Forward-thinking on feminism discourse: Middle Eastern Narrative: Our story

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Among the common stereotypes about Middle Eastern countries are the labels about women; being perceived as oppressed, veiled, passive, close- minded, followers to men’s orders. No wonder I‘ve been asked many times while living and traveling to the west about the harrying life that women face in Middle East (as well in North Africa), for some of them it is surprising that a female from the region could travel, work and participate in all life spheres.

The question is where are all Middle Eastern women who fought for new changes in their countries; and who led social movements challenging their governments for concrete political, economic and social changes?

We often dismiss the reality by looking at foreign narratives to what is like to be a woman in the Middle East. Why?

The historical waves of feminism:

When it comes to women’s studies, the focal point is articulated on western ideologies and approaches, and since 1970 “Women in Middle East” trend has been studied as a second separated chapter; and particular focus is given to “Islam and women” that highlights the work and studies of many anthologists, mainly underlining the oppressing life of women in the region.

19th and 20th century marked the first feminism movements in Europe and USA, in 1903 the first foundation of women has been created  “The Women’s Social and Political Union” led by Emelyn Pankhurst, women marched down the streets of London, the group organized social protests asking for political, economic and social equality between the two sexes, which resulted on the universal suffrage for both women and men for the first time in the UK.

In the sixties, the feminist movements began to influence academia level, and 1975 marked the achieving of the UN Year of Woman. While these events occurred in the West, many establishments on women have been established in the MENA region including: research centers and institutes in Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia and other countries… In Egypt that has a long history of debating gender issues in the public sphere; the fight for women’s rights began long time ago before the first feminism movements in the West.

Soon the western literature on women in Islam and Middle East received a wage of criticism that underlined the neglect, lack of justification, stereotypic analysis and overall generalization of the reality in Middle East; one element is the controversy of western analysis on sexual matters; as sex was never a taboo subject in the Islamic Middle East, but this subject is already discussed in Quran as well through the work of many authors from the region like: Fatima Mernissi who wrote about the virginity operations that women endure before getting married and the negative effects of it on both men and women , and Nawal el Saadawi; her book on Women and Sex; which deals with sexuality in the Middle East, In 1992, Shahla Sherkat, an Iranian feminist activist and writer, who was part of revolution (1979) in Iran, published the first issue of a feminist magazine, “Zanan” which means “Woman”, the Magazine deals with different aspects related to women’s right in Iran, The magazine was banned by the end. In 1996, Mai Yamani Saudi author wrote a book on “Feminism and Islam. These authors, activists and other thinkers represent themselves as feminists who chose to embrace their culture, traditions and beliefs while advocating for new restructurings, reforms and interpretations that represent their stories and voices.

Basically the Arab literature has highlighted studies on sexuality in the Middle East and particularly on Islam, so excluding it from the western ideology leads to subjective analysis.

Another critical aspect is the subject of women and development, until the late 1960s, the West approached that development and modernization of the Middle East would resolve many problems in the region and mainly would liberate women from the conservative environments. But the modernization approach has only deteriorated the situation of women, because of unequal access of women to different fields like technology, industrialization, medicine…

In the early centuries of Islam, women played an important role in various areas: culture, politics, commerce, religion… One great example is ‘Hind bint Attabeh’ who fought at the battle of Yarmuk[i] and “Khadidja bint Khuwaylid” (the wife of the prophet Muhammed) who was a business woman by that time, who is considered as an inspiration model for all Muslim women.

During the social movements (what is called “Arab Spring”), in countries like Egypt and Tunisia, women protesters were in the front line of the movements, their participation was demographically inclusive, they led off and online mobilizations. In Tahrir Square (Egypt), women of different ages, some of them were accompanied by their children, worked steadily to support the protests: they planned, organized and reported daily the movement. This put aside the passiveness that some western approaches underline, but unfortunately the role of women in the Middle East has been under-analyzed, these women didn’t only join the protests, but led it. And, because feminism approach is a reasonable extension of democracy, it is impossible to stop these women from fighting for their freedom and rights.

Subsequently, women in the region are not totally passive, submissive, neither exotically silent, through the history they played an important role in politics, social and economic life. As results, this first chapter shows that the descriptive scopes of western feminism are lacking deep analysis when applied to non-western cultures. This could be explained when seeking universal rationality of their principles and models by normalizing other social realities to fit their agendas, which leads to exclusion theory.

