dance class in an affluent neighborhood of New Delhi when a man confronted her and began openly masturbating.

That episode was far from the last. Years of verbal and physical sexual affronts left Ms. Mehra, now 29, filled with what she described as “impotent rage.”

Last week, she and thousands of Indian women like her poured that anger into public demonstrations, reacting to news of the gang rape of another young woman who had moved to the city from a small village, with a new life in front of her.

That woman, a 23-year-old physiotherapy student, died Saturday from internal injuries inflicted with a metal rod during the rape, which took place on a bus two weeks ago.

In her story and its brutal ending, many women in the world’s largest democracy say they see themselves.

“That girl could have been any one of us,” said Sangeetha Saini, 44, who took her two teenage daughters to a candle-filled demonstration on Sunday in Delhi. Women in India “face harassment in public spaces, streets, on buses,” she said. “We can only tackle this by becoming Durga,” she added, referring to the female Hindu god who slays a demon.

Indian women have made impressive gains in recent years: maternal mortality rates have dropped, literacy rates and education levels have risen, and millions of women have joined the professional classes. But the women at the heart of the protest movement say it was born of their outraged realization that no matter how accomplished they become, or how hard they work, women here will never fully take part in the promise of a new and more prosperous India unless something fundamental about the culture changes.

Indeed, many women in India say they are still subject to regular harassment and assault during the day and are fearful of leaving their homes alone after dark. Now they are demanding that the government, and a police force that they say offers women little or no protection, do something about it.

Ankita Cheerakathil, 20, a student at St. Stephen’s College who attended a protest on Thursday, remembered dreading the daily bus ride when she was in high school in the southern state of Kerala. Before she stepped outside her house, she recalled, she would scrutinize herself in a mirror, checking to see whether her blouse was too tight. At the bus stop, inevitably, men would zero in on the schoolgirls in their uniforms, some as young as 10, to leer and make cracks filled with sexual innuendo.

“This is not an isolated incident,” Ms. Cheerakathil said of the death of the New Delhi rape victim. “This is the story of every Indian woman.”

While the Dec. 16 attack was extreme in its savagery, gang rapes of women have been happening with frightening regularity in recent months, particularly in northern India. Critics say the response from a mostly male police force is often inadequate at best.

Last week, an 18-year-old woman in Punjab State committed suicide by drinking poison after being raped by two men and then humiliated by male police officers, who made her describe her attack in detail several times, then tried to encourage her to marry one of her rapists. Dozens more gang rapes have been reported in the states of Haryana, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh in recent months.

The government does not keep statistics on gang rape, but over all, rapes increased 25 percent from 2006 to 2011. More than 600 rapes were reported in New Delhi alone in 2012. So far, only one attack has resulted in a conviction.

Sociologists and crime experts say the attacks are the result of deeply entrenched misogynistic attitudes and the rising visibility of women, underpinned by long-term demographic trends in India.

After years of aborting female fetuses, a practice that is still on the rise in some areas because of a cultural preference for male children, India has about 15 million “extra” men between the ages of 15 and 35, the range when men are most likely to commit crimes. By 2020, those “extra” men will have doubled to 30 million.

“There is a strong correlation between masculinized sex ratios and higher rates of violent crime against women,” said Valerie M. Hudson, a co-author of “Bare Branches: The Security Implications of Asia’s Surplus Male Population.” Men who do not have wives and families often gather in packs, Ms. Hudson argues, and then commit more gruesome and violent crimes than they would on their own.

Others point to the gains that women have made as triggers for an increase in violent crimes. “Women are rising in society and fighting for equal space, and these crimes are almost like a backlash,” said Vijay Raghavan, chairman of the Center for Criminology and Justice at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai. If poverty and unemployment were the only reason for these crimes, rates would already be much higher, he said, because both are constants in India.

In India’s conservative society, male sexual aggression is portrayed in unexpected ways. In Bollywood films, kissing on screen is still rare and nudity forbidden. But the rape scene has been a staple of movies for decades. And depictions of harassment often have an innocent woman resisting nobly, but eventually succumbing to the male hero. One commonly used term for sexual harassment is “eve-teasing,” which critics say implies the act is gentle and harmless.

The New Delhi rape victim, whose funeral was held on Sunday, and whose name had not been revealed, was from a small village in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state. Her journey to Delhi was the same that thousands of young women make every year to big cities around the country, in search of a better education and opportunities than their parents had. “My brother’s entire salary was spent on educating his children so that their aspirations were fulfilled,” the woman’s uncle told the newspaper The Hindu.

