From the eyes of a Muslimah; what a real patriarchy looks like


(HH here: It seems that it is not the leers and stares of Western men that Muslim women are hiding from in their veils. It is from MUSLIM men that they hide. This is a very interesting look through the eyes of a Muslim woman at the inequities of her society. Take note how she holds the West up as the sin qua non of RESPECTFUL behaviour toward women.)

by Hamida Ghafour

Hey, woman, wash my clothes!”

“How much do you cost?”

When I heard men shout these insults on two separate occasions as I walked down the street in Kabul and Abu Dhabi, respectively, I was stung.

Being stared or yelled at is just part of the experience of working and living in this region. But I never get used to it. Indeed women all over Asia and the Middle East are harassed constantly.

” The Abu Dhabi beach was quickly divided into two sections last year after women expressed their discomfort at gangs of laborers roaming about and leering. “Western women are targets, but so are our Arab, Indian, Nepali, Bangladeshi and Pakistani sisters. We are stared at, called names and sometimes assaulted by men. Which is why part of me cheered when al-Bawadi Mall in al-Ain announced earlier this week that laborers had been banned on weekday evenings and weekends following a litany of complaints about harassment.

The Emirates is the most female-friendly country in the Middle East. The Government’s efforts to encourage women to use public spaces is admirable. The Abu Dhabi beach was quickly divided into two sections last year after women expressed their discomfort at gangs of laborers roaming about and leering. Emirati men are courteous. They never stare.
By contrast, sexual harassment levels in Egypt are endemic. In the Punjab and Karachi, images of women on billboards are defaced or just banned.

(HH here: remember, in Egypt something like 70% of all adult women have been “circumcised”.)

When I lived in Kabul, cars with men at the wheel occasionally raced in my direction and swerved out of the way just before hitting me. A British-Asian friend of mine was once pushed into a ditch of raw sewage on her way home from a press conference in the Afghan capital. The Taliban used to say a woman’s place was in the home or the graveyard.

Across the region this message is given in many variations, but the gist is aggressive and clear: respectable women do not belong in the public sphere. And those who venture outside the home are objects of scorn or fascination. There is certainly an element of racism and snobbery in al-Bawadi Mall’s decision. The laborers are poor South Asians and Arabs. Although it may be offensive to westerners, in some Asian cultures staring is normal behavior. It is a popular pastime in India and Pakistan, where people stare at others to see what they are buying or wearing.

Many of the laborers in the Emirates have also had little exposure to the outside world because they are from small towns. When they move here, it is often their first contact with the rich and developed world. They have a natural curiosity about the way westerners live because they have snatched glimpses of it in films. European and North American expatriates have a lifestyle laborers can never hope to attain, and wandering around a mall on a hot Friday afternoon is an opportunity to experience that which embodies all the wealth, glamour and power of the West: the mobile phones, the high-definition televisions, men in clean, pressed suits, women in skimpy clothes.

I can’t blame them for that

(HH here: It is interesting how Middle Easterners often fail to see that the point of the West is not skimpy clothing but being free to wear what we want, skimpy or conservative without the intervention of controlling neighbors or thought police.)

” Men who have no shame at leering at women make clear distinctions between those who deserve respect and those who do not. “But the way many of them look at women is not the glance stolen by the man sitting across from you on the train in London, New York or Rome. In the West a stony look is enough to put an end to that. Instead it is a penetrating gaze that goes right to your core, combining lecherousness, intense curiosity or just hatred. It is sometimes accompanied by clicking noises meant to get a woman’s attention. It is humiliating.

(HH again: Note that it is not the gaze of the lecherous kafir that hurts and offends. It is the intense, over the top Muslim man who causes his sister pain.)

The images of the riches of the developed world beamed from satellite TV also send a second message: western women are easy. This is the fault of Hollywood films featuring bimbos and the proliferation of pornography on the internet. Yet western women are also fascinating because they are considered a third gender. They look like females but have the independence of men. Men who have no shame at leering at women make clear distinctions between those who deserve respect and those who do not.

(HH: Men who leer at women in this way are adept at blaming the women for their lack of control and politeness.)