Colonial feminism:

The colonization in the Middle East had emphasized many models in order to achieve the phase of modernization (according to the west), colonial feminism is one of these models that became the dominant formula of feminism to follow; but it has always been viewed as non-representative form, especially with the decolonization times, as many saw it as foreign from their realities.

Many west authors continue describing the oppressing situations of women in the Middle East, blaming the Middle Eastern societies and culture for the miserable conditions women live in the region. Digging deep, the Middle East is still witnessing continuous Western imperialism across different countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, and Syria… The post-imperialism occupation has diluted the political and economic stability, which directly influenced the cultural and social cohesion, where are women in all this?

It is not possible to speak women’s rights in the Middle East by only looking at gender, neither by blaming only one side of the story. Imperialism, race, religion, culture, and social class all interconnect with gender to represent realities of women in the region. Interconnecting all these elements helps to avoid the mis-representation of women’s issues and boost forming coalitions and alliances that reclaim rights for all women.

Inclusion and intersecting theories:

Feminism is about various social and cultural elements such as gender, race, class, sexual orientation, religion, age… In order to study how systemic injustice and social inequality occur on different social realities basis, it is essential to intersect all these elements above, feminism cannot be only about patriarchy when it comes to specific societies, because that leads to exclusive analysis.

The exclusiveness of western theories soon led to critics that began to arise from women who felt that their experiences have been excluded by the narratives of the western feminists. Taking the example of the African American feminists who were the first to explained that mainstream feminism did not include their experiences, because their realities were different from the ones of white middle class women. For the African American feminists they had other issues related to race, education, economic opportunities, social inequality…, emphasizing one reality on whole feminist community and claiming universal feminism definitely lead to failure, because if it doesn’t represent, you cannot universalize it.

Soon Marxist, lesbian and post-colonial feminists groups joined the African American feminists in claiming more inclusive models that represent their realities, voices and challenges. This led to the theory of inclusiveness by taking into consideration at different layers of identities and realities that are usually relegated, and today the feminists in the Middle East have to ask for an inclusiveness representation.

In order to understand “feminism cause” it is necessary to establish profound historical and cultural review of aspects and realities of all women, grounding on tools that go with the features of different societies instead of relying on analytical methods of western feminism. Then we can talk less about the “Middle Eastern” oppression of women, and think about the universal oppression of women and how it reveals differently from place to place. Only then we can speak about “universal feminism project”.

[i] The Battle of Yarmouk is regarded as one of the most decisive battles in military history, where the Muslims were hugely outnumbered by the Romans, but with the help of the women and boys amongst them, defeated the Eastern Roman Empire. Source: Wikipedia

Sana Afouaiz

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Call for Justice: 9 years old girl been beheaded

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My name is Shukria

A week of tragedies over the world, many terrorist attacks took place in Baghdad, Beirut, Paris … When Will the world know peace? Till when innocent people will be killed in the name of individual interests? Till when hate and violence will describe our world?

This week in Afghanistan, Shukria, a 9-year-old girl was among seven people brutally beheaded by militants accused to be linked to ISIS. Afghanistan citizens carried Shukria’s coffin for hours through the streets of Kabul on Wednesday, civilians were demonstrating and calling for justice in several cities around the country in the wake of the massacre of seven people from the Hazara ethnic minority. The beheaded bodies of four men, two women and a child (Shukria) were found Saturday in a rural town in the southern province of Zabul.

Solidarity protesters have uttered frustration at the government’s apparent inability to control the attacks against the innocent civilians. Afghanistan civilians sang slogans against the government, the Taliban and the terrorist groups, and some protesters endeavored to storm the presidential regime.

Till now, no group has been called responsible for the killings of these innocent people, and the officials have not yet identified who they suspect is the responsible.

In wealthy countries, death cases like these are rare to happen and when it does, it makes headlines. This is simply one of many episodes where innocent women and children and civilians pay the heavy price of political, religious or individual ideoligies.

It is somehow hard to see what the future of our generation will look like, and what women’s place will be in it, terrorism has devastated impact on women’s rights, putting millions of women and girls at risk of killing.

I pray for the innocent souls, I pray for Shukria who left this world with a mark of social injustice that despite the lack of media coverage, she has inspired us not only as women but as humans to call for justice, peace and love.

Humanity has failed us thousand times, but Shukria’s death marked us all.

Rest in Peace beautiful soul.

We will all remember Shukria

I am Shukria

Sana AFOUAIZ

 

From the Rape Capital of the World: Stories of Survival

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Violence against women takes different forms: physical, sexual, emotional and economic. These forms of violence are consistent and distress women’s life. Yearly, millions of women and little girls worldwide suffer domestic violence, rape, female genital mutilation, killing, trafficking, sexual violence in conflict zones, and abuse.

