Monthly Archives: September 2011

Inequality Is Just A Stamp On Paper

By: Alexandra Kinias –

The posters on the walls of 36- year- old Noha Montasser’s office are of women’s athletes and body builders. More posters are hanging on the wall of the gym which she had built exclusively for women in a Cairo neighborhood. She pointed at the colorful image of a young woman in ski gear standing in the snow.

“This is Elham Al Qassimi from the United Arab Emirates, the first Arab woman to reach the North Pole.”

The music was blaring from inside the fitness room. Noha’s clients were lifting weights. It had taken her months to convince them to join the class.

She said: “The message I am trying to give women is that they can do just about anything a man does. I don’t want women to think that gender is an obstacle to achieve their dreams, even if they live in a society that wants them to believe otherwise.”

Noha is a petroleum engineer turned fitness instructor after her application to work as a field engineer was rejected by oil companies. She was young to realize how important it was to save the rejection letters that denied her the job because of her gender. She wanted to show them to the world.

Noha was still mourning her mother who had died of a sudden heart attack. The humiliation she encountered when she went to court to settle her mother’s estate left angry and hurt.

“Growing up in a male dominant society, I felt like a punch bag. What had happened in court was yet another jab.”

As an only child whose mother had survived all her siblings, Noha was shocked when the lawyer informed her that the sons of her deceased maternal uncles (not the daughters) were entitled to a share in her mother’s estate. The sons of her aunts were excluded.

“That was another reminder that women will never be counted as a whole. I was struck by how the laws had been cleverly drafted with minute details to assure their submission to their male guardians. Not that I was unaware of the laws, but I have not anticipated their extent.”

Inheritance laws in Islamic countries are derived from Sharia, favoring men over women. Females do not inherit property and land on equal basis with males. The Islamic Laws do not equate between mothers and fathers, between brothers and sisters, between daughters and sons, and between spouses. Siblings of a deceased father who doesn’t leave behind a son are entitled to share the inheritance with the widow and daughters. Women don’t object. They have been brainwashed over the centuries to accept the status quo. Since these laws are mentioned in the Koran, any objection to them or an attempt to change them is a direct challenge to God’s words and considered a heresy.

The nightmares created by her father’s siblings after his death were still vivid in Noha’s mind. Technically, her uncles and aunts became partners in everything her father owned. From previous experience in dealing with the legal system she learned that rebelling against the existing laws created more nightmares where she ended up the losing party.

Inside the courtroom Noha was received by a male chauvinist judge whose power resided in his signature. As the ultimate authority, if he refused to scribble it on a document no one could challenge his decision. The judge studied her from head to toe, smirked and asked her in a loud voice whether she was a Muslim or Christian. The question caught her off guard and it took her few moments to recover from the shock. It wasn’t just inappropriate and irrelevant, but also unnecessary. Her file had her full name which was unmistakably Muslim. Not to mention that her faith was printed on every government paper that belonged to her, including the ID. In spite of the anger that boiled inside her she responded that she was a Muslim. Without taking his eyes off her, he asked why she was not veiled. That question came as a blow to her face. It became apparent that the judge’s intent was to humiliate her.

“My body trembled in anger. I took a deep breath to calm down and responded that hopefully one day I will be guided to the right path. ”

Veil was not something Noha believed in. She belonged to the school that refuted veil as a religious obligation. Her inability to challenge the judge and stand up for what she believed was degrading. She resented herself for her cowardice to confront him. She resented the society that gave him power to abuse her.

“I stormed out of the courtroom feeling equally humiliated and betrayed. My temples were throbbing as my blood pressure soared. The pain in my heart was intolerable I wanted to scream until my lungs burst, but instead I went home and cried all night. I lied to my daughter when she saw me crying. I couldn’t tell her I felt betrayed and that the person who swore to bring us justice was the source of my devastation.”

In spite of the challenges she faces and the despair created by her circumstances, the single mom is raising up her six years old daughter to believe that women and men are equal.

“In spite of my successful business I don’t want my daughter to grow up in this environment. I want her to grow up enjoying all the rights I was deprived off. I despise the day she finds out that she could climb Mount Everest, yet she is counted as a half. It was painful enough for me to go through life treated as such. How can I tell her that women and men are equal yet the society treats women inferior to men, discriminates against them and deprives them from their personal rights and freedoms.”

Noha is considering leaving her homeland. Maybe, she confesses, if I left before my daughter grows up, I won’t see the day when she discovers that I had lied to her all her life. And perhaps she won’t feel disappointed by her own country.

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Filed under Women Rights in Egypt

Chain Reaction

Mentally Ill Sisters Freed From Chains In West Bank – CNN

By: Alexandra Kinias

Whenever I think that I have seen it all, headlines remind me that the cruelty against women is limitless.

Victims of their gender, mentally impaired sisters Mohedeye and Nedaa Dawabsha had been confined to a room in their family home in the West Bank Palestinian village of Duma. Both girls suffer from severe mental illness. To contain them, their family tied them with metal chains wrapped around their waist and connected to a metal locker in the corner of the room, with only a meter and a half radius to move and live.

The younger sister Nedaa, 21 had been living like a wild animal for 10 years and the eldest sister Mohedeya, 25, had been chained for two years. According to their sister Intesar, mental illness runs in the family, but the condition of Nedaa and Mohedeya is very severe. Because of its meager resources, the family is unable to supply them with medication or adequate care.

Chaining them was a consciousness decision by their family members after the girls started leaving the house, wandering around in the streets at night and ending up in neighbor’s homes. In fear of being sexually assaulted, in a society where a girl’s honor must be preserved under any condition, tying them up was the only way to keep them safe. Since being mentally impaired doesn’t spare them the punishment, it was better to keep them prisoned and chained that getting them killed for losing their honor.

The family understands that it was inhuman to treat the girls in such manner, yet their sister Intesar admits they had no other option. On several occasions she had sought the help of the Palestinian Authority to institutionalize her sisters. She had even visited the office of the Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, but her pleas fell on deaf ears.

Few days after CNN reported about the Dawabsha sisters, the Palestinian Authority was able to place them in the Bethlehem-based Four Homes of Mercy, one of only two West Bank facilities offering 24-hour care for the mentally impaired.

For the first time in years the sisters are walking around freely with no chains and are receiving medical care. It is not time for celebration yet as no one knows for how long the state will be able to supply for their medical care. The institution where they are being treated survives on donations and is already in serious debt. While they are enjoying their new life, the future is still uncertain as is that of other Palestinians requiring treatment for mental disabilities.

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Filed under Violence against women