In South Delhi, hundreds of students from Jawaharlal Nehru University organized a silent march from their campus to Munirka, the bus stop where the rape victim was picked up, after her death became public on Saturday. The crowd of protesters trudged along a busy road, a few holding hastily made placards with phrases like “You are an inspiration to us all.”

“There’s a movement that has been built out of this,” said Ruchira Sen, 25, a student of economics on the march to Munirka. “We are going to do everything it takes to make it last,” she said.

Students and activist groups have presented a list of demands to the government, including the fast-tracking of rape cases through India’s courts and improved training for the police.

Part of the policing problem is that less than 4 percent of India’s overall force is female, said Suman Nalwa, head of Delhi’s special unit for women, in an interview. She said she was working to improve police response to sexual assault.

“Earlier, women didn’t leave their homes, so there was no crime,” Ms. Nalwa said. “We are doing our best, but, of course, there is a lot more to be done.”

Like many who attended these protests and rallies, Ms. Mehra had been urged to go by her mother, who she said had given this reason: “Because I don’t want my granddaughter to face this.”

Men have also been a large presence at the protests, though not always a positive one. After the large central Delhi protests on Dec. 22 and 23, the police received 42 complaints from women about men’s behavior there, said a senior police officer who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the information was not public. He balked at describing the actions as “harassment” or “molestation,” saying that implied aggravated or sustained behavior. Instead, he said, the men were merely “eve-teasing.”

Reporting was contributed by Malavika Vyawahare, Anjani Trivedi, Niharika Mandhana and Saritha Rai.

Malala Attack Fuels Pakistani Conspiracy Theories

As Reported By The Daily Times

It’s a well-known fact in Pakistan that Osama bin Laden died in 2006 and that the US commando raid on his compound in May 2011 was merely a “drama” orchestrated by US President Obama to help win re-election, according to a report in The Washington Post.

Of course, if that were true, Obama might have waited until after the first presidential debate of the campaign season to fake the al Qaeda leader’s killing. But no matter. Pakistanis love a good conspiracy theory.

According to the report, some national newspapers and TV cable outlets routinely report the US is behind terrorist attacks and supports the war the Pakistani Taliban are waging against Pakistan’s government and military. The US Embassy in Islamabad has to regularly churn out “Corrections for the Record” that take Pakistani media to task for carrying outrageous claims.

Now, the latest conspiracy theory to gain traction is the notion the US was behind the Taliban attack this month on Malala Yousufzai, the student from Swat who criticised the extremist group for denying girls access to education. The purported purpose of the ruse: to make the Taliban look really bad and, thus, generate public sympathy for drone strikes – and whip up support for a Pakistan Army invasion of North Waziristan to rout Haqqani network based there.

A Taliban spokesman was quick to assert responsibility for the attack on the schoolgirl and her two classmates. Yet, the idea of US involvement has spread widely, even generating its own meme on Facebook. The Washington Post says a photo of Obama sharing a hearty laugh with members of his staff is making the rounds, being circulated and “liked” by thousands on social media sites. Its caption reads, “Sir, they still believe that Taliban attacked Malala.”

The newspaper states to many Pakistanis, Malala is a national hero. But others say she is a spy because she once met with then-US envoy Richard Holbrooke – another photo shared on the Internet.

Part of the reason there’s so much conspiracy thinking is because Pakistanis live in a security state many believe is controlled by the shadowy spy apparatus known as the Inter-Services Intelligence agency. It is widely seen – and feared – as a hidden force capable of steering domestic and foreign affairs.

AZ Hilali, chairman of the University of Peshawar Political Science Department, said politics is also behind much of the conspiracy mongering. “When the incident happened with Malala, the people thought the security establishment might be involved because there is pressure from the USthat they have to take action against the Haqqani network,” Hilali said. “That perception was already existing in Pakistan. Right-wing parties just exploited the situation.”

But now, WP quotes Hilali as saying, “right-wing parties are in a great crisis because Malala has deep sympathies from the common people… they believe the Taliban have crossed a boundary. Malala has become this symbol, and the right wing is losing support”.

Nasreen Ghufran, an international relations professor at the university, said a common sentiment in Peshawar is the horrendous deed had to serve other agendas. “They think that Taliban on their own would not do anything unless the ISI and the army are behind it,” she said.

The paper says as for the theories that besmirch Malala as an agent of the West, they will ultimately come to naught and even enhance her stature, Hilali said. The Islamists “were already against that girl, but there is not just one Malala, there are many Malalas”.

Why Our Pampered Teens Need A Role Model Like Malala

By Sinead Moriarty for The Independent

Most teenagers getting the bus home from school chat to each other, play on their phones or try to get some of their homework done. Not so for Malala Yousafzai.

This Pakistani teenager was shot in the head on her way home from school. A man boarded her bus and shot her at point blank range for daring to stand up for her basic human right of an education.

