The time has come for a ‘Sexual Spring’ in the Arab world

Kacem El Ghazzali writes: When we say that nowadays to call for sexual freedom in Arab and Muslim societies is more dangerous than the demand to topple monarchies or dictatorial regimes, we are not playing with metaphor or attempting to gain sympathy. We are stating a bitter and painful fact of the reality in which we are living.

In Arab and Muslim milieus, sex is considered a means and not an end, hedged by many prickly restrictions that make it an objectionable matter and synonymous with sin. Its function within marriage is confined to procreation and nothing else, and all sexual activity outside the institution of marriage is banned legally and rejected socially. Innocent children born out of wedlock are socially rejected and considered foundlings.

This situation cannot be said to be characteristic of Arab societies only, but we experience these miseries in far darker and more intense ways than in other countries. This is especially so because of the dominance of machismo, which considers a man’s sexual adventures as heroics worthy of pride, while a woman who dares to give in to her sexual desires is destined to be killed — or at best beaten and expelled from home — because she has brought dishonor upon her family. [Continue reading…]

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Why U.S. domestic violence is akin to honor crimes

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Jessica Winegar writes: The dramatic finale of the FX series “The People vs. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story” aired this week after topping television ratings for over a month. The Oscar-winning documentary about an honor killing, “A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness,” recently aired on HBO to critical acclaim.

One was set in Brentwood, a suburb of Los Angeles. The other was set in Punjab, Pakistan. One is called a domestic violence homicide. The other is called an honor crime.

A round-up of statistics from the Violence Policy Center, Bureau of Justice Statistics, National Institute of Justice and the Center for American Progress found that more than 18,000 U.S. women were killed in this country by intimate partners between 2003 and 2014. In the U.S., more than 22 percent of women will experience an extreme act of violence at the hands of an intimate partner in her lifetime, according to the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Why do we not call these acts of violence in this country honor crimes?

Human Rights Watch defines honor crimes as “acts of violence, usually murder, committed by male family members against female family members who are perceived to have brought dishonor upon the family” and defines those family members as “husband, father, son, brother or cousin.” There are 5,000 honor crimes each year in the world, according to the site, mostly in the Middle East and South Asia. In Pakistan alone, there are 1,000 honor killings every year.

But there is a common nefarious defense by perpetrators that links these cases of violence against women in the U.S and those acts called honor crimes in the Middle East and South Asia.

In both arenas, the woman who transgresses the boundaries of what men will accept has to be punished. And the men doing the punishing are from her domestic world.

In both domestic violence and honor crimes, male relatives and/or intimate partners rape, beat, psychologically abuse and kill. [Continue reading…]

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Women can land a Boeing 787 in Saudi Arabia but aren’t allowed to drive a car out of the airport

The Washington Post reports: The photograph above may seem relatively innocuous, but to many observers, it shows a rebellion.

The image, which was shared by Royal Brunei’s Instagram account last month, shows the airline’s first all-female flight crew sitting in the cabin of a Boeing 787 Dreamliner. Royal Brunei announced the introduction of its first all-female flight crew late last month, making it the latest in a string of airlines to mark the milestone.

However, it wasn’t just the pilots’ sex that brought attention: It was where they were flying to.

At the time the photograph was taken, Capt. Sharifah Czarena and her two female first officers were about to fly from Brunei to Jiddah, the second-largest city in Saudi Arabia — a country where women are not allowed to drive. [Continue reading…]

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An ‘empire of women’ in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley

Dylan Collins writes: As young Syrian refugee students celebrated International Women’s Day in the Bekaa Valley this week, education advocate Nora Jumblatt highlighted the increasingly important role of women throughout the refugee community. The war in Syria, despite its chaos and sadness, she said, has given rise to a “little miracle”

The war in Syria has brought about an “empire of women” in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, said civil society leader and education advocate Nora Jumblatt during a celebration of International Women’s Day.

