Category Archives: Women Rights in Egypt

Are Women Their Own Worst Enemies?

–By– Alexandra Kinias

Misogyny, practiced for thousands of years in patriarchal societies is still widely spread in Islamic countries where women are viewed and treated inferior to men. In Egypt, a country with male dominance, misogyny is deeply embedded in the culture and forms the base for women oppression. Not only practiced by men for control, but also by women against their own kind and well being. Brainwashed from a young age that inferiority is their source of empowerment, some women advocate for their own submissiveness.

On a televised religious show where audiences ask live questions, Suad Salah, Islamic scholar from Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt, explained that Allah granted Muslim men the permission to rape non-Muslim [infidel women], to “humiliate” them. She labeled women captured in legitimate wars as slaves. “To humiliate them, these women who are spoils of war become possessions of their captors who can enjoy them sexually.” She said.

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Suad Saleh

Instead of denouncing the outdated medieval practice, Saleh defined a legitimate war, in today’s world, as one that Egypt would fight against an enemy like Israel, and thus the Israeli captive women can be enslaved and raped by the Egyptian soldiers. Saleh’s shameful justification is the base upon which ISIS troops enslaved the Yazidi women they captured.

Saleh’s incident is not an isolated one. Women who have experienced submission are often the best advocates for misogyny. Azza Al Garf, a parliament member during the Islamic government of the MB, was also an advocate for female misogyny.

A faithful member of the MB since the age of 15, Al Garf was a live product of her religious cult. Head of the Muslim brotherhood women’s committee, Al Garf’s priorities were to revoke the meager rights that women had fiercely fought for. She voted to shut down the offices of the Egyptian National Women Council that had been fighting for women’s issues for decades, which were viewed as a threat to their own conservative values. She also supported the repeal of the Kulw law that gave women the right to divorce, the ban on female genital mutilation and a bill proposed by the Salafist MPs to decrease the minimum marriage age for girls to 14 instead of 18.  She refuted that women’s status in Egypt has degraded, especially in the political arena. And in spite of the official statistics that 98% of women are victims of sexual harassment, Al Garf denied to CNN that women in Egypt are subjected to harassment, and affirmed that such incidents, if occurred, are the fault of women for dressing indecently. Her enthusiasm to curb women’s rights only proves her loyalty to the rigid doctrine preached by the Brotherhood and not to her gender. Fortunately for the women of Egypt, the Islamic parliament was dissolved before any of their laws were drafted.

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Azza Al Garf

In 2005, years before the rise of MB to power, and amidst the struggles of women organizations to bring equality, rights, social and marital reforms to women, an anonymous Egyptian journalist Hayam Darbak launched “One woman is not enough,” a pro polygamy campaign.  Darbak called on women to allow their husbands to take another wife and accused those who denied their husbands this religious right of selfishness.  In an interview with Laha Magazine Online, on September 19, 2005, Darbak criticized women’s organizations fights over women’s rights since in her view women were already enjoying the rights granted to them by Islam.

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Hayam Darabok

“I’m calling for women’s rights: their right to get married even to a married man. Polygamy is a ‘license from God to stabilize society and solve its problems.’ Fighting the call for polygamy is a crime committed against women who missed their chance to marry. Polygamy is the answer to social injustice. It fights spinster-ship of other women.” She proceeded that God permitted men to remarry because He knows they needed more than one woman in their lives.

Darbak, an anonymous journalist, attracted wide attention to her name, by debating the issue on television. On the televised show she urged her husband to take another wife and claimed that she sought her son’s assistance to find a second wife for her husband who refused the idea entirely. She feared that with her busy schedule she was not properly attending to her husband’s needs.

Darbak claimed later that she was surprised that 95% of Egyptian women refused her initiative and labeled her as a house wrecker. But that didn’t deter her.  In fact, with the name recognition she gained, she wrote articles and appeared on various television shows to promote her notorious cause.

Appearing on television to gain publicity by promoting and defending polygamy was a crime that would not have been allowed in countries that respect women and their rights.  None-the-less, after gaining her moment of fame, the campaign died as suddenly as it started. Darbak vanished from sight to appear ten years later with another campaign to empower women and promote equality.