A friend recently told me of her teenage daughter’s refusal to go to school, apparently she wasn’t “in the mood”. What are you going to do? I asked. “What can I do,” she said. “She’s two feet taller than me. I can’t drag her there.”

Perhaps she should tell her daughter the story of this Pakistani heroine who risked her life for an education. Perhaps we need to take down the posters of Cheryl Cole and Rihanna from our teenagers’ bedrooms and replace them with posters of Malala Yousafzai.

Our children’s role models now fall into two categories — sports stars or popstars (with the occasional WAG thrown in).

They watch talentless wannabes on reality TV, selling their souls to the devil for fame. Ask teenagers what they want to be when they grow up and the majority will say “famous”. Nobody seems to remember all the people who won the ‘X Factor’ and are now back working in their local fish shop.

In this post-feminist world, girls have become commodities. Where are the young women who want to shatter glass ceilings?

Where are the girls who want to change the world, not the size of their breasts? Where are the teenagers who want to grow up and rule the world, not the tabloids?

Nowadays teenage girls look at footballers’ wives and think, ‘I want that’. I want to live in a big house, drive a flashy car and shop in designer boutiques.

But what about the fact that so many of these husbands sleep with other women, prostitutes and even sometimes their brothers’ wives? None of the teenage girls ever seems to notice that side of the equation. If he provides you with a plush lifestyle, diamonds and furs, then he can do whatever he wants. And these young wives grin and bear it. They say nothing and they do nothing. No divorce is called for, because they know that once they’re dumped their ‘life’ is over. The limelight will shift to the new Mrs X. They’ll be ‘normal’. Who the hell wants to be ‘normal’ when you can be a famous doormat?

Just when you despair for young women, just when you wonder if your teenager will ever find a decent role model, a girl like Malala comes along and puts us all to shame. Her shooting was not the action of a random gunman. It was a carefully planned assassination attempt on a young lady the Taliban found threatening.

Malala’s crime was to be a female who wanted an education. In 2009, when the Taliban seized control of the area she lived in, the women were forced to wear burquas and banned from going to the market and girls were banned from going to school. But Malala spoke out.

In an anonymous blog for the BBC’s Urdu service, she said the ban on going to school was choking her and so she: “decided to stand against the force of backwardness.”

As she continued to blog, complaining of the terrible plight of women under the Taliban, fellow students recognised her and her anonymity was blown. But she still continued to speak out and now she lies in a hospital in Birmingham that was built to deal with injured service personnel. It is fitting that this young woman will lie side by side with injured soldiers as she begins her long road to recovery. After all, Malala is the heroine of a war, the war on human rights.

We in the West take for granted the rights for which Malala almost died. We need to tell our children her story. We need to show them that life is not about being on TV or having the latest phone, boots or bag . . .

We all want to protect our children from the difficulties that life will throw at them, but stories of courage like Malala’s will surely inspire them.

Her story might actually make our teenagers stop texting for five seconds and think about how lucky they are. They may still dread being ridiculed by fellow classmates for having the ‘wrong’ bag, but at least they know they won’t get shot in the head for it.

Why Do They Hate Us?

By Mona Eltahawy for Foreign Policy

In “Distant View of a Minaret,” the late and much-neglected Egyptian writer Alifa Rifaat begins her short story with a woman so unmoved by sex with her husband that as he focuses solely on his pleasure, she notices a spider web she must sweep off the ceiling and has time to ruminate on her husband’s repeated refusal to prolong intercourse until she too climaxes, “as though purposely to deprive her.” Just as her husband denies her an orgasm, the call to prayer interrupts his, and the man leaves. After washing up, she loses herself in prayer — so much more satisfying that she can’t wait until the next prayer — and looks out onto the street from her balcony. She interrupts her reverie to make coffee dutifully for her husband to drink after his nap. Taking it to their bedroom to pour it in front of him as he prefers, she notices he is dead. She instructs their son to go and get a doctor. “She returned to the living room and poured out the coffee for herself. She was surprised at how calm she was,” Rifaat writes.

But let’s put aside what the United States does or doesn’t do to women. Name me an Arab country, and I’ll recite a litany of abuses fueled by a toxic mix of culture and religion that few seem willing or able to disentangle lest they blaspheme or offend. When more than 90 percent of ever-married women in Egypt — including my mother and all but one of her six sisters — have had their genitals cut in the name of modesty, then surely we must all blaspheme. When Egyptian women are subjected to humiliating “virginity tests” merely for speaking out, it’s no time for silence. When an article in the Egyptian criminal code says that if a woman has been beaten by her husband “with good intentions” no punitive damages can be obtained, then to hell with political correctness. And what, pray tell, are “good intentions”? They are legally deemed to include any beating that is “not severe” or “directed at the face.” What all this means is that when it comes to the status of women in the Middle East, it’s not better than you think. It’s much, much worse. Even after these “revolutions,” all is more or less considered well with the world as long as women are covered up, anchored to the home, denied the simple mobility of getting into their own cars, forced to get permission from men to travel, and unable to marry without a male guardian’s blessing — or divorce either.