Hundreds of young Syrian refugee girls participated in the festivities held at the Kayany Foundation’s Malala School in Bar Elias, a town equidistant from Beirut and Damascus that sits along the Syrian-Lebanese border. With the help of international organizations, local universities and volunteers, the foundation is empowering a new generation of Syrian women, equipping them with the tools and knowledge they’ll need to rebuild their country. [Continue reading…]

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Why the world needs a UN treaty to combat violence against women

By Ronagh McQuigg, Queen’s University Belfast

Violence against women is one of the most prevalent human rights abuses in the world. It is estimated that 35% of women have experienced physical or sexual violence in their lives either by their partner or a stranger.

Yet there are no provisions under existing UN treaties which refer directly to this issue. This is unacceptable. It is time for the world to develop a new UN treaty on violence against women.

The absence of international, legally binding provisions set down in a UN treaty creates difficulties in holding countries accountable for their responses to domestic violence, forced marriage and a host of other abuses.

The UN’s primary instrument on the rights of women is the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), adopted in 1979. This convention contains no express mention of violence against women, although the CEDAW Committee (the convention’s monitoring body) interprets the issue as part of its remit.

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Women of the Amazon defend their homeland against new oil contract

Emily Arasim and Osprey Orielle Lake report: In late January 2016, the government of Ecuador signed a controversial contract with Chinese oil company Andes Petroleum, handing over rights to explore and drill for oil deep in the country’s pristine southeastern Amazon Rainforest, known and revered by many as “the lungs of the Earth.”

For decades, Indigenous communities of the southern Ecuadorian Amazon have successfully fought to protect their land from encroachment by oil companies, engaging in local action and international policymaking and campaigns with a powerful message of respect for the Earth’s natural laws and the rights of Indigenous peoples.

At the forefront of this ongoing struggle are courageous Indigenous Amazonian women leaders who have declared, “We are ready to protect, defend and die for our forest, families, territory and nation.”

In marches, protests, conferences and international forums, the women of the Ecuadorian Amazon are standing with fierce love and conviction for the forests and their communities, and navigating a brutal intersection of environmental devastation, cultural dislocation and violence and persecution as women human rights and land defenders.

The women have repeatedly put their bodies on the frontline in an attempt to halt oil extraction across the Amazon, often facing harsh repression by the state security. [Continue reading…]

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After elections, Iranian women’s demands are forgotten

Massoumeh Torfeh writes: Iran’s parliamentary elections this year included the highest number ever of women candidates from the combined reformist-moderate camp. Supporters of President Hassan Rouhani joined forces with the reformists presenting a combined list of 30 candidates for Tehran, eight – less than one-third – of which are women.

More or less, the same pattern was seen across the country. Photos of women candidates were branded around on campaign posters and the reformist media hailed this as a major success.

Despite persistent attempts by women to find a voice in the politics of the Islamic Republic, their presence has been minimal and, for the most part, cosmetic. It is now almost the norm that at important historical junctures, the male-dominated conservative establishment calls upon women to perform their “Islamic duty” and participate in elections. Once the elections are over, however, women’s demands are forgotten.

The encouragement to participate in this year’s elections came first from the spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. [Continue reading…]

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At work as at home, men reap the benefits of women’s ‘invisible labor’

Soraya Chemaly writes: Men today do a higher share of chores and household work than any generation of men before them. Yet working women, especially working mothers, continue to do significantly more.

On any given day, one fifth of men in the US, compared to almost half of all women do some form of housework. Each week, according to Pew, mothers spend nearly twice as long as fathers doing unpaid domestic work. But while it’s important to address inequality at home, it’s equally critical to acknowledge the way these problems extend into the workplace. Women’s emotional labor — which can involve everything from tending to others’ feelings to managing family dynamics to writing thank-you notes — is a big issue that’s rarely discussed.

