“In Other Words…”

Written By: Sara Ledesma

Being a woman is tough, right? It wears on you to be judged by your outer appearance, as if your body dictates who you are as a person, thought of as inferior to a man in intelligence, strength, and overall ability. Subjected to a double standard that says you must resist sexual urges to be considered a “good woman”, all while being told being sexy is the key to attracting, and maintaining, a man’s interest. Being told having sex makes you a whore, while it makes a man a stud, it’s as natural as peeing standing up. And yes…we still make less money in the work place.
Not easy…but it’s cake walk, wrapped in a cocktail party, topped with a shopping spree, compared to the unlucky fate of living life as an Arab female in the Middle East.

The Islamic view perceives women as temptresses, capable of leading followers away from God and into evil destruction. Women are thus rivals to God and a threat to leading a holy life. As such, they must be restrained and strictly controlled so not to bring all of society into civil and moral chaos. In the Middle East, where social behavior is dictated by Islamic law…this control and subjugation of women is institutionalized through law. In most Middle Eastern countries it is legal, and expected, for the men of the family to ensure obedience of their wives and children to Islamic law.

In many Middle Eastern nations, legal rights and social behavior are grounded in Islamic law. Men have the legal, as well as moral, right to restrict travel, arrange marriage (even of very young daughters to much older men), physically abuse their wives if they are insubordinate, commit marital rape, deny food , and prohibit access to education, freedom of dress and freedom to work outside the home.

The few rights afforded women in the Middle East are often hard to exercise. In these male domineered societies a woman’s testimony is not highly regarded and seldom believed. Who protects women and girls in the Middle East? Unfortunately, too often the answer is…no one. It can be a horrific and terrifying circumstance of fate to have a uterus and live in the Arab world.

A few statistics to paint a portrait of the state of women’s rights (or more accurately, lack of women’s rights):

• Ritual sexual mutilation of females is still common in rural areas of Egypt, Libya, Oman and Yemen.

• In Jordan, Iraq, Libya and Omen and Yemen married women must have their husbands’ written permission to travel abroad, and they may be prevented from doing so for any reason.

• In Saudi Arabia women must obtain written permission from their closest male relative to leave the country or travel on public transportation between different parts of the kingdom. When allowed to ride public transportation they must sit segregated from men, at the back of the bus (sound familiar?)

• Saudi women may not marry non-Saudis without government permission. The government rarely grants permission, locking women into this repressive social and legal system.

• 55% of Arab women are illiterate. That’s 1 in 2 women.

• It is legal in almost every Middle Eastern country to murder women and young girls to protect the family “honor.”

• In many countries women are denied the right to custody of children, inheritance, decision making in the family and divorce.

• Polygamy and forced marriage of girls as young as nine still practiced in areas of the Middle East.

Burning question: Have 5 years of a war and billions of dollars help “Liberate” Arab Women in the Middle East? Surely, at least in Iraq, things must be more democratic between the sexes?

In response, a few statistics:

• In Afghanistan: Women are no longer allowed to be legally beaten by their husbands. Instead, it is now legal for men to starve their wives if they disobey. (Is this progress?)

• In 2005, after a three-decade-long struggle, Kuwaiti women finally won the right to vote.

• In the United Arab Emirates, while still very restricted in terms of political rights and civil liberties, the country has introduced a very limited voting process where women, for the very first time, were allowed to vote for elected bodies in the Federal National Council.

• In Saudi Arabia the ban on women checking into a hotel or renting an apartment has been lifted, although they still need written permission to get on a plane or leave the country. They are still denied the right to drive a car or leave the house un-covered.

• Women’s access to education has been an area in which many Middle Eastern nations have made progress. Unfortunately, this has been enjoyed mostly by non-rural, upper class and royal women.

I have to wonder how we can declare that we “liberated” Iraq from tyranny, and are in the process of liberating Afghanistan from oppressive religious fundamentalism, when half of the population of both countries still lack basic human rights. Women must be obedient to the men in their families and to their husbands. They are trapped in an infantile state where they are told what to wear, where they are allowed to go, and with whom. They are told who they will marry and what will be done to their bodies. The luckiest of them live in countries where they can vote, work and go to school, yet too many Arab women are denied even these “privileges.”

Their testimony is weighed less than a man’s in court, yet they face stricter penalties when convicted for the same crime as a man. Women have few laws to protect their physical well being, or their children, and even less access to recourse when the meager rights they have are violated.

The Koran forces women to be compliant to their husbands. Most often, a husband is judge, jury and executor when he decides his wife or daughter disobeys him. In many Middle Eastern nations, sentences for a transgression against his honor include: stoning, beating, and even death.

As for me, next time I’m cursing traffic— I’m going to relax and be thankful I have the right to drive. When I get frustrated trying on swimwear because my stomach isn’t as flat as I’d like it to be, I’m going to breathe a sigh of relief that I’m not being forced to wear a Burqua in boiling summer temperatures. As soon as start to feel annoyed at having to answer a ton of emails, I’ll release a joyful “Alleluia” I have the ability to read and write. When I’m aggravated at the arrival of yet another school loan payment, I’m going to sing out in praise how lucky I am having had the opportunity to pursue a college education.

In other words…In order to install genuine Democracy in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other countries in the Middle East, it is imperative that women are first granted basic human rights. Democracy, after all, necessitates equality in order to function. There is no liberation in a country where half the population is not free, no Democracy in a country where half the population has no voice and no rights.

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4 Responses to ““In Other Words…””

  1. Anonymous Says:

    Very well said. You have put out an awareness for womens rights in these countries.We've known this for a long time. However, we choose to look the other way and continue on our merry happy way here in our wonderful country.Thank you,

  2. Anonymous Says:

    Well said Sara, Perhaps if we forced Republican women (wives and daughters) to live in these countries and abide by those laws then it might become a world issue to instill equality amongst ALL members of humanity in all parts of the world!

  3. Anonymous Says:

    It's a damn shame that women are still being treated as cattle or worse in some countries! If men had to have their testacles purposely swollen or forced to wear dark condoms with slits in them for their eyes (so they could see) and be at the mercy of their wives for what is moral or not believe me the shit would be different!anon male

  4. Anonymous Says:

    Nicely done. Thank you for being the voice for the woman who are unable to speak for themselves. Democracy…I think not.

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