Not a single Arab country ranks in the top 100 in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report, putting the region as a whole solidly at the planet’s rock bottom. Poor or rich, we all hate our women. Neighbors Saudi Arabia and Yemen, for instance, might be eons apart when it comes to GDP, but only four places separate them on the index, with the kingdom at 131 and Yemen coming in at 135 out of 135 countries. Morocco, often touted for its “progressive” family law (a 2005 report by Western “experts” called it “an example for Muslim countries aiming to integrate into modern society”), ranks 129; according to Morocco’s Ministry of Justice, 41,098 girls under age 18 were married there in 2010.

It’s easy to see why the lowest-ranked country is Yemen, where 55 percent of women are illiterate, 79 percent do not participate in the labor force, and just one woman serves in the 301-person parliament. Horrific news reports about 12-year-old girls dying in childbirth do little to stem the tide of child marriage there. Instead, demonstrations in support of child marriage outstrip those against it, fueled by clerical declarations that opponents of state-sanctioned pedophilia are apostates because the Prophet Mohammed, according to them, married his second wife, Aisha, when she was a child.

In a crisp three-and-a-half pages, Rifaat lays out a trifecta of sex, death, and religion, a bulldozer that crushes denial and defensiveness to get at the pulsating heart of misogyny in the Middle East. There is no sugarcoating it. They don’t hate us because of our freedoms, as the tired, post-9/11 American cliché had it. We have no freedoms because they hate us, as this Arab woman so powerfully says.

Yes: They hate us. It must be said.

Some may ask why I’m bringing this up now, at a time when the region has risen up, fueled not by the usual hatred of America and Israel but by a common demand for freedom. After all, shouldn’t everyone get basic rights first, before women demand special treatment? And what does gender, or for that matter, sex, have to do with the Arab Spring? But I’m not talking about sex hidden away in dark corners and closed bedrooms. An entire political and economic system — one that treats half of humanity like animals — must be destroyed along with the other more obvious tyrannies choking off the region from its future. Until the rage shifts from the oppressors in our presidential palaces to the oppressors on our streets and in our homes, our revolution has not even begun.

But at least Yemeni women can drive. It surely hasn’t ended their litany of problems, but it symbolizes freedom — and nowhere does such symbolism resonate more than in Saudi Arabia, where child marriage is also practiced and women are perpetually minors regardless of their age or education. Saudi women far outnumber their male counterparts on university campuses but are reduced to watching men far less qualified control every aspect of their lives.

Yes, Saudi Arabia, the country where a gang-rape survivor was sentenced to jail for agreeing to get into a car with an unrelated male and needed a royal pardon; Saudi Arabia, where a woman who broke the ban on driving was sentenced to 10 lashes and again needed a royal pardon; Saudi Arabia, where women still can’t vote or run in elections, yet it’s considered “progress” that a royal decree promised to enfranchise them for almost completely symbolic local elections in — wait for it — 2015. So bad is it for women in Saudi Arabia that those tiny paternalistic pats on their backs are greeted with delight as the monarch behind them, King Abdullah, is hailed as a “reformer” — even by those who ought to know better, such as Newsweek, which in 2010 named the king one of the top 11 most respected world leaders. You want to know how bad it is? The “reformer’s” answer to the revolutions popping up across the region was to numb his people with still more government handouts — especially for the Salafi zealots from whom the Saudi royal family inhales legitimacy. King Abdullah is 87. Just wait until you see the next in line, Prince Nayef, a man straight out of the Middle Ages. His misogyny and zealotry make King Abdullah look like Susan B. Anthony.

So: Yes, women all over the world have problems; yes, the United States has yet to elect a female president; and yes, women continue to be objectified in many “Western” countries (I live in one of them). That’s where the conversation usually ends when you try to discuss why Arab societies hate women.

“Why extremists always focus on women remains a mystery to me,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said recently. “But they all seem to. It doesn’t matter what country they’re in or what religion they claim. They want to control women.” (And yet Clinton represents an administration that openly supports many of those misogynistic despots.) Attempts to control by such regimes often stem from the suspicion that without it, a woman is just a few degrees short of sexual insatiability. Observe Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the popular cleric and longtime conservative TV host on Al Jazeera who developed a stunning penchant for the Arab Spring revolutions — once they were under way, that is — undoubtedly understanding that they would eliminate the tyrants who long tormented and oppressed both him and the Muslim Brotherhood movement from which he springs.

