Sustainable revolutions in the Middle East, and especially in the Arab World, begin with a revolution of mentalities, and the latter is based on many pillars, including the re-appropriation of the Female body. A body being in most cases oppressed, utilized, objectified, mutilated, excessively covered or uncovered… both for individual gratification and political/economical ends. Such violence is rampant in all corners of the Middle East and manifests itself in a number of ways, including:
- When a woman turns down a suitor or does not get along with her in-laws becomes a victim of a violent form of revenge: acid is thrown in her face or on her body.
- When a woman is suspected of extra-marital sexual relations, even if in the case of rape, is subjected to death (called ‘honor crime’ – the woman is seen here as carrying the honor of the family through her body).
- When a woman endures domestic violence, which is a violation of her right to physical and psychological integrity, to liberty and to her right to life itself.
- When a woman undergoes a Female Genital Mutilation which is the removal of part or all of the external female genitalia, on the pretext of cultural/religious tradition or hygiene. According to Amnesty International, an estimated 135 million girls – especially in African countries – have undergone FGM with direct consequences ranging from infection (including HIV) to sterility, in addition to the devastating psychological effects.
- When women’s sexuality is regulated in a gender specific way and maintained through strict constraints imposed by cultural norms and often through particular legal measures supporting those norms. “The community, which can include religious institutions, the media, family and cultural networks, regulates women’s sexuality and punishes women who do not comply. Such women include lesbians, women who appear “too masculine,” women who try to freely exercise their rights, and women who challenge male dominance”.
- When the female body is territorialized by the new biotech reproductive order as a pre-eminent laboratory and tissue mine for a lucrative medical/pharmaceutical industry – an ultimate form of body colonization, with practices and ideologies reinforcing patriarchal systems of scientific and medical authority, control, and rationalization of reproduction, thus contradicting radical feminist philosophies of women’s autonomy. “Recent techniques such as harvesting live fetal stem cells for medical research, suggest the urgent need for new ways to assess the threats to women’s health and autonomy posed by rapid naturalization and deployment of such technologies. Since most women do not understand many of the complex implications and consequences of new ReproTech, it is necessary that feminists begin to generate autonomous (free from state, corporate, or entrepreneurial control) cross-cultural, decentralized, biomedical sex and reproduction education projects transnationally”.
- When the female body is exhibited at beauty contests and other exhibitions as examples of the best socially institutionalized patterns of physical beauty. The body is evaluated and ranked based on its external appearance. Not considered are all the indispensable requisites of a healthy, socially and psychologically well-balanced person. In the case of women’s beauty contests and the race for the ‘perfect appearance’ through plastic surgeries – I am thinking here for example of Lebanon defined as the ‘Mekka of Plastic Surgery’ -, it is another demonstration of female subjugation rather than their empowerment.
Standing against others’ appropriation of our bodies as women is a first step to re-appropriating ourselves and becoming equal partners in creating/spreading a so much needed revolution of mentalities.