Saturday, March 05, 2011

What we really need

A while back, my mom was planning a business trip to a certain Arab country but realized she didn't have sufficient time for the visa. Since my dad knew the ambassador, he decided to call and see if there was any way to issue the visa earlier. As soon as he started explaining the situation to him, the ambassador interrupted "Speak no more. I understand. You want to make sure her visa gets denied without implicating yourself. Consider it done!" Of course my dad then assured him that this wasn't the case at all and he had no problem with the fact that his wife, a PhD holder who owns a well known establishment for making educational toys and books for children and teaches at the American University of Beirut, travels on business.

In our family, this story is told in jest simply because the entire premise is so alien to our family. But that story never made me laugh. Because I could never help but wonder how many other such offers that ambassador, and others like him, had made which were accepted with a polite thank you. And that always got me down the long and depressing path of thinking how pathetic our situation is. The only way a woman can be liberated and yet accepted in our society is to be married to a gentleman instead of an insecure man, of whom many exist. The men in our families are the only ones who really protect us. But nothing protects us from them.

Egypt's uprising was refreshing because the focus on women participating and being treated equally and with respect was very prominent. This was made more apparent during the Lara Logan affair. Obviously, Egypt still has a long way to go but I believe that they have finally embarked on the right track. Tunisia had been a leader in women's rights in the Arab world for decades and their uprising will hopefully bolster this position (I am very conscious of the "hopefully").

As for me, I am realizing more and more how unaccepting I am of my society (and I belong to several similar ones), one that only gives me the right to vote and work, on condition that my father, brother or husband approve. And I am even less accepting of a society that permits me to become a citizen because I married into it, but not because my mother was born with that nationality. I don't accept a society where most women engage in politics only when their politician husband or father are assassinated. A society that finds loopholes in the system to give a lighter sentence to a rapist father who killed his own daughter. A society where a policeman questions what I'm wearing when I complain about a pervert flashing me in the street. And lastly, I refuse a society that thinks it's OK to humiliate a respectable businesswomen by giving her husband the right to decide if she can, or cannot leave the country.

The thing is, and this point is ignored by many, there is no way that the Arab world's society and economy is ever going to develop properly without the full participation of 50% of its population. And if half of the population are marginalized, whether socially, legally or professionally, then we're gonna be stuck in a time warp for a while longer. I know I am labeled an extremist because I actually talk about this but I truly believe that not enough of us really raise these issues. And I do believe the onus is on us women to take our rights forcefully (No one will give you anything if you don't make them - even if the end result is better for both). And so I will lay out three of the issues I think need addressing now, knowing that there are many people out there who are already working on them, instead of just writing it in a blog like I do:
  • We want the bloody right to full citizenship that we can transfer to our family!
  • We want the bloody right to be married under a civil law that does not adhere to any of the antiquated rules we are subjected to now!
  • When a guy is being creepy and harassing me (or worse), be it a stranger, co-worker friend or family member, I want a proper system to report it without feeling humiliated and one that punishes him fairly!
I guess we can work with that, for now.


zlando said...

I have always said that the reason the Muslim world hates Israel (and the west) is because every man in it's society, no matter how poor or retched knows that when he enters his home, he is KING. Israel, and the west, want to "ruin" that for him.

When you see it like this, many things become understandable in the ME.

This must be STOPPED!

Lama Bashour said...


Fixing all women's problems in the ME will not undo what Israel, supported by the US, has done to the Palestinians. And this is the real reason men AND women hate Israel. So please let's leave this issue out of the discussion. You will not find supporters here.

Laila Alawneh said...

I am always surprised at the attitude of a lot of women who are drugged under the statement of : This is how it is, we can't risk getting involved, its too complicated. Freedom is not earned easily, and it is something mistakenly comprehend by some women, it needs full awareness to circumstances and possible rights, also capturing the right time and contacting the right people who can secure these rights. I don't see you as an activist my friend, but as a normal person asking for the natural and normal rights. I have never met your mother but I understand that she is an highly educated women who obviously has worked hard to get to where she is today, and one of the results is free thinking and courage she has pulled to secure her right to simply be. The question is are the women out there aware of those rights? And if they are, why don't they go out and get them, or did freedom become an accessory that costs effort and work to get it and the oppression is an easier state of being that we can't care much. Why don't the women who are complaining about it march everyday next to the Muslim brotherhood who is asking for the change of government where they can ask for the equality of rights? The Muslim brotherhoods needs are not the only thing missing in this country, and still they got some of what they asked for, has it happened even once that the women asked for it? If they don't ask for it, demand it, strike and revolt it means they don't won't it, in some Arabic saying, no one can scratch your skin better than you would. Are we ever going to scratch that itchy spot?

Anonymous said...

zlando, I always assumed that people who think like you do don't use the internets.

NICOLE said...

I think everyone is intitled to his own opinion including Zlando. We are all brain wached when it comes to politics since it is hard to see the truth sometimes. Lama, I agree with you hundred percent . it is very sad to see women treated that way in the Arab world but I don't see the light at the end of the tunnel.Here in the us, they call us tribes. Maybe it is of their interest to keep us like that.If you have a slave that work for you ,you keep him a slave because if you try to change him he might become better than you.sadly that is how the universe works. In the us we don't have that problem. Women have more rights than men but only if you are American ???
Take care,I love your story.

Farah said...

Thanks Lama and happy IWD! As for Zlando, get a life! Away from here.

Abdalla T said...

Its hard to plainly define the reasons for this inequality and shameful injustice females have to go through in our society.

Yet I believe there are several elements involved. The more educated, the more exposed you become to liberal environments, thus importing notions such as consideration equality back to your household. The less you are the more abusive and vicious it could get in many circumstances.

Secondly, while I regard Islam as a compassionate and just religion there are many notions i disagree with and are unjustified, like inheritance, in terms of males getting more. While there is much compassion to the female in Islam in regards to the mother specifically yet she is not given full and equal rights. These teaching have been misinterpreted and abused by weak non-confident males into our culture to protect them and their shortcomings. Being a male myself, I'm dismayed of stories i hear of woman being ill treated. If males only know that giving the woman equal rights and sharing duties, will not only provide balance to him but sustain and grow our societies and move us leap years ahead.

I also believe things should start at home. My two kids, girl and boy will be treated equally with no prejudice and discrimination. Thats my input, knowing my boy will be a better man than i am.

Nadine said...

How do we get to what we really need? It is ridiculous that in 2011 we're having such a convo about basics for human dignity.

Perhaps there is a fundamental flaw in the layout of orgs and movements dealing with issues of gender discrimination in Jo, and around the world. Too many tunnels, not enough genetic integration into the system to make things happen.

There is a deafening void in the public discourse that addresses gender (in)dignity. Most of the time it is driven by stats, data with no soul to shame a nation about discriminatory behavior which results in breaking and holding back an entire nation.

Where to from here to achieve your three needs, and then move on to the next three?

Lama Bashour said...

Nadine, this may sound a little controversial but I think the women's movement in our region has not really tapped into a useful resource and ally in this struggle. This ally is gentlemen like Abdallah T here, who truly believe it is in society's best interest that women have their rights and who are also offended by the current state of affairs. Maybe the women's movement would do better to be more inclusive, appeal to these men and engage them, instead of trying to prove how independent we really are (which I know we can be). But this may make our path a little smoother and our fight a little shorter.

I know this sounds counter to a typical feminist ideology, but I don't consider myself a typical feminist.