In the early 1980s, University of California, Berkeley sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild coined the term “emotional labor” in her book The Managed Heart. Hochschild observed that women make up the majority of service workers — flight attendants, food service workers, customer service reps — as well as the majority of of child-care and elder-care providers. All of these positions require emotional effort, from smiling on demand to prioritizing the happiness of the customer over one’s own feelings. [Continue reading…]

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Sexism is not an imported product

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Silke Stöckle and Marion Wegscheider, whose original article in German appeared in marx21, write: The NYE festivities in Cologne, Hamburg and other cities witnessed a high number of sexual attacks on women, and in at least one case, a rape. It is disturbing that this could happen, and outrageous that the authorities in the first instance failed to take victims’ reports seriously.

Sexual violence against women in Germany is in general a large and indeed a long-existing problem: women are commonly and frequently sexually harassed at large festivals, at the Oktoberfest in Munich or during the Carnival in Cologne and other cities. According to a new study commissioned by the Federal Ministry of Family Affairs, one in seven women in Germany experiences sexual violence. One in four women – irrespective of education level or socio-economic status – is exposed to domestic violence. The perpetrators are almost always men, among whom no significant distinction according to religion, background, educational level or social status exists.

In other words, every day there are more than enough reasons for a society-wide outcry over sexism and sexualised violence in Germany. Both phenomena are closely connected to the dominant image of women. Accordingly, sexual assaults on women are all too often not taken seriously, and are at first marginalised – as in Cologne, where victims have had the pleasure of being schooled by local politicians about “rules of behaviour for mass gatherings”, as though the victims, in the face of their determined assaulters, had the possibility to negotiate their way out of harm.

Women are continually portrayed as sexual objects in films, advertising and mass media. But more than this, women’s oppression is structurally anchored in our society, evidenced by differences in pay, employment opportunities or dominant role models. There is no equality here, despite frequent public proclamations to the contrary.

Rather than connecting the events in Cologne and Hamburg to the everyday sexist violence faced by women in Germany, politicians and the media establishment have, from the moment the events occurred, focused above all on the background of the alleged perpetrators, and on questions of public security. Where sexual molestation is acknowledged as a structural manifestation at all, it is only ever in relation to the “culture” in the supposed countries of origin of the perpetrators. In this way, the debate about the attacks has been instrumentalised from the get-go and, in line with a classic racist line of argument, Muslims or refugees have been stereotyped en masse. [Continue reading…]

Deutsche Welle reports: A few kilometers away [from the main station in Cologne], in the “Multi Kulti” center in the neighborhood of Mülheim, several women have gathered in an attempt to work out what measures should be taken to make the streets of Cologne safe again.

“No one is talking about the fact that this is happening to women every day,” Tanja, an activist and one of the initiators of the event told DW.

“People are insisting on making this a political story, trying to shift the focus on pro- or anti-refugees. But in fact, no one is listening to what we have to say – the women who have been suffering from this violence in the streets on a daily basis long before refugees even came here,” she says.

The violence on New Year’s Eve was not different from that during any other big-scale celebration in the city, according to Tanja. “Because refugees are now a burning topic, the media all of a sudden report about these events, but what nobody wants to admit is that these things happen all the time. I’m sorry to break this to you, but German-born men also harass and rape.” [Continue reading…]

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Why we can’t stay silent on Germany’s mass sex assaults

Maajid Nawaz writes: Recent mass migration patterns across Europe have meant that misogyny has finally come head to head with anti-racism, multiculturalism is facing off against feminism, and progressive values are wrestling with cultural tolerance.

Yes, it is racist to suspect that all brown men who look like me are rapists. It is bigoted to presume that all Muslim men who share my faith advocate religiously justified rape. It is xenophobic to assume that all male refugees are sexual predators awaiting their chance to rape. But let me be absolutely clear: What will feed this racism, bigotry, and xenophobia even more is deliberately failing to report the facts as they stand. Doing so only encourages the populist right’s rallying cry against “the establishment.”

If liberals do not address such issues swiftly, with complete candor and courage, the far-right and anti-Muslim populist groups will get there first. They have been doing so for a while now.

The far-right street protest group Hogesa, or Hooligans Against Salafism, continues to cause consternation on the streets of Cologne, while the populist-right Pegida has already responded to the New Year’s Eve attacks by announcing a protest in Cologne on Jan. 9.