Many reasons drive women to practice misogyny against other women and unfortunately in societies where women are still struggling for their rights, this behavior further hinders their advancement.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A man in Egypt could be sent to three years in jail for slandering women

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Taymour El Sobki on a TV show

–By: Alexandra Kinias —

Slander, humiliation, and ridicule of women are the active ingredients for jokes and humor in Egypt, and the shortest way to fame and financial gains. In a society where misogynists thrive, the blend of these ingredients produced the notorious Facebook page “Diaries of a Suffering Man.” Founded and administrated by Taymour El Sobki, the page attracted more than one million followers. With no substantial material to offer, but jokes with sexual contents demeaning and ridiculing women, – the magic blend to attract followers in a conservative and male dominant society – Sobki’s fame surged. It brought him out of the virtual world to television screens and right into jail.

Ironic how television hosts, especially women, interested to attract laughs from viewers, don’t challenge or question his motives. The more controversy he creates, his fame escalates, producers enjoy their fat wallets, and for that, women’s honor and dignity may be sacrificed at the altar of the advertising companies.

He affirmed on a popular show that – according to statistics, that he failed to quote their source – 33% of women in the conservative south of Egypt are unfaithful, and 45% of women in Egypt expressed interest to cheat on their husbands, but waiting for encouragement. His controversial remarks generated uproar and subsequently he received multiple death threats from men offended by his remarks. The prosecutor general issued a warrant for his arrest after a number of accusations filed against him from citizens, from the South of Egypt, for publicly defaming their women. According to the Egyptian law, Sobky could be jailed for up to three years if convicted.

Sobki, a product of a society and culture that advocates misogyny, and like most men born and raised in such environment, he finds no offense in slandering women. He practiced the right granted to him by religious scholars who marginalized women’s role to breeding machines, disregarded their rights, labeled unveiled women promiscuous and blamed them for their own rape, and granted men the license to beat and humiliate them. Along with religious scholars, the media also plays a major role in promoting violence and abuse against women. For many decades, violence, slandering and marginalizing the role of women in society and the workforce, have been the common denominator in movies and television shows. And due to the changes in ideological and religious beliefs, misogyny that found the fertile soil to grow, had gained speedy momentum. Sobki chose the sugar coated misogyny that had mutated to variable forms wrapped in satirical cloaks, which women accept as part of the culture, often with a smile, unaware of the crime committed against her.

As his fame escalated, Sobky launched a pro-polygamy campaign in January 2015. Ignoring the uproar from women rights and feminists groups, he proceeded with his psychopathic idea and launched another page on FB, “Polygamy Campaign.”

He explained the objective of his campaign in an interview with the electronic publication “Algarida News”. With the monthly membership fees collected, the campaign that he hoped to eventually register as an NGO, would assist underprivileged married men to remarry a second wife. Should this campaign succeed in the future, he would form a political party with a representation in the parliament. He proceeded that once elected a parliament member, he would campaign to repeal the divorce law that grants women the right to divorce. He blamed the law for the escalating rates of divorce in Egypt and the social problems caused by it. For anyone who watched carefully the events as they unfolded in the last few years will notice the astounding similarity between his objective and that of the Muslim Brotherhood.

More than one hundred years after Qassim Amin launched his campaign to liberate women, improve their social status, abolish polygamy and grant them the right to divorce; El Sobki is shamefully campaigning to repeal some of the rights that women had fought for over a century to gain.

Basking in a misogynist society surrounded by rights and privileges, El Sobky’s arrest caught him by surprise. Whether his arrest was an isolated incident or  the first step for more to come, is early to predict. But whatever message was sent out, Sobki’s arrest was an eye opener for men that slandering women is a crime that the time has come to  pay for it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Women in Egypt, Women of Egypt, Women Rights in Egypt, Women's rights in Egypt

Polygamy: Infidelity with a License

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By: Alexandra Kinias —

Polygamy, a medieval practice, is still alive today in societies where sharia rules. And even in countries where the laws don’t permit it, the imams in the mosques perform polygamous religious matrimonial ceremonies. As the powers of the imams are stronger than secular laws, these religious marriages are valid without the need to register them with the authorities. So, an immigrant to a western society can have a registered wife in front of the law, and another one or two who are not. Even though polygamy is legalized in Islam, the most faithful women strongly stand against sharing their husbands with another woman. The fact that the law permits a husband to engage in a sexual relation with another woman, doesn’t stop the first wives from feeling betrayed and cheated,  by both the husbands and the state.

