In Syria, women have been abducted by pro-regime forces, to spread fear in the population, and there is a mass of evidence involving rape, arbitrary detention, torture, “disappearances” and summary executions. In Libya, rape has been employed as a weapon of war, and the victims are stigmatized into silence. In Egypt, women demonstrators have been sexually assaulted by male protesters, and several women dissidents were detained by the army, and forced to undergo “virginity tests”.
Hanaa Edwar, head of the charity Al-Amal (“Hope” in Arabic) has said, “Iraqi women suffer marginalization and all kinds of violence, including forced marriages, divorces and harassment, as well as restrictions on their liberty, their education, their choice of clothing, and their social life.”
No commentary on human rights in the Arab world would be complete without mention of the outstanding example of denial of women’s rights: Saudi Arabia. The kingdom is so flagrant in its violations of women’s rights that one article cannot encompass all of them. A Saudi journalist, Dr. Khalid Al-Nowaiser, wrote on March 21, 2012, in Arab News, “Saudi women urgently need equal rights.” He added, “There are always men who want to control women’s rights in the name of religion or otherwise.”
Many Arab women want emotional and intellectual liberation, including free participation in public life. These are not new demands. The United Nations Development Programme’s 2007-08 survey of Middle Eastern women’s status revealed that the rate of education among Arab women is the lowest in the Muslim world – in societies where we believe that educating one woman is like educating the entire nation.
Resistance to the establishment of women’s rights may be blamed on self-appointed male caretakers of Muslim tradition, who feel threatened by the appearance of a significant number of women in a public space, considered reserved for men only, and who say they see emancipated Muslim women as negative exemplars of Westernization.
The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) has attacked other laws regulating personal status in Egypt. They accuse the National Commission for Women, established in 2000 and chaired by Mubarak’s wife, Suzanne Mubarak, of implementing Western strategies to undermine the family and social life in Egypt.
Women can bring about change – call it “The Silent Revolution.” Women in Morocco already helped bring about significant improvements in marriage, divorce, and other family law, and polygamy has nearly disappeared there. Many relevant voices have been heard in the past year. Speaking in Rabat, Morocco, in March 2012, Michele Bachelet, a former president of Chile and executive director of the new organization, the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, also known as UN Women, called for greater equality, especially in rural areas, where inequality between men and women is “most marked.” At the same time, in Tunis, several thousand women demonstrated outside parliament against any attempt by the new Islamist-dominated government to cut back their recognized rights.
In March 2012, in Saudi Arabia itself, female students at a branch of King Khalid University in Abha, in the country’s southwestern Asir region, joined in a major protest against trash piled up on the campus, abuses by administrators, and the corruption alleged against the university president, Abdullah Al-Rashid. The students were attacked by female security guards. When the demonstrations continued for a second day, state security agencies, including the so-called “morals patrols” or mutawiyin, often referred to as a “religious police,” gathered at the university in an attempt to suppress the demonstration. Saudi sources reported 53 students injured and hospitalized, and one dead of an epileptic seizure.
Even in the Saudi kingdom, protest and change initiated by women are inevitable. We need only the courage to recognize and support them.
Originally published by Gatestone Institute http://www.gatestoneinstitute.org