No, my fellow liberals, these issues cannot be brushed under the carpet or simply willed away. They are not going anywhere, anytime soon. So how can we address this sensibly, without bursting a blood vessel in our Right eye, or missing the blind spot in our Left? [Continue reading…]

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Europe should steer clear of anti-refugee sentiment and take sexual assault seriously

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Natasha Lennard and Lukas Hermsmeier write: Treating rape as a problem imported from the Middle East and North Africa that can be deported along with refugees grossly ignores and normalizes an already ubiquitous rape culture. Swiss newspaper Neue Zuercher Zeitung warned this week of an “imported macho culture” arriving on German soil with the refugees. The insinuation that Europe does not already have a well-worn macho culture or macho cultures of its own is nothing short of an offense to feminism. Most assaults, after all, take place in German homes: Marital rape was still legal in Germany until 1997.

This is not to say the attacks on New Year’s Eve are not deadly serious. A large number of contemporaneous assaults demand an investigation into whether and how each attack is connected; if there is a connection rooted in certain cultural or societal mores, it should not be dismissed. Currently, details about the attacks remain scarce. We know that at least 18 asylum seekers are suspects and that victims described the perpetrators as looking North African or Arabic — which are broad strokes. And needless to say, most people in Germany of that description are not seeking asylum.

In opposing the right’s racism, we must be able to countenance that a group of refugees could be responsible for the assaults and that these individuals should not be defended. We engage in our own subtle racism if, in defending the rights of refugees in general, we collapse them all into a homogeneous category, because all racism is predicated on treated an entire group of people as an undifferentiated mass. The key is to take these assaults seriously on their own terms and as part of a generalized scourge of sexual harassment and assault, which is not fought by picking out specific ethnic groups. What’s more, we should be suspicious of any people so keen to point out the links between Islamic culture and misogyny if they are not equally concerned with the prevailing violent misogynies in the cultural West. [Continue reading…]

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Social media lifts Saudi women in vote

The Wall Street Journal reports: After Lama al-Sulaiman became one of Saudi Arabia’s first elected female politicians over the weekend, she celebrated her landmark victory through her Twitter account.

She expressed thanks to her supporters and said she hopes to meet their expectations. “Words of gratitude are not enough,” she tweeted.

As with many other candidates who had to campaign under restrictive rules in this absolutist monarchy, Ms. al-Sulaiman bet heavily on social media to promote her political program and to hear from voters.

Ahead of Saturday’s historic election — the first in which women were allowed to participate as voters as well as candidates — she combined face-to-face campaigning with social-media outreach to secure a seat in the local council of her hometown, the coastal city of Jeddah.

“Saudi Arabia is ready for women in politics,” said Ms. al-Sulaiman, the entrepreneur behind a woman-only fitness club and one of at least a dozen women who won a seat in Saturday’s nationwide municipal election.

That Saudi Arabia has one of the highest rates of social-media use in the world — there are an estimated five million Twitter users in the country — helps explain the ease in which candidates promoted their campaigns and articulated their priorities. [Continue reading…]

Michael Stephens writes: The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s recent municipal elections is not usually a story most international observers would spend an awful lot of time on. But the election of 19 women from some 2,100 candidates has focused attention for the first time on the role of women in a country which has over the years received much criticism for its perceived imbalance of gender.

While fewer than one percent of the successful candidates were female, make no mistake, this is a big moment for Saudi. Thirty women already sit in Saudi Arabia’s 150-member parliament, known as the Shura Council, but they are appointed directly by the king. So the election of women by the public is a welcome step which in the eyes of many commentators – indeed many Saudis – is long overdue.

There is much more to be done, the next most likely step being the normalisation of driving for men and women. But as with all things in the kingdom, change happens slowly and at its own pace. [Continue reading…]

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Don’t politicize women’s bodies

Ayesha S. Chaudhry writes: Since the days of colonialism, Muslim women have become hyperpoliticized pawns in larger ideological struggles, and women’s bodies bear the burden of marking which “side” a society belongs to, by either donning the veil or removing it. Europeans are not the only ones politicizing women’s bodies – Muslim-majority countries have engaged in similar tactics, expressing their commitment to Islamism (e.g. Iran today, Saudi Arabia) or secularism (Iran under the Shah, Turkey) through forced veiling or de-veiling.