Islam permitted the second marriage under very strict conditions and terms. And against the beliefs of many, it was neither promoted nor encouraged. Justice between the wives is the foundation upon which polygamy was based. In the Quranic verse 4:3, Allah says, “….…if you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly with them, then [marry] only one….. That is the best way to avoid doing injustice.”

Islam permits a man to marry a second wife only if he is absolutely certain that he will treat his wives fairly, and that he would share everything equally between them. In other words, a man cannot favor one woman over the other, emotionally and financially, which in reality is impossible. Failing to do that precludes the validity that permits polygamy. Men’s rationalization of polygamy without following the clear guidelines that allowed it is a clear abuse to the rights granted to them.

Reasons why men marry a second wife?

With no consideration to the emotional, mental and psychological impact they inflict on their first wives and kids, men marry second wives simply because they can. With the premise that they have neither broken the law nor sinned, they practice their right to engage in sexual relations with multiple partners. This inherited medieval practice will not be obliterated in the near future. On the contrary, in societies where conservatism is on the rise and/or economy is declining, polygamy is gaining momentum.
In spite of the clear religious justifications that permitted polygamy, for most men it is just a fling. The ludicrous justification of their actions remains elusive; whether it is discontentment or boredom with their marriages, or a self-reward for life achievements. For some polygamy is a social status. With financial gains comes a new wife.

In crude terms, polygamy in reality is a license for infidelity. Polygamous conduct is propelled by men’s primal desire: sex, which is not only accepted by their peers, but is often defended too. Advocates of polygamy compare a man’s second marriage with extramarital affairs in western societies. Naturally, their ridiculous comparison favors and condones polygamy. They incriminate the western sinners who engage in extramarital affairs, while defending Muslim men for practicing a right granted to them by their faith. That’s an absurd and irrational argument, but expected from those who ignore the fact that extramarital affairs are neither accepted in western societies nor legalized by the law.

In Islam, the consent of the first wife is required for a husband to marry a second one. The first wife then has the choice to either stay married or get a divorce. And while a few men confront the first wife with their decision, the majority keeps the marriage secret in fear of confrontation that may lead to a divorce or social tarnishing, especially among family, friends or coworkers.

With the loose family laws in Egypt, men managed to keep their second marriages clandestine. But new laws were drafted to tighten the loopholes to ensure that wives are informed when their husbands register the second marriage. Inevitably, and in defiance to these laws, men either don’t register their second marriages – similar to what Muslims do in Western societies – or conclude an ‘Orfi’ marriage, which is a simple contract drafted between the bride and groom and signed by two male witnesses.

First wives vs. second wives

No doubt second marriages violate the trust between spouses, often lost forever in some cases. It is not just the jealousy from another woman that drives the first wives, but for most it is a manifestation of failure as a woman, a partner and a wife. Not to mention the tormenting emotional pain they endure. Sadly enough, and due to several factors, not all first wives choose to terminate this demeaning love triangle. Financially dependent women would resentfully stay in this hurtful relationship, accepting emotional crumbs from their husbands, with no one to thank but the lawmakers that drafted the laws that guaranteed women’s submissiveness. Had divorce laws granted women financial independence, not many would stay in a polygamous relationship.  The situation is even worse when kids are involved. Because of the loose child support laws in Egypt, many men abandon their financial obligations towards their kids, without fear of punishment. Some would do it out of negligence while others to pressure women to stay in a dysfunctional marriage against their will. Economically threatened women are compelled to accept the situation out of financial need.

Why women become a co-wife?

Women in Egypt are living under continuous societal pressure to get married, have kids and start a family. Some would marry incompatible partners simply to avoid staying single, even if it means that this marriage inevitably would end with a divorce. Divorced women are not in any better position than the single ones. They are also subjected to their share of societal pressure. How the society perceives and treats single and divorced women play a major role in spreading polygamy.