Women and little girls who are subjected to violence suffer a severe range of health and psychological problems which diminish their civic engagement in their communities. These different types of violence against women harm families; generations and nations, in additions strengthen other forms of violence to occur in the society.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo, in particular the east of the country, has a long history of rape and violence, it was named the “Rape Capital of the World”. Although sexual violence has always occurred in the country, but the region has faced increased rates of sexual violence at the time of the armed conflicts.

This report has lifted the lid on the sexual exploitation of little girls aged between 6 months to 12 years old, along with government failures to deal with the issue.

The Club des défenseurs des droits de la fille/HPT visited the victims on the 17th of this month in Kavumu, SOUTH KIVU, DR CONGO; the families of the victims shared with us their harrowing feelings.
The daily stories of Kavumu, group of men come every night, break into the houses kidnap and rape little girls. Then in the morning they bring them back to their beds or leave them at the door house. If the girls are lucky enough to survive, they are taken to the Kavumu health center. We have covered 42 severe rape cases of young girls and one of them did not survive, sometimes the little girls get pregnant. Several survivors received the first care in local clinics then were sent to Panzi hospital, the victims are aged between 6 months to 12 years. Relatives of the victims cannot sleep because of the criminals, as they don’t know when they are back again. The poor construction of the homes in this neighborhood, -that are often built of mud- due to lack of financials resources of the families; makes it an easy target for the criminals to break in and rape the little girls.

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A mother testified that neither she nor her husband had heard when their daughter (Elysée) was abducted at their side. The following morning, while bathing her daughter, she realized that she was raped and then took her to the hospital.

Elysée is a 3 year old from Bushumba who was raped at the age of 2 years, she said she saw a civilian and a soldier “I thought it was our landlord”, they injected a syringe in her body and then rapped her. She only felt the pain when her mother took her to the hospital.

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Bénite, 12 years old, was raped at the age of 9 years. She loves her grandmother and lived with her for a while, one night her life changed completely, when she heard someone broke into the house, he prevented her from screaming. He was a man whom she knows very well, he took her by force to his place and raped her and then brought her back in the morning to her grandmother’s house. Her mother realized that something happened to her daughter as she was crying for no reason, then she took her to the hospital when she found out who rapped her little daughter, she prosecuted the rapist, who unfortunately was released the same day because of his financial power. Whenever Bénite sees this man, she starts crying, stop eating, and then remain silent, she told her mother she wants to leave Kavumu.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, four women are raped every five minutes. Impunity sways within the country, and despite that government’s acknowledges that its own security forces constitute one of the main groups of criminals, effective restructurings to the security sector have not been endorsed. The country faces a mass of human rights violations which remain dangerous for women and little girls, whom are subjected to all kind of violence every day.

Nowhere is more dangerous for women than the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where women and girls suffer excessively from high rates of violence and extreme poverty during times of conflict since 1996. Even though peace has been established in most regions of the country, but the eastern provinces, still suffer from gender-based violence.

The use of rape and sexual assault to terrify -women and little girls, their families, and their communities- continues until actions are taken to save their innocent lives.
Special thanks go to:

  • To the parents of the victims for their cooperation with us, and for sharing their stories with us.
  • To the Kavumu hospital nursing center for the care provided to the victims
  • To the “Club des défenseurs des droits de la fille”, for their support in the fight against sexual violence and for their continuous promotion for women’s rights.

This report was written in collaboration with Jocelyne SACERDOCE and “Club des Défenseurs des Droits de la Fille/ HPT”

The Forgotten Frontline: Women at War Zone: Nigeria’s case

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Soon after taking control of some Nigerian towns, Boko Haram would assemble the population and declare new rules with restrictions and limits to follow, particularly on women. Suffering, rape, forced marriage continuous stories of women tortured by this terrorist group.

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The 276 schoolgirls kidnapped from Chibok captured widespread global attention with the #BringBackOurGirls campaign. Though the missing school girls tell just a small part of the women and young girls torture by Boko Haram.

Following the shocking event of the missing girls, Amnesty International has elevated concerns on the countless number of cases when Nigerian security forces are not doing enough to defend civilians from human rights misuses and abuses committed by Boko Haram.

Girls and women abducted by the Nigerian extremist group Boko Haram were forced to unwanted marriage and obligatory labor, rape, torture, psychological abuse and pressured religious conversion.

