A Call for Arab Women to Fight Against Their Mournful Fate

Article Summary
The state of women’s rights in the Arab world is deplorable, writes Fadia Fahd, despite hopes that the revolutions of 2011 would usher in an era of greater equality. She calls for Arab women to struggle against the injustices they face.

It's as if we made a day for every time we were defeated. A day for Jerusalem. A day for the lost land. A day for martyrs. A day for independence lost. A day for the Arabic language, which is slowly becoming extinct, until the day it will disappear. A day for women to recall their wasted rights ... and moan. Women's Day has become a day of lament for the situation women are in now and for crying over the ruins. It includes folkloric celebrations as an annual tradition where some women meet and exchange greetings, kisses and speeches that add nothing and change nothing of the reality. The next day, they wait for their photographs in newspapers and social magazines.

While Arab women were celebrating and taking pictures, the head of the Tunisian Parti pour l’Ouverture et la Fidelite [Openness and Loyalty Party], Al Bahri Al-Jelassi, demanded that the new Tunisian Constitution provide the right of every male citizen to have a female slave along with his wife and to “enjoy his concubines.” He called for the abolition of all laws that denied this relationship, which he described as “legitimate.” Al-Jelassi emphasized the need to “legalize female slaves and to consider them an acquired right for men who are married to one woman.” He asked to classify these slaves as “owned by their men.” This is Al-Jelassi promising to bring us back to the era of women’s slavery, when women were deprived of their liberty and free will and were owned by men. This is a step back to the era of slavery in the twenty-first century.

A girlfriend of mine was provoked by Women's Day and its lackluster celebrations even without hearing the demands of Jelassi and his “open” party. I do not know what she would have said if she had heard him; perhaps she would explicitly call for female infanticide. She told me: “I do not want to have daughters, so that they are not left in an unjust society in the absence of laws protecting them and where they are marginalized. I would rather have sons that are able to defend themselves. They will be the oppressors and not the oppressed, they will be served and not servants and they will be victorious and not defeated. Men are given by their community the right in everything they do, even when they are wrong and make mistakes. Then, I would close my eyes with a rested mind, not worried about my daughters until the day I die”.

My friend’s words shocked me; especially given that they are loaded with masculine thoughts that silently live within us Oriental women. These words reflect a legacy of social education that is based on racial discrimination against women dating from their birth. At first glance, I thought I was listening to a woman in her eighties who had been deprived of education, reading and writing skills. The fact is that this friend is a young woman in her mid-twenties, who is educated with a good job; who has travelled extensively, has been in many different cultures and speaks several languages. Does this mean that we inherit despair from one generation to the next? Did we so easily lose our dreams of change, equality and all rights? Were all the speeches about a women's spring in vain? Does this mean that today will be like yesterday and the day before, until another hundred years of darkness pass by while we wait?

Talks on women’s rights have become frightening. Writing about it has become like writing in the sand -- it is wiped away by the first wave. Extremism is increasing in the Arab world and the backward voices are rising here and there. Figures and statistics indicate a continuation of injustice. The most recent study is for the Office of Mercer, specializing in human resources, which confirms that women’s wages in Gulf companies are 38% less than those of men, as opposed to only 1% lower in Turkey, which we sought as a model for our modern state after the revolutions. It turns out that our people and constitutions are very far from the Turkish model!

Women make up half of society, while the other half was born from women. “There is no difference between women and men” says Angelina Eichhorst, the EU ambassador to Lebanon. She is surprised by Lebanon’s situation. “This country is so sophisticated and is supposed to be the first among its neighboring countries in addressing prejudice against women and granting them their rights. The reality, however, is different and unfortunate.” She deplores the absence of women from the center of Lebanese decision-making, as there are no women in the government, while the parliament has only four women deputies out of 128. Mrs. Eichhorst concludes that “to discuss the status of women in the region, we must start with the constitution. The Lebanese Constitution grants equality; therefore, women and men must resist together and say that this is against the constitution!” She calls enthusiastically for women's struggle: “In Europe, we only took our rights after a long, tiring and difficult struggle.” Women of the Arab world, unite! Perhaps our unity would bring the needed change and hope for our daughters, and their daughters after them.

Found in: equality

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