To be objective, and before throwing the blame on these women, it is important to consider thoroughly the reasons why they choose to accept a part time husband. Circumstances vary from one case to the other, and more important than denouncing these women, it is imperative to understand why they choose to become a co-wife, tolerating the social smear, labeled as home wreckers and husbands’ thieves.

There are multiple social factors that contribute to the existence and sustainability of this love triangle, on top of which is economical. Economic pressures compel young single women, divorcees and widows with kids, to accept becoming a second wife, in secret. For many, marriage becomes a necessity and becoming a co-wife and have emotional and financial stability is better than staying single. Having a man that would provide the emotional and financial stability to a widow and her kids is a dream come true to many. Also the societal pressures on single women, who passed their prime age, leave them with fewer choices of single men and more of married ones.

Conclusion:

While polygamy is no doubt an emotional crime committed against the marriage, it is more relevant not to blame the women who take part in it as much as blaming the laws that favor men. These laws force women into one form of submission or another. The sustainability of polygamy is an affirmation that society lacks empathy, fairness and understanding in treating its women. Eradicating polygamy will only materialize if collective efforts unite to combat the reasons that cause women to fall for such marriages in the first place.

However, it is unfair to assert that all second wives marry for financial reasons or societal pressure. In a society where out-of-marriage sex in still a taboo, marriage is the answer to both men and women who are seeking a good time, with no strings attached. Many of these marriages are short lived. When the sexual desire expires, so does the marriage. For some men with means, it becomes a way of life, always ready for a new adventure. And for a wide range of these men, such adventures take place with the knowledge of the first wives who would keep a blind eye, knowing that at the end the man always comes back to her nest.

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Filed under Polygamy in Egypt, Urfi Marriage, Women in Egypt, Women Rights in Egypt

Divorce in Egypt may actually be a healthy sign

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Photo copied from the Internet

— By: Alexandra Kinias — The concern by many over the soaring divorce rates between young couples in Egypt may be argued by others as a healthy phenomenon. Shocking as it sounds to some, but these rates suggest that young couples are rebelling against the obsolete rules and regulations that had once governed and shaped the fate of their parents and grandparents, and forced women to stay in dysfunctional marriages against their wishes. And with the increasing rate of divorce, marriage counselling, a novelty to the society, is thriving.  Marriage counseling is also a positive indication that marital problems that were once concealed and contained behind closed doors and endured in silence, mainly by women, are no longer accepted, nor viewed as shameful taboos, as once believed to be.

Seeking professional counseling as opposed to older family member’s intervention, to help young couples solve their problems, shows the rejection of these couples to the old rules, terms, conditions and band aid solutions.  Also marriage counselors act independently with no bias solutions that mostly put the blame, responsibility and the burden to salvage the marriage on the shoulders of women.

Many blame the young couples’ irresponsibility in dealing with life’s issues for the failure of  their marriages, quite an unfair accusation. Dysfunctional marriages existed since the beginning of times, but until recently women suffered in silence, unable to terminate their misery, and many still don’t for various reasons. Because of the belief that divorce may harm the kids, mothers choose to stay in abusive marriages, unaware of how the toxic atmosphere of an unhappy marriage negatively impacts their kids’ emotional balance.

Before the new divorce laws that granted women the right to divorce and keep the house, if the kids are underage, non working women with no source of income stayed married for financial reasons and in fear to end up homeless. And with the loose alimony and child support laws, not all families were ready for the extra expenses of a divorced daughter and grandkids. The irony, however, was that even women who could afford a divorce, still couldn’t get one. It was a right granted only to men.  And while some women couldn’t get a divorce, others divorced against their wishes.

Society stigmatized and alienated divorced women. Viewed by many as loose and unrespectable women, friends avoided them to protect their husbands and their own marriages. Parents restricted their freedoms to guard their tarnished reputation, in the eyes of the society.  The endless battles in courts over the alimonies, child support and custody dragged for years and costed fortunes. Divorced women were nothing but trouble, and families were happy to hand them over to another man to resume their responsibilities.

In today’s world, relations changed. Laws changed. Women work and are financially independent.  The reasons that their mothers and grandmothers stayed in dysfunctional marriages no longer apply to them. And with the social change, they can decide when to terminate a failed  marriage. And with no guilt or shame, they walk with their heads high, for they are setting new rules for how society perceives divorced women.

