I have been reading about the Middle East quite a lot since a year now though I do not know what urges me to go into the depth and find out how it’s like to be a woman in the countries of the Middle East. My interest drove me to read books like ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ written by Khaleid Hosseini, portraying the life of a woman in Afghanistan(culturally a Middle East nation); and then I read – ‘Not Without My Daughter’, an American woman’s testimony to the way she was treated in Iran. Sometimes, when I read about the anguish and the suffering endured by these women, I get goose bumps. Sometimes, I feel like doing something, though I know I can’t bring about a change. At times, I imagine being one of them and the very thought freaks me out. Sometimes, like now, I go numb.
There is so much to talk about and share in regard with a woman’s struggle and survival in places where she has no dignity, no respect, no freedom and no happiness. I do not intend to irk the readers by speaking too much about how I have been feeling; I want to speak about them, their plight, their stories.
I cannot cover everything in one little article, so I will keep talking about these women from time to time, telling you incidents from their lives, showing you how life can get if you are a girl or a woman in these countries. These nations brag about their progress or their Global Domestic Products but here, gender inequality is still prevalent to a large unbearable extent in the name of religion.
Today I will throw light on some reports from Saudi Arabia. There has been too much on the news that might have caught your attention and I am going to willingly go over some of it because I know that at the moment many do not know the inside stories.
In Saudi Arabia, women are not allowed to drive or ride bikes and men are not allowed to drive women they are not closely related to. However, in 1990, dozens of women in Riyadh drove their cars in protest. They were imprisoned for one day, had their passports confiscated, and some of them lost their jobs. The kingdom is dealing with the dilemma of making arrangements for driving about 367,000 girls to school because if a bus driver is a man, he is not permitted to drive girls unrelated to him to school. Alternatively, the driver can also not be a woman because women are forbidden from driving.
If we talk about the recent times, Manal al-Sharif comes to my mind. Manal is a women’s rights activist from Saudi Arabia who assisted in starting a Women’s Right to Drive Campaign in 2011. A video of Manal driving a car was posted on Youtube and Facebook which led to her detention. The campaign that she was a part of was named: “Teach me how to drive so I can protect myself’’ or Women2Drive. Manal has been named as one of the ‘Most Influential Women of 2012’ by the Time Magazine and is being recognized for her efforts globally. However, this has not yet changed the mindset of the authorities and government of these countries.
Next, I will discuss about a tear-jerking episode which took place in the country in 2002. On March 11, a fire broke out in a girls’ school in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. The fire at Makkah International School started at about 8 am apparently caused by an unattended cigarette. The blaze resulted in a chaos as the girls started running out of the building. But their efforts were futile as the religious police of Saudi Arabia would not let them out; only because they were not properly covered. According to certain reports, members of the Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (CPVPV), also known as Mutaween, hit and beat the girls back into the flaming building because they were not fully covered with their scarves and abayas or robes. The rescue workers were also not allowed to get in the burning building and save the girls because the Mutaween did not want any physical contact between the men and the girls for the fear of sexual enticement. It led to the death of fifteen young women who could have been easily saved. Many others were injured.
Another small yet noteworthy incident took place very recently in May, 2012. A woman was confronted in a mall by the members of the Mutaween and was forced to leave the shopping center because she was wearing nail polish. She was accused of breaking strict modesty rules because of her freshly painted nails. The woman refused to bend to their demands and continued to shop telling them that her nails were none of their business. Also, she filmed the incident on her mobile phone and posted it on YouTube after which the row went viral. It initiated a debate in Saudi Arabia over the way the members of the Mutaween should treat people especially in public places.
Honestly, I can never end these discussions and these stories because they deal not with one or two women but with the entire female population of about 24 countries. I will keep striving to bring you closer to their lives and to find out what can be done on our part to change the state of affairs for their benefit.
Watch this section for more stories!
References: Wikipedia, Foreign Policy, Los Angeles Times, Daily Mail, ListVerse etc.