Monthly Archives: January 2010

Forbidden Love

By: Alexandra Kinias

When Lena came to life she became a household name. She was not the first child to be born out of wedlock, but her mother, Hind Hinnawy was the first woman who publicly sued a man to prove his paternity. She stood up for her unborn child’s right to live, in one of the most controversial cases the Egyptian courts dealt with.

Costume designer, Hind Hinnawy, met actor Ahmed Fishawy on the set of a movie. They fell in love, draft and signed an urfi marriage document. And as always problems unfolded when Hind announced her pregnancy.

In a society where both conservatism and hypocrisy are moving parallel, premarital sex is forbidden, but urfi marriages are widely spreading between young couples. The disagreement among religious scholars over its legality is causing a lot of confusion and couples are using it as an excuse to legalize their sexual relationships.

In urfi marriages, two copies are drafted and signed by two witnesses. Each party keeps a copy, and the alleged husband is neither financially responsible for his wife nor kids, but the kids carry his name.

If a woman loses her copy, she can’t prove she was married. If the man denies the marriage, the woman has the entire burden to prove that the child belongs to him.

When Hind’s pregnancy was announced, Ahmed consulted a religious scholar who advised Hind to abort the child.  She refused and Ahmed stole her urfi copy to force her to terminate the pregnancy. It was ironic that the voices of the religious scholars that were preaching against abortion from the beginning of time agreed that aborting the child was less sinful than having one out of wedlock. The decision that was made by a man for the welfare of another man only proved how they are supportive of their own kind.

Destroying the urfi marriage paper is a good strategy that usually works. But Hind’s courage was unexpected. She informed her parents of the situation and in an unprecedented event they fully supported her.  When the story reached the media, Hind’s father, Professor Hinnawy was subjected to humiliation and hurtful remarks against him and his daughter’s honor which he tolerated with patience. After all,  Egypt had never witnessed before a man, on public television, discussing the circumstances of his daughter’s pregnancy out of wedlock.

Ahmed Fishawy, the father to be, denied all allegations of his relationship with Hind. And when Lena was born, he refused a court order to undergo a DNA test to prove his paternity. Under Egyptian law a child with no father’s name can’t have a birth certificate. Lena’s future was ruined before it had even started. Religious scholars insisted that children born out of wedlock have to pay for their parent’s mistakes.

Hind and her parents didn’t rest until the judge ruled in her favor and Lena was granted her father’s name, two years after she was born. Critics of the ruling warned that this would encourage more people of having premarital sex, but those who supported the ruling said that  men will think twice before abandoning their responsibilities.

In November 2008, shortly before Lena’s fourth birthday, Ahmed Fishawi publicly admitted that he is in fact her father.

Lena’s story had a happy ending, but unfortunately that was the exception not the rule. There are more than 14,000 similar cases being fought in the Egyptian courts.  To carry the message forward, Hind formed an NGO to help unwed mothers to fight for their children’s rights.

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Why sexual harassment?

By: Alexandra Kinias

October 21, 2008 was a victorious day not only for 27 years old filmmaker Noha Ostaz , but for all Egyptian women. For the first time in the history of the country’s judiciary system, the man who had sexually harassed Noha a year earlier, as she walked down a street, was sentenced to three years in prison with hard labor; a verdict that came as a surprise even to the lawyers.

Sexual harassment has become an epidemic that is spreading like terminal cancer into the society. An earlier incident of a notorious mass sexual harassment that rocked Egypt in 2006 made head lines in the New York Times.

On that national day  celebrating a religious holiday, mobs of men gathered in front of movie theaters.  As women exited after the shows were over, the chaotic downtown Cairo became a scene of a mass sexual frenzy. That took place in broad daylight in front of the eyes of the policemen. They not only didn’t come to the rescue, but as witnesses they reported that women were to be blamed for the incident because of their  provocative dressing. That was far from the truth because the attackers targeted both veiled and unveiled women.  The policemen’s reaction didn’t come as a surprise to anyone, for they had been accused themselves of sexually assaulting women in a demonstration that took place months earlier. Women who were assaulted were denied the right to report the incident.