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Egyptian Women Fight for their Rights

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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, especially that blog started to discuss the serious issues that I addressed in my fiction novel “Black Tulips” which address the social hardships that Egyptian women encounter due to living in a male dominant society.

The Egyptian government statistics show that more than 50% of low class women are the sole breadwinners 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.

Over the past few decades,  women were brainwashed into believing that they have achieved all their rights, and stopped fighting for them, and as a result, their situation regressed greatly. But with the political changes over the last four years, women came to believe their importance as an active political partner and decision maker. They are waking up  to realize that their rights won’t simply drop on them from the sky, but that they have to fight hard for it to catch up with what they have missed. With this spark of hope, there’s a cautious sense of optimism that the future might be in fact changing to their favor.

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Who Will Throw the First Stone at Zeina?

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— By: Alexandra Kinias —

After two and a half years fighting in courts, Zeina vs Ahmed Ezz’s paternity saga finally ended with a victorious milestone for Egyptian women. The verdict would allow the actress to issue birth certificates for her twins in spite of actor Ahmed Ezz’s, the presumptive father, denial of his paternity. Furthermore, in an unprecedented ruling that would also benefit thousands of women who are fighting similar cases, the judge shifted the responsibility to the presumptive fathers to contest their paternity. So for Zeina’s case, and until proven otherwise by Ezz, the twins will carry his name. This verdict came as a slap in the face of the actor who wouldn’t comply with a previous court order to undergo a DNA test. Had he taken the test, this feud would have been concluded months earlier.

It is quite reprehensible how a father would refuse to issue a birth certificate for his offspring and vindictively fight against it, knowing fully of the consequences. A child without a birth certificate would not only be stigmatized for life as illegitimate, a shameful label in an unforgiving conservative society, but without it, this child can’t be enrolled in schools either.

To avoid social humiliation as her pregnancy advanced and Ezz was nowhere to be reached, Zeina fled to America to give birth to the twins. On their American birth certificates, Ezz was added as the father. The paternity battle started upon her return to Egypt. It is crucial to prove the status of the twins on Egyptian documents.

Zeina’s fame brought attention to her case and helped resolving it. But there are thousands of other underprivileged women who can’t afford hiring lawyers for such cases that can drag on for years in courts. Granting the mothers the right to issue birth certificates for their children, without consent of the presumptive fathers, was a huge victory for these women. Also the judge’s decision to shift the pressure of refuting the paternity to men was a smart move to bring closure to such cases.

Children born out of wedlock should not pay for the sins of their parents. Deprived from their identity, they will be forever haunted by the ghosts of their upbringing. The lucky ones are those whom their mothers terminated their lives before it had started, to save them the anguish and torment of abandonment in an orphanage or in the street. It is heart wrenching to read horrific stories of infants found in dumpsters stabbed to death or with their limbs eaten by stray animals. A high percentage of abandoned children become homeless. Left in the streets, it is tragic to see them competing with stray dogs and cats for scraps of food salvaged from the garbage, or for a spot to spend the night. You find them sleeping under parked cars, in construction sites or on a sidewalk with nothing to cover their frail bodies on cold nights but a piece of cardboard. They become invisible to the masses that carry on with their daily lives as if these helpless children are just stray animals they cross path with.

The shocking news of such discoveries briefly awakens the guilt feelings of people who would shift the blame entirely on the mothers, forgetting that they are also victims of an ultraconservative and heartless society. But other than condemning the mothers, not much action is taken to save these kids. As the hands are chained by the laws that govern and the minds are cluttered with cultural taboos, these helpless children will go on with their predestined lives that are doomed with shame and misery.

It is outrageous to discover that the voices of those who are fighting against the rights of these unfortunate children are coming from the comfort of expensive homes and mansions. Zeina was an unexpected surprise as she fought back relentlessly a battle that every mother with courage should fight. Ezz and his lawyers are appealing the court’s decision on the basis that no Orfi marriage contract is available, and thus slander the mother, discredit her claim and refute the paternity. The truth, however, will inevitably prevail. So why Ezz wouldn’t save us all the drama that he seems to play better in real life than in movies and take a DNA test? If he is confident of his stance, he would prove her wrong, close this chapter in his life and move on. If not, then he should stand up like a man and take responsibility for his action.

