— By: Alexandra Kinias —
Clerics with long bushy beards and fermented brains obsessed with female sexuality, I envision them gathering in dark caves in remote mountain terrains. From behind thick clouds of opium smoke, they fantasize over the memory of a woman’s scent that lingered in an empty elevator long after she had disembarked, or at a sight of toes in summer sandals seen from under a long kaftan. As they acknowledge the evilness of women’s sexuality, they draft fatwas to relegate them from the ranks of humans to a level above their domestic animals, to discipline and control them.
Beating women publicly first caught international attention after the rise of the Taliban to power in Afghanistan. They were caught on cameras whipping and beating women who walked in the streets unaccompanied by male guardians or not covered from head to toe in a burqa. Women with uncovered ankles were also beaten and so were those whose heels clicked the ground as they walked.
Women and human rights organizations attacked the Taliban’s atrocities committed against women, unaware of or choosing to ignore the fact that these laws were instituted in Afghanistan by Burhanuddin Rabbani’s Islamic government when it came to power in 1992, four years before the rise of the Taliban to power. But for political reasons atrocities committed against women then were not a subject of interest to anyone to discuss.
Rabbani’s government hadn’t invented these rules either. They were borrowed from the Saudi model of the Committee for the promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (CPCPV), which is commonly known as religious police. Formed in 1940 to enforce and ensure the implementation of the sharia law in the Saudi society. Members of the CPCPV known in Saudi as Mutawee, patrol the streets, to enforce the strict dress code on women and ensure gender segregation.
Until 2007, they were armed with wooden canes to beat the offenders, including foreigners working in Saudi Arabia who didn’t adhere to the laws of the land. They were also empowered to detain offenders. After multiple videos went viral on how they exploited their power, the Saudi council of ministers issued a regulation in 2016 that stripped them from it. They still roam the streets on the watch for women who are not covering their heads or mingling with non-relative men, but they have no power to arrest, only to report such incidents to the regular police for action.
In Pakistan, the leader of the Pakistani Council of Islamic Ideology (CII), Mohammed Khan Sheerani, condemned a women’s protection law passed by the Punjab government in March 2015 and declared it un-Islamic. The Women’s Protection Act was drafted to protect and defend victims of domestic violence, encourages them to report abuse, and assist them with legal protection from their perpetrators. Even though the act doesn’t criminalize domestic violence, yet it was attacked by all religious groups in Pakistan that requested the Punjab province to withdraw the law. And in return, the CII proposed a controversial bill that permits husbands to ‘lightly’ beat their wives with a small stick, to punish and discipline them if they disobey their husbands’ orders.
CII was formed in 1961 with a 20-member constitutional body that include at least two judges and members with a minimum of 15 years’ experience in Islamic research and teachings, to advise the government on religious aspects of the law and society – but its recommendations are not binding or legally enforced. While CII proposals are not taken seriously by leaders when they intervene with political and financial decisions, they influence the government’s decisions in matters concerning family and social issues. The ridiculous bill that encouraged violence against women was shunned by the media and women’s rights activists in Pakistan, yet its proposal was sufficient enough to squirt more venom against women into the minds of millions of the CII followers.
Sudan’s Public Order Police, notorious for its aggression and brutality was formed in 1993, after the rise of Omar Bashir’s Islamic government to power, to enforce the implementation of Sharia law. POP is empowered to arrest violators of the code of conduct, which includes women walking in public without head cover or wearing pants. Suspects are arrested and tried in special Public Order courts. According to the Sudanese constitution, suspects of such are punished by public floggings.
When violence against women is institutionalized by governments that govern according to the Sharia code of laws, how can we expect that men growing in these cultures to stop abusing women?