By: Gulamhusein A. Abba
Note: Ever since Mona Eltahawy’s article was published in Foreign Policy magazine there has been a constant buzz on the internet about Mona and her article. Because I put her article on my blog I have received several e-mails wanting to know why I did it. I felt I owed my readers an explanation
PUTTING MONA IN PERSPECTIVE
By Gulamhusein A. Abba
Strictly as a writer, I was struck by how well written her article was, with such powerful language, graphic word pictures and an attention grabbing opening. And the content was most disturbing. The list of abuses being suffered by women was long and painful to read. As an activist for human rights and as someone who strives to give a voice to those who need to be heard, I felt I had to do something. So, as a first step, I put Mona's article on my blog, and as a second step, put a post about it on my Face Book page.
However, the way Mona presented it, especially her dragging in religion into the discussion, made me a little suspicious. It felt she had some sort of a personal agenda in addition to protesting against the abuses she described.
I had not heard of Mona till I read her article under discussion. My curiosity aroused, I looked deeper into the issue and read dozens of articles (and comments on each of them – more than 1.500 in the original article in Foreign Policy magazine alone!), news-reports, blogs and opinion pieces on the subject.
Simultaneously I sent the article to a few selected and trusted female friends, hoping to get some feedback from them about Mona and also about what and how they felt, as women, about what Mona had written.
True that Mona dragging Islam into the discussion has no basis. The abuses she refers to are not ordained or favored or even permitted by Islam. The “…clerical declarations that opponents of state-sanctioned pedophilia are apostates….” are just that – clerical declarations. There is nothing in the Quran that favors, much less require child marriages.
True that Mona can hardly be regarded as the spokesperson or even representative of all the women in the Middle East countries, or even in just Egypt.
But, leaving aside all these extraneous considerations, the fact remains that women, not only in the Mideast but the world over, are being subjected to cruelties and abuses of all sorts, not confined to the acts specifically mentioned by Mona. Even in societies that are considered to be very “civilized”, women are given a raw deal. The glass ceiling for women and the inequality in pay scales between males and females in the US, for example, are well known. As are cases of sexual harassment in the workforce and a constant stream of rape stories.
The abuses against women need to be spoken about. They need to be addressed. Mona has done a great service to women in general by getting wide publicity about them and raising public awareness about them.
I was disturbed by Mona singling out the Mideast countries for her condemnation. It seemed as though her focus was on condemning Muslim society. Until I read in her article that “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’” and “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.”
Another aspect that disturbed me was the sub-heading to her article: The real war on women is in the Middle East. That is sheer nonsense. The “war” on women is not just in the Middle East. It is global. In Africa, in Pakistan, in Afghanistan. The problems faced by women in these and other countries are, in many cases, even worse than those that Mona describes. Acid is thrown in women’s faces in petty quarrels and no action is taken against the perpetrator. In India, in-laws (and even husbands) burn their daughter-in-laws (and wives) when her family cannot or will not meet their non-stop demands for money or other material things. And the deaths are routinely written off as accidental deaths caused by the deceased woman’s clothing accidentally catching fire by coming into contact with flames from the kerosene burning stoves!
By claiming that the real war on women is in the Mid East, Mona has disrespected and marginalized the women all over the world who are suffering the same or worse abuses and denial of rights. In effect, she has fractured the women’s rights movement.
Mona may have an agenda of her own, including perhaps personal advancement; her approach may be wrong; she may have, indeed she DID err in unnecessarily dragging in religion, which has nothing to do with the abuses she has described. But she has done her homework and marshaled facts, which cannot be denied, chronicling the abuses the women suffer in that region
I am afraid that, though I am outraged by her trying to drag, without any justification, Islam into the discussion, and though I am very disappointed in her leaving women in other parts of the world out of the equation, I endorse her 100% when she says, “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.” And when she says “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” ( though I would have said “will not be complete” instead os “will not succeed”)
Lastly, I fully agree with her. Women are neither just their headscarves or hijabs, nor are they just their bikinis, or for that matter, their hymens. They are, first and foremost, human beings and entitled to just as much respect, dignity and rights as are men.
We must listen to those of them that are speaking out and amplify their voices, and be the voice of those that are suffering in silence.
Foreign Policy magazine has done great disservice to the subject dealt with and to Mona by trivializing the essay. Pictures of nude women, with painted on hijabs, did nothing to enhance what Mona was talking about. In fairness to FP they did publish more that 1500 comments on the article and later followed it up with thoughtful contributions by known writers.
Reading all the essays, articles, opinion pieces, comments and blogs that have been published on the subject, it is clear that the subject matter is complex, with nuances not commonly known, It deserves an in-depth look. I urge serious readers of this to read, on this blog. Beyond Mona: Fully understanding the abuses women suffer