Women with courage and a cause are pivotal in changing outcomes, and Zeina proved to acquire both. Admire her courage and stance or despise her, her action will pave the road for more helpless women to follow her path. And those who are being critical of her, one can’t help but remind them that, “If any of you have never sinned, then go ahead and throw the first stone at her!”

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He killed his Wife for Being Pregnant with a Baby Girl, and the Birth of the Crown Price

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By: Alexandra Kinias

A Palestinian man in the West Bank was arrested on May 13, 2010 for killing his 27 years old pregnant wife. [1] He choked her to death. The wife’s crime was that her ultrasound’s results showed that she was pregnant with a baby girl. Even though the couple had already three boys and a girl, the husband, who evidently was ignorant that the man’s sperm decided the gender of the fetus, admitted that he was jealous of his brother who had nine sons.

“According to police, abrasions were found on the man’s body, indicating that the wife struggled as he was choking her to death.” [2]
As explained to the police, the husband committed this heinous crime to terminate his wife’s pregnancy because she didn’t comply with his demands, of giving birth to another son. It was as if she cooked hummus for him instead of shish kebabs.

This horrific news was another illustration of the cruel reality of how women are still viewed and treated in many parts of the world. In cultures where Stone Age mentalities dominate, females are believed to be inferior to males. It is believed that daughters bring shame to their families. Not to mention that they are viewed as financial burdens and that in the process of growing up, girls deplete their families’ resources that could be spent on rising up their male siblings. They are considered bad investments since they eventually leave the family when they get married and serve their grooms’ families. Girls in some of these cultures are as beneficial as their value when sold at a young age into marriages.

The first thing that came to mind when I read about the slain of this woman was her surviving children. How would the daughter who had witnessed the killing of her mother, for being pregnant with a baby girl, feel about her gender? What about the message that was given to the three boys?

The woman, according to news reports, had been previously attacked and abused by her husband. But growing up in a culture where violence against women is the norm and is encouraged by religious scholars, she accepted her fate and became submissive to her abuser. Even her family knew about it, but no one stood up in her defense. The social illnesses in such cultures are overwhelming that it becomes hard to point fingers at who is to blame. It shouldn’t be a surprise that the women in her family are as abused as she was, and most likely her male relatives behaved no different than her husband.

What is more horrific than the crimes committed against these women is how the law deals with such crimes. The authorities in these cultures, represented in law makers and police officers, view and accept the abusive behaviors against women as a family dispute that not only ddoesn’trequire their intervention, but that it may be misinterpreted by the society as a breach of the families’ private affairs.

And while this crime was committed in a land where the culture is stigmatized as misogynist, let us not forget that women in other cultures have suffered throughout history the consequences of their gender; and they still are. In China, female infanticide was a common practice in ancient times. It dates back to 2000 years ago. The early missionaries that arrived to China in the sixth centuries recorded that they had witnessed female infants dumped into the garbage and others thrown into the rivers and left to drown. [3] And until the 19th century this horrific crime was widely practiced in China. The two main reasons for that were poverty and the dowry system. Poor families either couldn’t afford the dowries or preferred not to lose the money to a stranger. [4] And the solution was to simply murder the female infant. The dowry system was also the reason that females’ infanticides were spread in India.

In the seventh century in pre-Islamic Arabia female infanticide was also widely practiced by the fathers who did not value their daughters as much as they valued their sons. In the years of famine, born girls were to be buried alive in fear of poverty. To poor families, girls were a burden and killing them was a way of survival. Young boys may have also been killed if there were no girls born to the family. Eventually the killing of daughters ceased once the fathers discovered that selling the daughter was more profitable than just burying her, and hence the marriage by purchasing the wives was introduced into these societies. After the rise of Islam, female infanticide was banned and hence it ceased, yet, in a culture that leans towards misogyny, females’ worth were and will always be negligible in comparison to males’.