I could find you a host of crackpots sounding off on Woman the Insatiable Temptress, but I’m staying mainstream with Qaradawi, who commands a huge audience on and off the satellite channels. Although he says female genital mutilation (which he calls “circumcision,” a common euphemism that tries to put the practice on a par with male circumcision) is not “obligatory,” you will also find this priceless observation in one of his books: “I personally support this under the current circumstances in the modern world. Anyone who thinks that circumcision is the best way to protect his daughters should do it,” he wrote, adding, “The moderate opinion is in favor of practicing circumcision to reduce temptation.” So even among “moderates,” girls’ genitals are cut to ensure their desire is nipped in the bud — pun fully intended. Qaradawi has since issued a fatwa against female genital mutilation, but it comes as no surprise that when Egypt banned the practice in 2008, some Muslim Brotherhood legislators opposed the law. And some still do — including a prominent female parliamentarian, Azza al-Garf.

Yet it’s the men who can’t control themselves on the streets, where from Morocco to Yemen, sexual harassment is endemic and it’s for the men’s sake that so many women are encouraged to cover up. Cairo has a women-only subway car to protect us from wandering hands and worse; countless Saudi malls are for families only, barring single men from entry unless they produce a requisite female to accompany them.

We often hear how the Middle East’s failing economies have left many men unable to marry, and some even use that to explain rising levels of sexual harassment on the streets. In a 2008 survey by the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights, more than 80 percent of Egyptian women said they’d experienced sexual harassment and more than 60 percent of men admitted to harassing women. Yet we never hear how a later marriage age affects women. Do women have sex drives or not? Apparently, the Arab jury is still out on the basics of human biology.

Enter that call to prayer and the sublimation through religion that Rifaat so brilliantly introduces in her story. Just as regime-appointed clerics lull the poor across the region with promises of justice — and nubile virgins — in the next world rather than a reckoning with the corruption and nepotism of the dictator in this life, so women are silenced by a deadly combination of men who hate them while also claiming to have God firmly on their side.

I turn again to Saudi Arabia, and not just because when I encountered the country at age 15 I was traumatized into feminism — there’s no other way to describe it — but because the kingdom is unabashed in its worship of a misogynistic God and never suffers any consequences for it, thanks to its double-whammy advantage of having oil and being home to Islam’s two holiest places, Mecca and Medina.

Then — the 1980s and 1990s — as now, clerics on Saudi TV were obsessed with women and their orifices, especially what came out of them. I’ll never forget hearing that if a baby boy urinated on you, you could go ahead and pray in the same clothes, yet if a baby girl peed on you, you had to change. What on Earth in the girl’s urine made you impure? I wondered.

Hatred of women.

How much does Saudi Arabia hate women? So much so that 15 girls died in a school fire in Mecca in 2002, after “morality police” barred them from fleeing the burning building — and kept firefighters from rescuing them — because the girls were not wearing headscarves and cloaks required in public. And nothing happened. No one was put on trial. Parents were silenced. The only concession to the horror was that girls’ education was quietly taken away by then-Crown Prince Abdullah from the Salafi zealots, who have nonetheless managed to retain their vise-like grip on the kingdom’s education system writ large.

This, however, is no mere Saudi phenomenon, no hateful curiosity in the rich, isolated desert. The Islamist hatred of women burns brightly across the region — now more than ever.

In Kuwait, where for years Islamists fought women’s enfranchisement, they hounded the four women who finally made it into parliament, demanding that the two who didn’t cover their hair wear hijabs. When the Kuwaiti parliament was dissolved this past December, an Islamist parliamentarian demanded the new house — devoid of a single female legislator — discuss his proposed “decent attire” law.

In Tunisia, long considered the closest thing to a beacon of tolerance in the region, women took a deep breath last fall after the Islamist Ennahda party won the largest share of votes in the country’s Constituent Assembly. Party leaders vowed to respect Tunisia’s 1956 Personal Status Code, which declared “the principle of equality between men and women” as citizens and banned polygamy. But female university professors and students have complained since then of assaults and intimidation by Islamists for not wearing hijabs, while many women’s rights activists wonder how talk of Islamic law will affect the actual law they will live under in post-revolution Tunisia.

In Libya, the first thing the head of the interim government, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, promised to do was to lift the late Libyan tyrant’s restrictions on polygamy. Lest you think of Muammar al-Qaddafi as a feminist of any kind, remember that under his rule girls and women who survived sexual assaults or were suspected of “moral crimes” were dumped into “social rehabilitation centers,” effective prisons from which they could not leave unless a man agreed to marry them or their families took them back.

