By: Alexandra Kinias
Even though it has been a very tough year for women in many countries around the world, there are still no indications, however, that this past year was any different than the previous ones. Women’s rights were as violated as ever, they were bullied, oppressed, controlled and punished under the banner of their culture, traditions, tribal laws and religious scripts that encourage violence, abuse and even persecution. The quest for material about women’s issues on-line took me on an emotional journey around the globe. The expedition was filled with an abundance of painful stories about the disgraceful status of women, but yet there were also a slight glimpse of hope, a dim light at the end of the tunnel.
While the year was marked by the UN achievement of setting up a single agency dedicated to promote the rights of women and girls around the world, enormous violations to women rights were extensively covered in the news.
For Egyptian women it was a bleak year that started with a major setback when the State Council for Administrative Judges voted overwhelmingly against admitting female judges.
By year end, ECWR published that Egypt ranked 125th of 134 countries regarding women’s rights. 83% of Egyptian women are subjected to sexual harassment. Women walking the streets in Egypt are subjected to indecent exposure, sexual invites, groping, comments, stalking or following and catcalling. While private NGOs are taking the initiative to battle this pandemic, the rights of women to safely walk the street is completely ignored by the lawmakers and enforcers. The problem will unlikely be resolved in the near future. It became a farce how the first lady of Egypt Suzan Mubarak, maintains a state of denial. In an interview she was quoted that Egyptian men fundamentally respect women and that harassment incidents may have been blown out of proportion. It is quite obvious that the first lady neither walks the streets nor uses public transportation.
And while still the Egyptian women are denied the right to travel without their spouse’s consent, their counterparts in Kuwait celebrated with jubilation the parliament’s decision that repealed the ban on women traveling alone. Kuwaiti women are now allowed to travel without husband’s consent. Not only that, but Kuwaiti women were allowed to join the police forces.
Just across the border from Kuwait, women of Saudi Arabia received a mixed basket. While the effort to revoke the ban on allowing women to drive in the kingdom was ignored by the religious authorities, the U.N. chief appointed Thoraya Obaid of Saudi Arabia to head the UNFPA (United Nation Population Fund), the agency that promotes family planning, sexual health and women’s equality. Her selection came after the extensive campaign, by her government behind the scenes, for her appointment. Quite an achievement for Saudi women in a country where the rate of domestic violence is increasing, women are denied jobs as cashiers in markets, not to have direct encounter with men, woman still need written permission from male relatives to travel, are banned from mingling with men and must be covered in public from head to toe.
Across the border to the East is U.A.E., the world’s emerging pearl that is dazzling the world with its wealth, architecture and religious tolerance. On October 2010, a court in the Emirates ruled that it is okay for a man to beat his wife and daughters to discipline them as long as the beatings don’t leave bruises on their body. Earlier this year in Abu Dhabi, an eighteen years old girl who reported that she was raped was charged with illegal sex.
Afghanistan as always had its lion’s share in demonstrating violence and abuse against women. The image of Afghani woman Bibi Aisha with her nose-less face horrified the world when published on the cover of Time magazine. Her gruesome story of how her husband cut of her nose and ears off to punish her once again brought to mind the atrocities that occurred to women under the rule of the Taliban. Bibi’s story had a happy ending when a women’s NGO flew her to America and she underwent a reconstruction surgery for her nose and ears.
Unfortunately, not all Afghani women were as lucky as Bibi. Gruesome stories dominated the news of Afghani women burning themselves to death as a way of escape, since there is no other way for them to change their lives. Burning women in Afghanistan can be self inflicted or as a way of punishment by their husbands and their mother in-laws. The Taliban also executed the pregnant woman Sanam Bibi who was accused of adultery after being whipped 200 times. A fatwa by Afghani religious clerics that became a law gave men the right to starve their wives if they refused to have sex with them. The Taliban encyclopedia of medieval practices has also included stoning to death as a means of punishment. An incident of stoning to death a woman and a man for allegedly having an affair was also reported.
Stoning to death is a punishment not only practiced in Afghanistan, but also in Iran, Nigeria and Somalia. Sekhina Muhammadi’s story dominated the news after foreign governments intervened and people around the world rallied for her release from her Iranian jail. The woman who was accused of committing adultery and murdering her husband had been sentenced to death in Iran after forced confession. When her news was smuggled out of Iran on her lawyer’s blog, the young man fled the country and sought asylum elsewhere in fear from the regime. There is a lot of conflicting news circulating about the fate of the woman.
Nojood Ali’s international fame came after she published her book “I am Nojood. Aged 10 and Divorced”. The 10 years old girl, who won the title of the youngest divorcee in Yemen, attracted the world’s attention after her story shed light on the dreadful practice of child marriages in Yemen and elsewhere.
Every day, approximately 25,000 girls become child brides. It is estimated that one in seven girls in the developing world is married before she turns 15. Being forced to marry so young, increases a girl’s chance that she will become pregnant before she is physically and psychologically ready. Problems associated with pregnancy and childbirth are a leading cause of death for girls aged 15 to 19 worldwide. While Noojod was lucky she survived this marriage, not all child brides were as lucky. An eight years old girl was denied a divorce in Saudi Arabia, while another Yemeni child died of bleeding after being raped by her husband. As such practices are embedded in the culture and traditions and encouraged by religious clerics in these societies, it will be hard to eradicate them, unless there is a global intervention to save the lives and future of these innocent girls.
In 2010, more women were killed in the name of honor. Brutal flogging was used as a means of punishment and women’s promiscuous behaviors were blamed for natural disasters.
Last but not least, the year witnessed the occurrence of a new phenomenon. After being a male’s trait ever since its emergence, 2010 introduced four female suicide bombers. Two women were from Dagestan, the former Soviet republic, one from Pakistan and one from Afghanistan. It is quite intriguing that women under the most oppressive regimes are brainwashed to carry out their dirty work, a classic case of Stockholm Syndrome.
Happy New Year to all the women around the world. Don’t despair. We will do better next year –