I recommend you read the entire thing, but here’s a taste of what makes Mona (and many others) believe a women’s revolution is in order:
- More than 90 percent of ever-married women in Egypt—including my mother and all but one of her six sisters—have had their genitals cut in the name of modesty.
- An article in the Egyptian criminal code says that if a woman has been beaten by her husband "with good intentions" no punitive damages can be obtained … And what, pray tell, are "good intentions"? They are legally deemed to include any beating that is "not severe" or "directed at the face."
- 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 … Morocco, often touted for its "progressive" family law … ranks 129; according to Morocco's Ministry of Justice, 41,098 girls under age 18 were married there in 2010.
- It's easy to see why the lowest-ranked country is Yemen, where 55 percent of women are illiterate, 79 percent do not participate in the labor force, and just one woman serves in the 301-person parliament.
- Yes, Saudi Arabia, the country where a gang-rape survivor was sentenced to jail for agreeing to get into a car with an unrelated male and needed a royal pardon; Saudi Arabia, where a woman who broke the ban on driving was sentenced to 10 lashes and again needed a royal pardon; Saudi Arabia, where women still can't vote or run in elections, yet it's considered "progress" that a royal decree promised to enfranchise them for almost completely symbolic local elections in—wait for it—2015.
- In a 2008 survey by the Egyptian Center for Women's Rights, more than 80 percent of Egyptian women said they'd experienced sexual harassment and more than 60 percent of men admitted to harassing women.
- Tyrants oppress, beat, and torture all. We know. But these officers reserved "virginity tests" for female activists: rape disguised as a medical doctor inserting his fingers into their vaginal opening in search of hymens. (The doctor was sued and eventually acquitted in March.)
Okay, I’ve got just two quibbles. First, it would have been nice if this essay had been published in the Arabic edition of Al-Masry Al-Youm. Sure, Foreign Policy is translated into Arabic, but I’d venture to say Al-Masry Al-Youm and similar outlets have a much wider circulation in the Arab world. So it seems that Eltahawy is preaching to the Western choir. If it’s a feminist revolution in the Arab world that she wants, perhaps she ought to direct her energy and arguments towards… the Arabs in the Arab world. She says, after all, that
The Arab uprisings may have been sparked by an Arab man—Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian street vendor who set himself on fire in desperation—but they will be finished by Arab women.
My second quibble would be her use of the word “hate.” When she writes sentences like, “Poor or rich, we [Arab countries] all hate our women” or asks, “How much does Saudi Arabia hate women?” or declares, “Yes: They hate us. It must be said,” it strikes me as a bit hyperbolic and tends to detract from her argument. I’m not so sure that the injustice women face in the Arab world is due to “hate.” More likely—and a point Eltahawy herself makes—is that Arab men are imbedded in a “toxic mix of culture and religion that few seem willing or able to disentangle lest they blaspheme or offend.”
Despite these minor flaws, Mona is right. The plight of women in the Arab world cannot be simply explained away in terms of cultural relativism. There’s something to be said, I think, for respecting cultural differences (France’s ban on the veil is, um, misguided), but not when said differences consist of the harassment, abuse, and discrimination documented in Mona’s piece.By Nathan Patin, Aslan Media Columnist