According to Amnesty International report, more than 2000 women and girls have been abducted and seized and held in militant camps of Boko Haram since 2014, some of them have been targeted because they are Christians and others because they didn’t follow the extremists religious rules, these women were victims of sexual slavery and were trained to kill.

Human Rights Watch collected testimony of the women who escaped Boko Haram’s camps, whom told about the extreme violence terror happening there. Many of the victims expressed that they were subjected to physical and psychological abuse; forced labor; forced participation in military actions, enforced marriage to the abductors; and sexual abuse and rape.

Most of abductions cases by Boko Haram were against Christian women and girls, and many of them have been threatened with death if they refused to convert to Islam.

More than 300 Nigerian women rescued by the Nigerian soldiers from Sambisa forest, where they were forced to witness the public execution of their husbands before whipping into the forest, where they were fed with dry ground corn once a day.

They were also raped, forced into unlawful marriages and stoned to death, some of them were killed unintentionally by the military during the rescue operations, and the soldiers did not recognize that those women were not the enemies but the victims.

Boko Haram forced its laws with harsh punishments on those not following the rules; women who failed to attend daily prayers were punished by public flogging.

The situation over Nigeria calls on the Nigerian government to adopt stronger strategies and measures to protect women and girls, provide help for the victims. The government must provide security forces to prevent abductions and respond more quickly when they happened. The Nigerian authorities have to investigate and prosecute those who commit these inhuman crimes, they need to protect schools and the right to education, and ensure access to medical and mental health services for victims of the abductions.

Sana AFOUAIZ

The Forgotten Frontline: Women at War Zone: Syria’s case

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The civil war has destroyed Syria and dominated the news; there is a noteworthy aspect of the conflict that endures to go mostly unreported: the dilemma of women and girls who take the flak of the war.

They are bearing the greatest burden, yet their voices and stories are often left unheard.

Syria is undergoing the biggest humanitarian crisis in the world of today. Since the beginning of the Syrian crisis in March 2011, the human rights activists and organizations claimed that the situation has persistently worsened. The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria and the UN Human Rights Council have been reverberating the warnings of the grave violations committed by Syrian government and other parties of the conflict.

Violent and aggressive fighting have increased between Bashar al-Assad’s followers and armed rebellious groups; in July 2012, the fighting was qualified as internal armed conflict caused humanitarian damages on civilian citizens; including random arrests and detention, extra-judicial executions, rape, different forms of sexual violence, kidnapping, enforced disappearances and torture by Syrian authorities and pro-governmental militias called “shabbihas”.

As of June 2015, more than half of all Syrians have been enforced to leave their homes; 7.6 million people were exiled within Syria and 3.9 million people displaced as refugees in neighboring countries: Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, according to UN refugee agency.

Women and girls are among the most vulnerable, about half million Syrian women, those in refugees and those who still in Syria, are sexually injured, pregnant and need maternal care services.

Countless UN bodies and representatives, international and national NGOs and journalists, have documented the crimes attacks and the sexual violence cases committed during the Syrian crisis. Still, it remains tremendously difficult to measure the extent of crimes of sexual violence and to draw conclusions on patterns; however, there have been several reports of crimes of sexual violence committed by anti-government armed groups. The Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Hawa Bangura, stated that “Civilians already caught in a vicious cycle of violence are also the target of sexual violence by all parties to the conflict”.

Most accusations of rape and the other forms of sexual violence reported were said to have been executed by government forces and shabbiha during house searches, at checkpoints and in imprisonment.

In some cases, women were assaulted and beaten in public in front of family members.

We caught up with Karam Yahya “Syrian Refugee in Germany and human right activist” who told us :“Women suffer differently according to the region they live in, suffering in Damascus is not the same in north of Syria, every region is controlled by regime and group, which makes women subjective to different suffering experiences”. He added: “There is a social disorder in all these regions, women struggle to feed their families as their husbands go to fight, and outside Syria the suffering is even enormous, the case of Zaatari Camp in Jordan where I worked, there is violence, discrimination, and the cultural conservative traditions enforce women to stay home”

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Thousands of Syrian women are objects of sexual violence, but their conservative cultural and religious environments, especially in rural and southern areas of Syria, prohibit women and girls from talking freely about their suffering from sexual violence and other forms of violence.

This is the reason that makes it very difficult to find rape cases because of the dominant culture and the refusal to talk publicly about these subjects.