Then there’s Egypt, where less than a month after President Hosni Mubarak stepped down, the military junta that replaced him, ostensibly to “protect the revolution,” inadvertently reminded us of the two revolutions we women need. After it cleared Tahrir Square of protesters, the military detained dozens of male and female activists. Tyrants oppress, beat, and torture all. We know. But these officers reserved “virginity tests” for female activists: rape disguised as a medical doctor inserting his fingers into their vaginal opening in search of hymens. (The doctor was sued and eventually acquitted in March.)

What hope can there be for women in the new Egyptian parliament, dominated as it is by men stuck in the seventh century? A quarter of those parliamentary seats are now held by Salafis, who believe that mimicking the original ways of the Prophet Mohammed is an appropriate prescription for modern life. Last fall, when fielding female candidates, Egypt’s Salafi Nour Party ran a flower in place of each woman’s face. Women are not to be seen or heard — even their voices are a temptation — so there they are in the Egyptian parliament, covered from head to toe in black and never uttering a word.

And we’re in the middle of a revolution in Egypt! It’s a revolution in which women have died, been beaten, shot at, and sexually assaulted fighting alongside men to rid our country of that uppercase Patriarch — Mubarak — yet so many lowercase patriarchs still oppress us. The Muslim Brotherhood, with almost half the total seats in our new revolutionary parliament, does not believe women (or Christians for that matter) can be president. The woman who heads the “women’s committee” of the Brotherhood’s political party said recently that women should not march or protest because it’s more “dignified” to let their husbands and brothers demonstrate for them.

The hatred of women goes deep in Egyptian society. Those of us who have marched and protested have had to navigate a minefield of sexual assaults by both the regime and its lackeys, and, sadly, at times by our fellow revolutionaries. On the November day I was sexually assaulted on Mohamed Mahmoud Street near Tahrir Square, by at least four Egyptian riot police, I was first groped by a man in the square itself. While we are eager to expose assaults by the regime, when we’re violated by our fellow civilians we immediately assume they’re agents of the regime or thugs because we don’t want to taint the revolution.

SO WHAT IS TO BE DONE?

First we stop pretending. Call out the hate for what it is. Resist cultural relativism and know that even in countries undergoing revolutions and uprisings, women will remain the cheapest bargaining chips. You — the outside world — will be told that it’s our “culture” and “religion” to do X, Y, or Z to women. Understand that whoever deemed it as such was never a woman. The Arab uprisings may have been sparked by an Arab man — Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian street vendor who set himself on fire in desperation — but they will be finished by Arab women.

Amina Filali — the 16-year-old Moroccan girl who drank poison after she was forced to marry, and beaten by, her rapist — is our Bouazizi. Salwa el-Husseini, the first Egyptian woman to speak out against the “virginity tests”; Samira Ibrahim, the first one to sue; and Rasha Abdel Rahman, who testified alongside her — they are our Bouazizis. We must not wait for them to die to become so. Manal al-Sharif, who spent nine days in jail for breaking her country’s ban on women driving, is Saudi Arabia’s Bouazizi. She is a one-woman revolutionary force who pushes against an ocean of misogyny.

Our political revolutions will not succeed unless they are accompanied by revolutions of thought — social, sexual, and cultural revolutions that topple the Mubaraks in our minds as well as our bedrooms.

“Do you know why they subjected us to virginity tests?” Ibrahim asked me soon after we’d spent hours marching together to mark International Women’s Day in Cairo on March 8. “They want to silence us; they want to chase women back home. But we’re not going anywhere.”

We are more than our headscarves and our hymens. Listen to those of us fighting. Amplify the voices of the region and poke the hatred in its eye. There was a time when being an Islamist was the most vulnerable political position in Egypt and Tunisia. Understand that now it very well might be Woman. As it always has been.

Mona Eltahawy is an Egyptian-American columnist. In November 2011, Egyptian police beat her, breaking her left arm and right hand, and sexually assaulted her. She was detained by the Interior Ministry and military intelligence for 12 hours.

This is not Prophet Muhammad’s Islam

By Manzer Munir for Pakistanis for Peace

The steady stream of negative news about the twisted way Islam is being practiced around the world seems to never end. In my view, it is not how the Prophet would have wanted his followers to behave.

Just when I thought I was beginning to get used to the ridiculousness of the news coming out of Saudi Arabia, where a religious edict is trying to force women there with beautiful eyes to  completely cover up their face in order to stop the temptation of the men, along comes the grim news of Gulnaz  from Afghanistan. If you are not familiar with Gulnaz’s story, let me give you the facts.