This view reveals itself in small ways. When I wear long, loose tunics and trousers it is much easier to flag a taxi in Abu Dhabi. Drivers will invariably stop for women in abayas or, even better, the niqab, because they are perceived as modest and good. But the drivers sometimes breeze past a woman in a dress with spaghetti straps because they assume she has no self-respect.

(HH: I feel sure that is what the taxi drivers SAY, but knowing men as well as I do I would say that it has more to do with “good” being equal to “submissive and easy to dominate” and “she has no self respect” translating as “she had the nerve to not allow me to take advantage of her or disrespect her. Plus she looked me right in the eye!!!”.)

I have two wardrobes: one I wear in places like Egypt, Afghanistan and India; the other I reserve for parts of Dubai and Europe.

Many women wear a hijab to prevent unwanted attention but it doesn’t always work. In Egypt, harassment is part of daily life. In 2006, women in Cairo organized a demonstration with the slogan “the street is ours” to protest about the groping and taunting. In the 1990s, Moroccan women went on strike for the same reason.

Afghan women wear a burqa for safety: it is a barrier between them and the abuse. (HH: this means that unless a woman is in a burkha she is harassed and taunted and even offered violence until she “Chooses” to “embrace the freedom” of the mobile tent.) I sometimes wished I had one to slip over my head.
The concept of respect and the presence of a woman in public are linked. In most parts of South and West Asia and the Middle East, there are few opportunities for women to work outside the home, and education is partly to blame.

In Afghanistan, when I stopped at villages to talk to people, word would get out that a single woman was on the street and I soon found myself being followed by dozens of men pointing and whispering. They would often point at my pen: the image of a lone woman writing in an illiterate society was alluring.

If they are allowed an education, in many Muslim societies children are segregated from an early age. Girls are covered from head to toe and they are taught that any interaction between the sexes before marriage is forbidden. Marriages are arranged in their late teens and there are no opportunities for the sexes to mix.

As they grow older, boys fetishise the female body so even a glimpse of an ankle or a wrist is tantalizing. As adults, living in labor camps in the Emirates, they have no contact with wives back home, but there are plenty of Bollywood films for distraction with scenes of pouting girls in clinging wet saris dancing in the rain to heighten the excitement. By the time they encounter a blonde woman in jeans buying chicken at Carrefour … well, it all becomes too much.

In Kuwait, women have been trying to resist efforts at segregating men and women in schools to prevent this fetishisation. It would be easy to blame the lechery on the rise of political Islam, which emphasizes a traditional role for women and the need to protect women’s honor by limiting their mobility and access to the public sphere. But a colleague in Cairo once told me that she enjoyed going to Muslim Brotherhood demonstrations because the crowds of men always respectfully parted to allow her through. (HH: here we have the obligatory white wash of any responsibility belonging to Islam. I notice though that the author does not say how her friend dresses at these meetings. Can she walk through in jeans and a blouse? Or only in hajib or niqab?)

Most of the men here who leer at women know it is wrong. They are from cultures where they are taught to avert their eyes when they see a girl, out of respect for her father and brothers.

I recently moved house and hired a moving company, staffed by Indian and Bangladeshi workers. The foreman in charge was more interested in watching my movements than doing his own job. I finally snapped.

“Why don’t you get on with your work? What if someone stared at your sister like that?”

When it becomes too much I create a mental buffer zone to tune out the calls and stares. If that doesn’t work I try the shoe trick. When the offender shouts an insult, I stop, point at his shoes and laugh.

It subtly shifts the balance of power. And I won’t get arrested.

(HH: This woman has a game attitude but ultimately it is the attitude of a slave or prisoner. All the power is in hands other than hers and subtle ridicule is her only weapon.)

*Published by the UAE-based the NATIONAL on July 11.