I am not in a comparative mode here, but laws in America that protect women from sexual harassment didn’t come from thin air. The movie North Country not only inspired me to write this article, but it again proved that women have to fight their own battles. What happened to the characters of the women in the movie, which was inspired by true events,  still happens to women in Egypt, at work and in the streets. But unlike the women in the movie, Egyptian women still have to take the initiative to protect themselves.

Believing that men would voluntarily issue laws against themselves to protect women is a myth. And sadly enough as I had seen in the movie and in real life, most women who are abused and harassed become submerged in their own fears and wouldn’t stand up for their own rights.

After the movie theaters’ incident in Cairo, television screens were swarmed with people who had solution.  Religious groups always have the easiest, fastest and most effective one; veil the women. And if there was no need for them to be out, might as well lock them up. Once the streets are cleared men won’t find anyone to grope.  Psychologists said their words, and so did the social workers, and lawyers. Great shows were produced, but the real reason was never addressed.

I believe such incidents happen because men are let to do what they want and get away with it. There are no drastic solutions based on dialogue, education or religion. Those who assault women in any shape or form should be punished.  If severe laws were issued to protect women, men will think twice. The Egyptian government, by implementing high fines, was able to enforce the seat belt law in three months. And it makes me wonder why the safety of women walking on foot is not as remotely important.

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Women Rights Movement No more

By: Alexandra Kinias

I watched the movie Iron Jawed Angels. As an immigrant who had not grown up into  American culture,  I always admired how women of this great nation were enjoying their rights. However, this movie was an eye opening to the events of what really happened.  There was no shred of doubt in my mind that women did in fact demand their rights to everything they are enjoying today.  But I never imagined that these rights were achieved after a fierce and long battle. I wasn’t aware of the struggles that women had to go through to get their right to vote.

Women arrested and jailed on false accusations, harassed and abused, and thrown into solitary confinement, were things you heard happening elsewhere. Who would have believed that this happened in America? The movie didn’t just evoke a lot of feelings regarding women’s issues, but it also sparked the idea of what I am going to post in my blog.

My book ‘Black Tulips’ is about the life of four Egyptian women and the social hardships they encounter due to living in a male dominant society. The government statistics show that more than 50% of low class women are the sole bread winners for their families. These women roam the streets every day looking for jobs. They are widows, divorcees, abandoned by their husbands or working to support an unemployed one. And while trying to make a living, they are subjected to a lot of physical and emotional abuse.

Girls dropping  out of school to support their families is a curse facing the future of women. Females turning to prostitution as a source of income is not widely spread, but it is not uncommon either, and so are teenage pregnancies.  Domestic violence against women, sexual harassment and girls being sold into marriages are among some of the examples of the hardships that face women.  As a result of that the rate of hymenorophy (restoring the virginity) operations that girls have to go through to protect their honor and thus their lives is increasing.

The Feminist Movement in Egypt that started at the beginning of the twentieth century was somehow silenced. In 1919, women, while still under the veil, marched in demonstrations along men to protest against the British occupation. In 1923 the Egyptian Feminist Movement was founded by Hoda Sharawi. On her return from an international feminist meeting in Rome , and while still on the steam boat, Sharawi and her peers removed their veils and dumped them in the sea.

Women’s political and educational rights soared, but family rights have always been stagnant. Divorce was only decided by the man, and harsh divorce and custody laws always favored men. Egyptian family laws were derived from Shariaa, the religious law, which doesn’t give much room to refute. I don’t believe that holly laws discriminate between genders; all laws were derived by men for men.

Women have stopped to fight and were brainwashed into believing that they have achieved all their rights, but in fact as I look now at what’s going on in the Egyptian society, I see that women have greatly regressed in the last few decades.

There are so much more to come, so please stay tuned…..

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