Two years ago, in 2009, Gulnaz, a 19 year old single girl who lived with her elderly mother in Afghanistan, was brutally raped by her cousin’s husband. To describe the events, she recalls that on this day, the rapist came into her house when her mother left for a brief visit to the hospital. “He had filthy clothes on as he does metal and construction work. When my mother went out, he came into my house and he closed doors and windows. I started screaming, but he shut me up by putting his hands on my mouth,” she said.

Afterwards, she hid what had happened out of shame and fear, as shockingly there is no difference seen between women who are raped and women who commit actual adultery.  In Afghanistan and in many conservative Muslim countries, any sex outside marriage, whether the guilty party is single or married is considered adultery by the society and the justice system.

A few weeks after her rape, she began to vomit and started showing signs of pregnancy with her attacker’s child. Instead of sympathy and proof of her ordeal, she was charged and found guilty of adultery by the courts and for having sex outside marriage and was sentenced to twelve years in prison. She has already served two years and even gave birth to her rapist’s child, a little girl, in Kabul’s Badam Bagh jail where sadly, her innocent daughter is being raised in captivity alongside the unfortunate mother.

Rather than being freed from jail and given justice for her painful ordeal, the only way out of the dishonor of rape or adultery for her is incredibly only by marrying her attacker. In Afghan culture, and indeed in most Muslim communities, this is believed to be the only way to restore a woman’s honor, by marrying the man who she had sex with, damned be the fact whether it was willingly or unwillingly!

Sadly in many Muslim countries, rape remains a common form of violence against women. In addition, women are often blamed for being the victim of rape. Islam however, views rape as a violent crime against the victim, against society, and against God. The perpetrator who commits a crime is morally and legally responsible for that crime and should be held accountable. The victim, who is an unwilling partner in the sex act and so should bear neither blame nor stigma associated with the unfortunate act. To either ostracize or condemn the victim because she was compelled to engage in sexual intercourse is against the laws of Islam since the victim was an unwilling, and therefore a blameless, participant.

As common as her story and circumstances are for a woman in Afghanistan, the world has only learned of it due to a chance foreign documentary.  Gulnaz’s ordeal came to light because of a dispute between filmmakers and the European Union who hired the crew to film a documentary on the improving situation of women’s rights in Afghanistan and the assistance that the EU has been providing in the better treatment of women in the country. It was only when the documentarians came across her story and the grave injustice being done to Gulnaz and indeed by some accounts, hundreds of women across Afghanistan in similar circumstances, that the EU decided to cancel the project out of fear of harming their relations with Afghan government and institutions. Officially the EU states that it fears for the safety of the women in the film as they could be identified and face reprisals but many human rights organizations believe it is due to the fact that the film shows Afghan justice system in a poor light and the EU is concerned about the Afghan government’s sensitivities to the situation. It is despicable that the EU is more concerned with the sensitivities of the Afghan government rather than fighting for justice for Gulnaz.

Customs such as these in Afghanistan or the recent religious ruling in Saudi Arabia warning women to cover their attractive eyes, or the continued religious persecution of Christians and other minorities in Pakistan through the egregious blasphemy laws as seen in the case of Aasia Bibi, only serve to illustrate to many within and outside Islam the tremendous challenges that exist in what is right and what is logically very wrong and goes against all sense of justice and common sense, not to mention the very essence of Islam.

I am certainly not arguing for making any changes in the Quran or interpretations of religious text or any wholesale revisions whatsoever. That would not only be blasphemous but also counterproductive and unnecessary. Furthermore,  a big part of the beauty of our religion stems from the fact that it has remained unchanged as we Muslims believe that mutations and changes in both the Bible and the Torah necessitated the need for a third Abrahamic religion, Islam,  to arrive some 1400+ years ago to “set the record straight” after all the changes over the years in the two earlier Holy Books. Instead, I believe the only thing that needs to occur is the realization amongst the leaders and countries of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) that in this day and age, there are certain rights and freedoms that should be guaranteed to citizens of all countries of the world and this does not require any changes in the great religion but rather some simple changes in the current laws.

Aristotle once said that “You can judge a nation by the way it treats its most vulnerable citizens”. You could be a Hindu or a Christian in Pakistan, a woman in Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia or a homosexual or transgendered person in Iran, you do not deserve to lose your life or liberty under the guise of religious laws. Allah almighty is a just and fair God in Islam, just as he is in the Christian and Jewish faiths. He most certainly would never condone the treatment of Gulnaz, Aasia Bibi and countless other poor souls who are being mistreated under the banner of Islam.