In modern times, though, the preference of having a son over a daughter is incomprehensible. No other reason sounds plausible other than it demonstrates that the remnants of the medieval culture that has been embedded in the minds since it was practiced in ancient times are still alive. In cultures like India and China, the detection of the child’s gender before birth resulted in the soaring rate of abortion of female unborn children. And in China, where the one-child policy often collides with the traditional preference for a son in the family, the use of ultrasound to determine the gender of a fetus is banned, except for medical reasons. As a result, of course, underground illegal ultrasound services were created. [5] And when abortion fails, female babies are dumped at birth in orphanages where the lucky ones are given away for adoption. [6]

The Birth of the crown price

In Alexandria, Egypt, where I grew up, I knew of a family of nine girls and a boy. Of course the boy was the youngest of the herd. In their parental journey for having a son, two sets of twins were born. The family lived close to where I lived, but never once during the twenty years that I lived there had I ever saw the mother. With her hands full of ten children, she had no time to ever be spotted outside. At the time I was growing up, it was not uncommon that families would have a large number of kids, but this was the largest by far, especially to city dwellers. Also, most big families had an assortment of genders. With this particular family, it was obvious that they kept breeding to have a son.

And while the mother had no time for life, the nine girls were visible running errands for her. I remember the father vividly. We never exchanged words, but often greeted each other when we crossed path. He was a high school teacher who was always dressed in a brown suit and a tie. He was skinny, wore dark prescription glasses at all times and gave private lessons to supplement his income, and never gave up on having a son. In Egypt men conceal their misogynist mentalities with the rationalization that a son would carry the family name.

The journey traveled until the son was conceived and born was long and financially painful. But it wasn’t  just the financial dilemma that intrigued me, but the emotional one as well. The father was an educated man, yet his university degree was meaningless. It was baffling to see how the medieval culture was deeply engraved in the subconscious of an educated man and it left me wondering what others with less fortunate fates would do. Reading the news about the Palestinian husband who killed his wife was an eye opener to how some men dealt with the issue.

The teacher’s wife in Alexandria was nothing but a reproductive machine. As the house got crammed with girls, their share of care and food was obviously diminishing with every addition to the family. And eventually their existence was overshadowed by the birth of one son. The older siblings cared for the younger ones and they all cared for the crown prince.

The high school teacher might have been either reasonable enough to understand that it was not his wife’s fault to keep breeding girls or he had no means to marry another woman. With his meager resources, it didn’t matter to the father that the girls were deprived from basic needs. What mattered was that he felt accomplished after the birth of the son. Finally, and in spite of the high expense that was paid along the way, the proud father succeeded in keeping the family’s name alive.

In many similar cases, men would simply take another wife if the first wife failed to give birth to a son. It is quite disgraceful that a man’s accomplishment in life is measured by having a son to succeed him. And it doesn’t matter if the son turns out to be a spoiled loser, which exactly what happened to the teacher’s son, since the boy was treated like a crown prince. Just imagine ten women looking after one child.

Under that roof, the message that was engraved in the minds of these girls was that their worth value was negligible in comparison to the boy. And vice versa, the boy was fed from birth that he was the most important member of this household. And most likely, these beliefs will be passed over to their children.
Quite saddening that in this time and age a person’s worth is judged according to their gender…

References:
1- Suspicion: Palestinian killed wife because she was carrying girl, by: Ali Waked, Israel New, May 13, 2010, http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3889131,00.html
2- Killed for being pregnant with a baby girl, by: Phyllis Chesler, May 13, 2010, Fox News, http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2010/05/13/phyllis-chesler-palestinian-husband-wife-ultrasound-girl-honor-killing/
3- Mungello, D.E. (2008). Drowning Girls in China: Female Infanticide in China since 1650. Rowman & Littlefield.
4- Mungello, D.E. (2009). The Great Encounter of China and the West, 1500-1800 (3rd edition) Rowman & Littlefield.
5- Murky fetal clinics in illegal ultrasound service, Shanghai Daily, June 4, 2012, China.org.cn, http://www.china.org.cn/china/2012-06/04/content_25557578.htm
6- China’s Unwanted Babies Once Mostly Girls, Now Mostly Sick, Disabled, By Li Hui and Ben Blanchard, Reuters, Tianjin, China Sun Feb 2, 2014, http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/02/02/us-china-babies-idUSBREA110M120140202

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