Outspoken Pakistani rape victim marries


(HH here: I am not sure what to make of this. On the one hand it is a great thing that this woman is so strong and is actually being admired in her country for her stand. On the other hand her casual acceptance of the evils of the “ownership” of wives is rather disturbing. There was no mention of how he treats her. Only her concern that the first wife will be pushed aside by him over her. How many types of unfair pressure did the man and family exert that were NOT mentioned? This man, a police officer, takes sleeping pills in a fit of depression because she will not marry him? Well, I am glad she has overcome the “dishonor” of being raped that her society holds. But I can’t happy for how she was persuaded to be married.)

By Salman Masood Published: March 18, 2009
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan: Mukhtar Mai, the resilient Pakistani who was gang-raped in 2002 on the orders of a village council but became a symbol of hope for voiceless and oppressed women, has married.

In a telephone interview on Tuesday, Miss Mukhtar, 37, said her new husband was a police constable who was assigned to guard her following the attack and who had been asking for her hand for several years. She is his second wife.

She said the constable, Nasir Abbas Gabol, 30, and she married Sunday in a simple ceremony in her farming village, Meerwala, in Punjab Province.

“He says he madly fell in love with me,” Miss Mukhtar said with a big laugh when asked what finally persuaded her to say yes.

Pakistani rape victims often commit suicide, but Miss Mukhtar, who is also know as Mukhtaran Bibi, instead successfully challenged her attackers in court, winning international renown for her bravery. She runs several schools, an ambulance service and a women’s aid group in her village and has written an autobiography. By marrying, she has defeated another stigma against rape victims in conservative Pakistani society.

(HH: I think this might be the saddest part of this situation: the idea that to her and her society this is a progressive and reforming evolution! That she was manipulated into marrying instead of being killed or encouraged to commit suicide may be good to them but try selling that to an American woman who thinks non-equal pay is an evil.)

The village council ordered her rape as a punishment for actions attributed to her younger brother. He was accused of having illicit relations with a woman from a rival clan, but investigations showed that the boy had been molested by three of those clan’s tribesmen, and the accusation against him had been a cover-up.

(HH It IS truly amazing that she was able to fight and win. I can see why the author wanted to bring this amazing woman to light again. Even though there is tragedy in this “triumph” she must be allowed her due. In her society she IS a winner. So far. IF this guy gets violent with her I hope she cuts his …. off.)

Mr. Gabol was one of a group of police officers deployed to protect her after she was threatened by the rapists’ relatives to try to stop her from pressing charges.

Mr. Gabol had a hard time persuading Miss Mukhtar to marry. He had been calling her off and on since 2003 but formally proposed a year and a half ago, she said.

“But I told my parents I don’t want to get married,” she said.

Finally, four months ago, he tried to kill himself by taking sleeping pills.

The morning after he attempted suicide, his wife and parents met my parents, but I still refused,” Miss Mukhtar said.

Mr. Gabol then threatened to divorce his first wife, Shumaila.

Shumaila, along with Mr. Gabol’s parents and sisters, tried to talk Miss Mukhtar into marrying him, taking on the status of second wife. In Pakistan, a man can legally have up to four wives.

It was her concern about Shumaila, Miss Mukhtar said, that moved her to relent.
“I am a woman and can understand the pain and difficulties faced by another woman,” Miss Mukhtar said. “She is a good woman.”

(HH: So she is a slave who has a human heart and can be manipulated thereby out of concern of another slave’s fate. This story hold her up to honor but puts her family and husband and society in a gloom of pure evil. I feel sorry for the writer of the article. Having to somehow spin this so a Western audience sees that to HER this is something of a victory must be very hard. We need to encourage evolution in totalitarian societies. But some are so backward that even a good thing looks horrific to Western eyes.)

In the end, Miss Mukhtar put a few conditions on Mr. Gabol. He had to transfer the ownership of his ancestral house to his first wife, agree to give her a plot of land and a monthly stipend of roughly $125.

(HH: She is not dumb! She knows that once she is married to him he owns her and might change his mind and divorce the first wife. She held him up until he basically guaranteed that no matter her marriage status the first wife will be taken care of and have a place to live. IN other words the new wife has forced him to guarantee the he will fulfill his own duties as a husband!! This lady certainly has will AND a conscience!)

Asked if she had plans to leave her village to live with her husband in his village, Miss Mukhtar said no.