Furthermore it is hardly anyone makes complaints about such crimes because nobody will marry a woman who has been raped. The social stigma and family pressure influence the psychology situation of these women, which in some cases can lead to suicide.

In other cases, families forcibly marry raped women, including to relatives and foreign, for the “sake of the honor”, which makes it hard to help these women who are in critical situations, as their parents block any assistance that could be provided to them.

Bashar al-Assad forces are not the only enemy to Syrian women, ISIS (criminal group) is disrobing them of their human rights, as well. “Marry me or be my slave”; this is how ISIS group threats innocent women; whether they accept or refuse they are subjected to various forms of deprivation, threats, solitary imprisonment, as well several forms of torture, rape and sexual harassment. Other women were forced to divorce their husbands and enforced to practice “jihad sex” with different rebels of ISIS.

The media has widespread the case of the young mothers who have been savagely maimed by ISIS for breastfeeding in public. The Members of ISIS’s enforce strict barbaric sharia laws concerning on how women should dress and act, breastfeeding in public is not accepted act according to their rules.

Distressingly, they use a spiked, metal device known as “The Biter” to wreak harsh punishments on women deemed to have shown too much skin and those who breastfeed in public. They take the “Biter”, which is a shrill object that has a lot of teeth, they hold the women, and place it on their chest and pressing it strongly, this could damage and destroy the femininity of these women. Thousands of Syrian women are slaughtered silently.

In other cases women are being stripped naked and forced to take “virginity tests,”  then they are taken to slave markets where the attractive virgins are sold off to the highest buyers, those who refuse to perform an extreme sex act are burned alive.

Outside Syria women face further challenges and depressed situations; some parents force to marry off their daughters as child brides and push them to work as prostitutes in the camps. Several reports stated that men from Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries take the advantage of families’ desperation to seek young brides.

While many countries have strictly constrained border crossings and closed their borders completely in response to the fear that terrorists could enter to their lands.

According to Thomson Reuters Foundation poll on women’s rights; Syria is ranked 19th out of 22 Arab states to some extent better than Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Egypt, where women face gender violence, degrade reproductive rights, economic exclusion, lack of necessary health services, depraved treatment of women within the family and the society, in addition to elimination attitudes towards women in politics and society.

Five years into Syria’s civil war and with no end in eyesight, it is somehow hard to see what the future of Syria will look like, and what women’s place will be in it, the war has devastating impact on women’s rights, putting millions of women and girls at risk of trafficking, forced and child marriage and sexual violence.

 Sana AFOUAIZ

 

The green Voice of Women

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This article was published on “The Voice of Women Initiative”, check from here: http://vowinitiative.org/2014/02/19/the-green-voice-of-women/

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I believe that the promotion of women’s leadership on climate change is necessary since they represent an important percentage of the population and their green voices need to be heard by the decision makers. Actually we need more women representatives in the climate cause; women who will ensure to bring out the green voices of many women in the world. This is could happen through powerful personal narratives, establishing the conversation on gender equality, environmental justice, public health, food security and  the eradication of extreme poverty. Women for climate justice should equally integrate gender justice in climate change policy at local, national and international levels, and I believe this will be done through:

  •  Raising awareness and building capacity relating to gender and climate issues among decision-makers so that to ensure equal and improved policies.
  • Increasing the global knowledge on gender and climate issues through research, action learning, campaigns and social media.
  •  Increasing the participation of women in the formal policy making process.
  •  Raising awareness and capacity building on gender and climate change issues among youth and children.

Decision makers need to facilitate more gender responsive action on the ground, take into consideration that women have their green voice, they lead their communities and countries, no decision should be made without taking into account women, because they are also affected by the change in climate.

My message:

It is our the mission not only as women but as human beings to care for, reserve and promote the resources of environment, we have to be aware of the environmental issues impacting the world today and we must do something before our resources are gone. It’s our duty to show respect for the environment and other living things. Everyone is affected and it is every one’s responsibility. It is a matter that cannot go unnoticed and action must be taken to preserve something as exceptional to humankind as the environment.

There is no refuting that global climate change problems are going to persist if nothing is done to resolve them. Concerns like these will produce disastrous consequences on the economic, political, and social heights in the 21st century if the global climate change situation continues to decline. Solving these is crucial to human survival.

As woman leader, I’m looking to confront the climate crisis and to reach the social justice, this is why I’m interested in climate change issues and I believe in the leadership abilities that women all over the world have leading them to build a better world with a clean climate.

Women! Go green! Because we can do it!

Sana AFOUAIZ