I am not a religious scholar and nor do I profess to know everything I need to know about Islam, Christianity and many other religions. Some may even question my faith and belief in calling myself Muslim simply because I am asking these tough questions, and in their version of Islam, you never question, you simply obey. Lest they forget, Islam also clearly states to seek knowledge and to be just and fair and respectful of other religions.  “Surely those who believe and those who are Jews and the Sabians and the Christians whoever believes in Allah and the last day and does good — they shall have no fear nor shall they grieve.” (Quran 5:69)

I am however certain that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) would indeed be very upset with the current state of affairs of most Muslim countries when it comes to morality, religious freedoms,  respect for other religions and the treatment of women. Sadly, I do not see the changes necessary coming into being voluntarily by these nations, I believe it is incumbent of the benefactors of these nations, such as the United Nations, United States, the European Union, China and other trading partners, to push for better treatment of women and religious minorities in many Muslim countries of the world.  It is high time that they pressure these nations into enacting basic rights and freedoms for all people, regardless of their race, religion, gender, and sexual orientation. It must become a precursor to being a part of the civilized nations of the world and in being a member of the world community of nations. Freedom after all is what the Arab Spring is all about!

-Manzer Munir, a proud American of Pakistani descent, is a practicing Sufi Muslim and member of Muslims for Progressive Values, he is also the founder of Pakistanis for Peace and blogs at www.PakistanisforPeace.com as well at other websites as a freelance journalist and writer.

The Tragic Case of Mukhtaran Mai

As Reported by The Express Tribune

The decision by the deputy speaker of the National Assembly on April 22 to disallow any discussion on the Supreme Court’s verdict on Mukhtaran Mai is most unfortunate, especially given that it was PPP MNA Sherry Rehman who wanted to speak on the matter.
The Supreme Court decided earlier this week to uphold a Lahore High Court verdict that had acquitted all the accused in Mukhataran Mai’s gang rape in 2002, except one.

The gang rape was ordered by an illegal panchayat of Meerwala in Muzaffargarh, Punjab, after which an anti-terrorism court in Dera Ghazi Khan sentenced five of the six accused to death. The fact is that a powerful local tribe has been able to prevent its men from being punished by the justice system. The powerful in our society can first cause a delay in justice — nine years in this case — and then cause a miscarriage of justice through manipulation of the lower ranks of the police.
Mukhtaran Mai is one of many women who have to put up with violence at the hands of men and are forced to keep quiet because the investigative-judicial system is biased against them. Because of ‘anticipated injustice’ in Pakistan’s judicial system, Mukhtaran Mai was made into a global symbol of an abused woman, a challenge which she accepted. Unfortunately, the state became defensive about the publicity and support she got from all over the world; it also manifested a clear conservative bias against the women’s rights movement in Pakistan, which is demonised by powerful religious lobbies.

There was more than ‘anticipated injustice’ in the Mukhtaran Mai case. This was the impunity of the powerful, seen in relation to the terrorist elements in Pakistan which are supported by sections of the state. According to official statements, no terrorist caught after horrendous acts of killing has been punished. Those who view our judiciary politically say that the kind of out-of-the-box jurisprudence applied by the courts to matters such as the NRO will never be applied to Lal Masjid and Mukhtaran Mai. This view holds that the judiciary has always been drawn from a largely conservative legal community and it tends to agree with religious constraints to justice when it comes to women, while tacitly accepting the reign of the powerful in society.

The Supreme Court had intervened after the Federal Shariat Court in 2005 contested the jurisdiction of the Multan Bench. It heard the case and, agreeing with the Multan Bench verdict, ordered the release of the accused. Mukhtaran Mai went in appeal and the latest decision has come after over five years of hearings. Now, in 2011, two of the three judges on the bench have decided to go along with the earlier findings while one judge thought the Court could have taken a more pro-reform view and focused more closely on the notorious methodology of registering an FIR in areas where feudal power trumps justice all the time. The Musharraf government — illegal in the eyes of the Court — pitted itself against this wronged woman and put a ban on her travel abroad. If the liberal elements in Pakistan had stood behind the so-called ‘liberal reforms’ of Musharraf, this was one case that they did not support his government on. Alas, the Supreme Court’s latest decision will be seen as being supportive of Musharraf’s policy of hiding the truth of women’s disabilities in Pakistan from the world.

The judiciary takes the position that its power is not only derived from the Constitution but also from civil society, which stood up for the judges dismissed by Musharraf and finally got rid of the military ruler through street agitation. But civil society also includes women and their rights must equally be defended; more so because Pakistani society needs reform before it learns to treat women as desired by the Constitution. And the Court remains the guardian of the Constitution. If the Honourable Court is today dubbed as being ‘activist’ in favour of the people, let it be clear that it is not the Court of the conservative elements simply because they are powerful.

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