Neither forced veiling nor de-veiling actually serves the interests of women, though secularists argue that de-veiling “saves” women from patriarchal oppression, and Islamists argue that veiling “saves” women from an objectifying male gaze that turns them into sex objects. In both arguments, a woman’s emancipation or subjugation is measured by the amount her body is covered or uncovered. Both arguments infantilize women, expressing a profound mistrust in their ability to make decisions in their own self-interest. Caught in the middle, Muslim women simply cannot win.

In this context, it is especially important to put women first, to give women space to chart their own journeys, and to allow the veil and lack thereof to have meanings beyond their patriarchal origins. [Continue reading…]

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Iran: Living in the shadow of men

A correspondent for Tehran Bureau writes: Every day I take a stroll on my way to work. From Tehran’s bustling Vanak Square, buzzing with traffic and commuters, to Jordan Street, a popular two-way avenue parallel to Valiasr, Tehran’s main artery. This is the heart of north Tehran, where cabs leave at every hour of the day and night. Adjacent to Jordan is Gandhi Street, boasting brand new shopping malls and western-style cafes.

I take a small, relatively quiet street lined with the offices of insurance brokers and doctors. Tall trees, planted at irregular intervals, shield me from the blazing sun. Just a few metres away from the honking, throbbing melody of the city, Sanaei Street is charming.

Save for the relentless sexual harassment.

Sometimes it is just stares. As I am walking down the street, I see him coming across me. He is several metres when I am already cringing. I lower my stare, or look away.

I want to close my manteau – the medium-length, light jacket worn by some Iranian women instead of chador – to avoid his snooping glare, but it’s too late. As I walk past him, I feel his piercing eyes looking for my breasts under my thick cloak, sizing up my figure with acute intensity. Riveted to my body, they follow me up until I feel them burning my back as he is already behind me. There isn’t even the slightest pretence of hiding: the ogling is unabashed, both nonchalant and full of aplomb.

Every so often, there are sounds. As he walks by, he turns his head towards me and slams his tongue against his palate. Or kisses the air loudly. There are so many shades of whistling, hissing, smacking, licking, puffing that I am amazed at the capacities of the human mouth. Sometimes it comes from behind me: a hiss directly in my ear. Sometimes it’s a last-second move as we walk past each other, like a snake suddenly sticking out its tongue. Every time, it is the same hideous expression of unhindered lust sending shivers through my spine. [Continue reading…]

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How America failed Afghan women

Musa al-Gharbi writes: The U.S.-led intervention in Afghanistan was justified in large part by highlighting the plight of women under Taliban governance. Within the first weeks of the campaign, Hillary Clinton, Laura Bush and Cherie Blair helped spearhead a highly-effective propaganda effort to convince the public that the U.S. and the U.K. were engaged in a moral war — one which was fundamentally about human rights rather than merely advancing geopolitical or security interests — thereby necessitating a massive ground invasion and state-building enterprise to transform Afghan society, rather than a more limited venture to dislodge and degrade the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

Of course, the U.S. bore significant moral responsibility for the plight of Afghan women, given the central role that the CIA played in sponsoring mujahedeen in Afghanistan during the Cold War — before, during, and after the Russian occupation. Leaders trained in these programs would go on to found the Taliban, the Haqqani Network and al-Qaeda — groups which were not only responsible for the widespread oppression of the Afghan people, but also for planning and executing the suicide bombings of September 11, 2001.

And so, the moral implications of the war were extraordinary: had Operation Enduring Freedom been successful, it would have not only liberated Afghan women, but avenged 9/11—and in the process, helped to rectify a particularly dark chapter in U.S. foreign policy. And this, it was held, would go a long way towards winning the “hearts and minds” of people around the world. [Continue reading…]

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